Review: Wrong Tree’s ‘Away’

I was impressed by the imaginative perspectives and strong ensemble acting in Away.

Wrong Tree’s Away is a devised show that explores the issue of homelessness through the imagination of a homeless child, Poppy, with the characters in her head being played by five actors. It transports the audience into the world of a child’s play, effectively centering the subjective emotional experience against a backdrop of harsh social realities. While there is a relative lack of structure in terms of plot and text, this opens a space of imaginative flow, and the strength of the storytelling lies in the physicality of the actors and the solid ensemble work.

Molly Goetzee is convincing in her portrayal of Poppy – her expressive face, child-like physicality, and natural flow of thought demonstrate her commitment to the child’s make-believe world, immersing the audience in her experience and inviting them to see her visions. The play follows her interaction with her imaginary friends, through games and mime, conversations and expressive movement sequences. In the course of the play, the boundless world of her creation slowly disintegrates as the cohesive ensemble breaks apart, and takes on menacing qualities that remind us of the difficulty of maintaining friendship and trust in the real world. Beyond mere fragments of imagination, the ensemble also successfully creates different social environments. Notably, a series of movements conveyed the separate temporality of busy city life and Poppy’s exclusion from this, with smooth transitions from sharp and rhythmic to slow and expressive that bring across the breadth and chaos of the physical world.

The dynamics of imaginary friends become coloured with the division and separation that Poppy seeks to avoid, and the shift in elements of playfulness suggest a contrast between comfort and fear in the unpredictability of games. It was at once refreshing and strange to see difficult situations like hunger and abandonment being navigated from this perspective, and Directors Olivia Swain and Aimee Dickinson have presented a sometimes jarring reality that peeks through amusement, which perhaps causes the audience to step back and reassess preconceptions of homelessness.

Away’s success is ultimately in the strength of its ensemble, whose chemistry and unity is definitely what carries the play. Each of the actors – Eleanor Kris, Eric Yu, Ali Jones, Nancy Meakin and Sean Alcock – shine in their embodiment of whatever their imaginative world demands, with a precision that suggests a foundation of prolonged close collaboration. Movement Director Iz McGrady must be commended for realising such an imaginative vision, as the ensemble’s ability to move as a seamless whole, especially in their creative puppetry using everyday items, is impressive.

Away seems to call for the audience’s participation in this made-up world, as the only thing keeping the play going is the constant improvisations and new ideas that appear in Poppy’s mind, and we find that we have to be invested in her mental world. The invitations for audience participation, especially for lighting effects, contributed to this very well. The set and make-up also reflected the mood of the show. The tiny houses made from cardboard boxes in the four corners of the room suggested both the idea of toys used for make-believe, and the fragility and impermanence of Poppy’s living conditions. The silver make-up and fairy lights twined around Poppy’s imaginary friends also help to create their magical quality, while again highlighting their transience. With the audience sat on four sides bordering the space in Chad’s Quad, there was initially a sense of intimacy from the close proximity and cosiness of the brick walls, and as the play progressed this slowly turned into a sense of being turned out from doors. It made me wonder as an audience member, what role we play as we watch Poppy’s struggles from the outside.

Away will be performed 7pm at Chad’s Quad tonight, 1st of December.

By Lin Jia Ying

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