Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Oxford Girl by the Ithaca Creek [*]

Performed on the banks of the Ithaca Creek, Physical theatre and live music combine for a work-in-progress of The Oxford Girl, an adaptation of the 17th century folk tale of the Cruel Miller. Thanks to its enchanting setting and music, The Oxford Girl is a charming piece that holds a lot of potential.

The setting was enchanting - the hidden grove in Woolcock Park had a sprawling green lawn before a plateau led into the riverbank. Tiny candles were lit to add to the atmosphere, and the entire experience looked and felt ethereal.

The piece opened with Louise Hales delivering a skittish intro with a quick synopsis of the show - unfortunately I was still deeply interested in how charming the setting was, and by the time I realised that the entire synopsis had been laid down I'd missed it. Although I'm familiar with Butoh traditions and the presentational style, it's extremely difficult to engage with, and much of the story was lost in translation. It seemed pretty important to know the basics that a miller had drowned his fiancé (wife?) in the river. Well, someone had died. Regardless of missing the context of the piece, the cast (James Halloran, Hannah Farrelly, Xani Kennedy and Indigo Keane) evoke an eerie atmosphere with their meticulous choreography, and they sensitively utilise the terrain with exceptional prowess.

The show couldn't be complete or remotely accessible if there had been an absence of music. Cellist Isabella Ambrose plays before and for the duration of the performance. While a lot of the score is incidental improvised material, influences and excerpts are drawn from Bach and folk songs to create the essential soundscape. It's somewhat repetitive and not especially tuneful, but adds an entire additional dimension to the piece. There were also a few instances where James Halloran also sang to progress the story, but around half of what he was singing was lost since his lower register isn't particularly well projected.

While the piece is obviously just embarking on its creative development, the execution of the movement, engaging music and exquisite setting all combined for an enjoyable period of Saturday afternoon. More clarity to the script and accessibility to the story would be welcome but otherwise it was enjoyable and has a lot of potential.

Tickets for 'The Oxford Girl' are from $5 (plus a $1.95 booking fee), and is showing at Anywhere Theatre Festival until May 19th. Duration of approximately 35 minutes. Book by visiting Anywhere Theatre Festival's website.

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