With the world premiere of Angelique at Her Majesty’s Theatre, local theatre ensemble isthisyours? is “going out on a limb” with a large-scale original work that reflects the ambition of the independent collective and their collaborators.
At a preview showing of Angelique last year, isthisyours?’s Jude Henshall was told the ideas presented in the black comedy were “dangerous”.
“I was pleased to hear that in one way because we don’t talk down to audiences, we expect them to be thrilled and challenged by conversations that we start with them in a theatre,” Henshall, who performs the titular role, tells The Adelaide Review.
“We don’t set out to make dangerous work, but it’s not the first time we’ve been told that [that their work features dangerous ideas].”
Henshall, who, aside from her 10-year association as a founding member of the all-female collective isthisyours?, has performed in Bell Shakespeare, Windmill Theatre Co., The Border Project and State Theatre Company of South Australia productions, would rather audience members walk away with strong positive or negative reactions over tepid ones.
“The premise for one of our previous shows was: what if we create a show that no one remembers as soon as they leave the theatre. We were desperate to find out a neuroscientific way of making this happen. Our ambition is high and I think it has to be for us to be excited about making work together, otherwise there’s no point in having a company.”
The upcoming Angelique embodies the company’s (whose previous shows include The Awkward Years and Best We Forget) high ambition. Four years in the making, the work will feature 13 actors on stage and was written by former Adelaide playwright Duncan Graham and features the design work of Jonathon Oxlade. Graham and Oxlade have been involved with the project over the four-year journey as has Angelique director Tessa Leong (another isthisyours? member). To reflect the scale of the work, Angelique had to be presented in a venue the size of Her Majesty’s Theatre or else the world premiere might have been lost interstate.
“This is by far our largest work to date as a company and this world premiere is ridiculously exciting to present at Her Majesty’s Theatre,” Henshall says. “We only had one or two venues in Adelaide where this show could work, and, thanks to Ben Hambour at Adelaide Festival Centre – who’s championed our work for years – we were able to have realistic conversations about Her Majesty’s Theatre, which as an independent company can be hard to get a foot in the door. There was a point in time where we might not have premiered in Adelaide. We may have had to premiere it in Victoria, which deeply saddened us. We are all South Australians and work and train here, so we’ve always premiered our work here before it tours.”
Was the availability of Her Majesty’s Theatre the reason why the premiere stayed in Adelaide?
“One of the contributing factors was Her Majesty’s Theatre and Adelaide Festival Centre coming on as a presenting partner,” she says.
“Her Majesty’s is a huge theatre; we’re going out on a limb but you’ve got to back yourself. If it all comes crumbling down and completely fails then I think it will still offer Adelaide audiences a lot to talk about and if it’s a success – that is the icing on the cake. You don’t know until you put yourself out there and test it.”
The play will feature “unusual theatre ushers” to help the audience and Angelique on their journeys.
“The way we are using the theatre, and our storytelling, is not traditional. We ask more from an audience than traditional theatre where you come in, sit down and are blindly entertained. It is not escapism.”
The reference point for Angelique’s black humour is Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1943 film Le Corbeau (The Raven), which was remade by Otto Preminger as The 13th Letter, about a small French town where residents receive mysterious anonymous libellous letters that leads the townsfolk to violence and murder.
“Angelique has these trademark black comedy issues but we follow the journey of a young 16-year-old girl called Angelique. There are a lot of terrible things happening to her; her elder sister Evelyn is missing, her parents look like they’re on the brink of divorce and a talking bird has started to haunt her.
“You’re presented with a family who are deeply troubled, which has solidified in the way they see the world and the way they must carry on and try to make sense of a missing sibling and daughter. Angelique is not only caught between her own confusion about why her sister would leave her but she’s also caught between her parents’ ideologies about how she should interact and behave and forge ahead with becoming an adult. The ideas we are putting to the audience are about how the most obvious realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see. The talking bird that begins to haunt her actually starts to crack a mirror of reality in her cosy little life that enables her to start seeing things for what they really are.”
Her Majesty’s Theatre
Friday, October 13 to Saturday, October 21