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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Once Under A Sky

Once Under A Sky is the story of two fisherwomen from a small seaside town, but its dark and poetic depths make such a shallow description totally inadequate.
By Hilary Simmons
May 23, 2011
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By Hilary Simmons
May 23, 2011
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Once Under A Sky is the story of two fisherwomen from a small seaside town in New Zealand, but its dark and poetic depths make such a shallow description totally inadequate. In the tradition of Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco, it merges storytelling, physical theatre and absurdist elements with intensely evocative writing and extraordinary energy.

Once Under A Sky has been in development for three years and it shows. The set is beautifully thought out, with an overhead canopy of fishing nets and several carefully placed gumboots. When the lights go up, May is earnestly and enthusiastically dreaming while August tries to channel the ebb and flow of her words by scribbling them down. May is talking in tongues and August's writing is illegible: her monologue is intended to surface and submerge meaning; to break and reform, like the sea does.

May awakes and the day begins like any other with the ritual of dressing and renewing their affinity with the sea. But today is a day like no other. May believes that she has an upside-down tree in her chest. Fearing August is not who she seems, she wipes up the puddle they have lovingly tended for the last 17 years. With their watering-hole dried up, the two fisherwomen embark on an arduous journey into the arid desert, where they bring to the surface a grief as huge as the heart of a whale.

Both actresses believe in their characters 100%, and their conviction is conveyed through their physical courage and vocal confidence. Through constant consonance and assonance, the dialogue between May and August spins out to the driving metre like a roll-call, splashing the audience with syllabic significance. But just when Once Under A Sky runs the risk of being skewed too much towards the words which conceptualise the fluctuations of the fisherwomen's perspectives, it is reeled in with raffish good humour and vigorous physical clowning.

Once Under A Sky was created during a number of self-funded developments as well as a residency at Legs on the Wall's 'Feet First' emerging artist program. Its content and expression was refined through the CarriageWorks' Underbelly Festival, the Brisbane Under the Radar Festival, and last year's Sydney Fringe Festival. It is a play that will puzzle you if you bring too many preconceptions with you, so cast them aside and don't try to reel in too much meaning &$151; that would be like trying to fold a fish.

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