29 September 2017, Spiegeltent, Havelock North
Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival
Oh, I love the Spiegeltent! Mirrors and the sumptuous red, inverted poof of the cushioned ceiling. I am smiling from the get-go and want to revel and gaze but quickly find myself beguiled by a maiden simply clad in cream cheesecloth pantaloons and double-yoked blouse who smoothly engages the arriving audience. She is arresting, aloof, and then charmingly available in turns. Bewitching. Not a word passes her lips.
Outside the audience’s round of seats, a family band of four contains two young country maids, bright with health, and two male troubadours creating a live musical landscape of French Folk in hum, scat singing and, just for fun, sharp and cheeky ululation. Throughout the show, cello, violin and banjo are used. Percussion is delivered naturally by feet, clapping, tapping and skilful use of a large hollow urn. It would be easy to miss the wit and mastery with which the music is delivered; how it emotes, paces and sets each scene.
I am taken out of myself, into another time: this is the gift of really good theatre. At first ridiculous, then unremarkable, we are all wearing hairnets!
But now our maiden takes full attention. She brings her ‘cow’ centre stage, lovingly rubbing her down, and strokes the bulging udder to tweak the teat. A generous squirt hits the bucket. Sinuous, sensuous, she is part nymph and part practiced yokel.
The family troop forward, embracing audience as old friends, but the tension immediately arises on stage between our milk maid, who retreats to her cheese station at one end of the round, and the group, opposite at theirs. If looks could kill! With an unfurling of muslin cloth our singular maid deftly divides the stage in two and an elemental change takes place: we are all divided. Faction and fidelity are instantly created and torn.
The wonder of The Creamery is that, with hay-seed simplicity and elements of circus, through set dance and joyful improvisation, five actors can take us to a place of natural elemental feelings, fabric and food (say cheese but never cheesy), that are used to examine age-old issues today.
Taboos are broken for us to view. Violence against the fairer sex. Lust and hunger for love, forbidden or otherwise, that is greater than love of family. Slap and tickle attraction, explorative play and stroppy courtship. Urgent need shown in the personified strength of a thrusting bull and young heifer in season, an animal rutting instinct crossing all boundaries. Spitting in your opponents’ drink…
Their easy talent has tamed us, we trust them, and are eagerly obedient to all non-verbal cues, artful mime and frisky teasing from Java Dance Company’s five Rustics. We have laughed, danced, drunk the unknown, brawled and raised our fists in tribal, group-soul solidarity.
Like all really good spells, we didn’t know we were under one until the lights came up.
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