REVIEW: Fool’s Island | Wharf 2, Sydney

Darren Gilshenan in Fool's Island | Wharf 2

Things have changed since I was a kid. Or teenager. (As you’d hope.) On wet sports afternoons at Marsden High, we were shown Carry On movies. I don’t know if this was for the students’, or teachers’ benefit. At worst, it was boring. And a lost opportunity to immerse us in truly edifying, memorable, even life-changing cinema. One of the mothers, though, thought it was a virtual obscenity and kicked-up, as I recall, enough of a stink as to see the Carry Ons carried off. For good.

There’s no such compunction in Fool’s Island, presented by the Sydney Theatre Company as part of its education program in conjunction with┬áTamarama Rock Surfers Theatre Company. It’s, at times, sexually and violently ‘explicit’. Certain of my media colleagues have suggested it as a kids’ show. Sure, take the kids, by all means. I don’t believe in censorship, anyway. But you’ll have to spend some time explaining and contextualising, I should think, depending on their age. As challenging ‘junior fiction’, though, it’s right on. And as an all ages gig, it’s even better.

A veritable voice of God, albeit with a better, less cruel and cynical sense of humour, booms out of the darkness, introducing us to a deserted island, on which, it’s rumoured, reside two twins; one good, one not so good. The twins, I understand, have been shipwrecked. Spaceshipwrecked. They hail from an asteroid; in a galaxy far far away, one presumes. (Actually, no, that’s astronomically incorrect. It will have been from the neighbourhood, near the sun.) One’s a real space cadet. A clown. The other, a nasty piece of work, in the way of noir stereotypes. He might as well be called Asteroidal Al, after Capone.

We find the first dragging himself, as if having just emerged from the primordial soup, like a fish, struggling to evolve into a lizard, or big, or something; whatever works, Darwinically-speaking. The evolutionary process has been Kitchen Whizzed, so that the clown soon, if gradually and awkwardly, finds his feet. He is upright, in a veritable paradise. That’s, of course, when all the trouble starts. But not half so as when he moves past blabbering to a semblance of language: first Italian, then French and, finally, taking his cure from the audience, English. And he’s a clever clown ’cause, from the first, he’s quoting, or subverting, Shakespeare. Clever clown indeed: Darren Gilshenan is inestimably, consummately surpassing, in the degree of a Roberto Benigni, Chaplin, Lloyd, or, domestically, a Mo (Roy Rene, not half of the iconic ad duo). His capacity for note-perfect physical comedy is, literally, boundless.

But even the degree of Gilshenan’s brilliance would be as nothing if not for a script that harnesses his talents and, though (entertainingly) meandering, goes somewhere. It goes a long way past the island, back to the biblical garden. The only trouble and strife here is a tree with chalked-on feminine features, so at least the clown’s trouble is all of his own volition. It transpires, of course, the island isn’t populated by twin intragalactic refugees, but only the clown, whose bipolarity comes as a surprise to him, as much as anyone.

Jo Turner’s pedantically nuanced direction shines as brightly as Gilshenan’s performance. No opportunity has been missed. Lurking up in the clouds, above and behind the stage, is composer Rose Turtle Ertler, a veritable Foley artist for the night, providing inventive, comical sound effects right on cue. She’s integral to the quality of the performance; in fact, a performer in her own right, completely at one with Gilshenan.

Jasmine Christie’s design is simple, magical, storybook tongue-in-chic. Cardboard waves. A faux mound for an island. A coconut palm. A pet rock. It puts a smile on your face the moment you take your seat. You wouldn’t be Robinson Crusoe in observing its sheer cuteness.

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Categories: Plays, Sydney

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