Wilting in reverse is Stuart Bowden’s evocative metaphor describing the figurative reanimation of a dead man (also, rather handily, named Stuart Bowden) from an imagined future reality. Before his demise in 2084, the man named Stuart Bowden was able to pen a short but powerful piece of theatre describing his final days on a distant planet in a small colony of humans who are rapidly running out of water.
It is this story which provides the narrative backbone to the latest effort from this multi-award winning Australian theatre-maker, and the show itself proves that Bowden is simply going from strength to strength. Even before the programme starts, the endearingly haphazard tone of the piece is set by the sight of his lycra clad form scuttling out from the wings (under a towel. Shh! You can’t see him!) to make some last minute adjustments to the set-up, which is itself, deceptively simple; a couple of chairs, a mic, sundry instruments, and a loop pedal
Rather than going for the obvious and telling the story in a first person narrative, Bowden takes the meta-theatrical option of adopting the role of a magnificently underprepared, but charmingly earnest performer who endeavours to tell the story of Stuart Bowden through the script he apparently wrote before his death. The characterisation is flawless, with an awkward, darting physicality, and an anxious, well-meaning gaze that darts from, alternately, the script and his audience, as he attempts to navigate both the narrative and the demanding stage directions using nothing more than his imagination, physicality, and the odd prop/audience member. As a result, we are greeted with the beautiful prospect of seeing someone truly discovering the script with us for the first time, which is at times, alternately comic, as the bumbling Bowden misinterprets and improvises his way through the story, and poignant, as he discovers the more moving narrative twists for the first time.
This sense of complicity and discovery is greatly increased by Bowden’s use of the audience in the play itself, playing characters such as the builder of the theatre we inhabit in the story, and the love interest, Amy. As a result, there are some incredible moments created between performer and audience, and Bowden steers us between and through these with the skill and subtlety of a master craftsman. The show touches on themes ranging from grief, futurism, the environment, love, and all set to the backdrop of a world created by live music and imagination, so tangible you can almost feel it.
It’s one of those incredible pieces that are both scintillatingly different every night, but guided by some fundamental principles and structures put in place by a uniquely talented artist, whose selflessness in performance, charm in delivery, and heart in his work make the whole experience a rather transcendent one. It completes that most enviable of triptychs, threading belly laughs and a deeply incisive intelligence onto a central emotional thread that celebrates our uniqueness as individuals in order to bring us closer to both each other and ourselves. 5/5
Review written by James Adams.
Wilting in Reverse is currently showing until Thursday 19th May at the Wardrobe Theatre as part of Mayest 2016. For more information on the production, visit here…
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