In Never Did Me Any Harm, Sydney Theatre Company has collaborated with Force Majeure dance company to create a challenging conversation piece about contemporary family life. Director Kate Champion combines contemporary dance, spoken word, physical theatre and the common vernacular to challenge the idea that parents instinctively know best, or that parenting is simply a natural instinct.
Taking Christos Tsiolkas’ controversial novel The Slap as its inspiration, Never Did Me Any Harm uses the stage at Wharf 1 to recreate a 'typical' suburban backyard. Through theatricalised gestures, seven performers transform the audio text recorded over 90 interviews into a feat of physicality that is fiercely immediate and confronting.
Does it sound a bit heavy? Rest assured, it isn't. Kate Champion deftly offsets the more depressing vignettes with domestic slapstick and cleverly avoids taking sides by having all the performers play both children and parents. Each disconnected narrative is drawn together by the familiar thread of domestic experience, making you wonder if middle-class Australia will forever be wound up about the 'correct' way to raise children.
The diverse stories are alternately painful and amusing, infuriating and touching. One of the performers is heavily pregnant, and it's hard not to wince when she dives into a break-dance tumble routine; however, she's fine, and the fact that she's so conspicuously 'with child' merely adds to the authenticity of the performance and its insistent faithfulness to real-life experience.
It's hard to describe something like Never Did Me Any Harm without sounding over-earnest, because the subject matter itself is so intense. But this is candid, controversial and very clever theatre. It explores corporal punishment, the pros and cons of breastfeeding, teenage girls gone feral and the realities of raising a child with a disability, and, unlike the TV mini series of The Slap, doesn’t star Melissa George. Go and see it this week it certainly won't do you any harm.