ENGAGES DEEPLY THROUGH HUMOUR, WARMTH, AND INSIGHT
NZ Fringe Festival 2012|
Created and Performed by Jen McArthur
at The Basement, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland
From 25 Feb 2012 to 27 Feb 2012
Reviewed by Norelle Scott, 27 Feb 2013
Echolalia is a beautifully crafted, carefully considered and exquisitely executed theatrical performance. Insightful and articulate, this production invites audience participation in a way that is not only engaging and charming but also thematically significant.
As our tickets are taken at the door we are gently told to sit in the middle seats of the first three rows. This we discover places us in the best possible position to engage and enjoy this production, and engage and enjoy we do.
According to the Fringe Festival brochure Echolalia is the ‘Winner of Best Solo Show' in the Wellington Fringe 2011 and co-winner of ‘Best of the Fringe' in Dunedin, and it's easy to see why.
Jen McArthur introduces us to the character Echo, described in the programme as ‘a young woman on the spectrum'. The program notes also tell us that Jen has worked with autistic children. Echo does remind me of aspects of behaviour of people I know with Asperger's syndrome but she is, as they are, uniquely individual. The character of Echo also functions both literally and symbolically. She is distinctly idiosyncratic and yet an everywoman struggling to communicate – a struggle that confronts us all.
Echo's physical and emotional world is reinforced by the set, props, costuming and make-up – all of which contribute meaningfully to the character and the story. She works her way through her list of things to do, crossing each one off when completed, and as she observes her daily rituals, her goals become apparent.
Echo needs to call Sarah. She needs to practice for a job interview. She needs to leave her room to go to the job interview and get the job. And this is hard. Will she open the door? Will she get to the job interview and if she does, will she get the job?
Echo comforts herself with repetitive actions and reassuring rituals. Her dialogue is sprinkled with well-worn and instantly recognisable phrases from television: the post-game interview, advertising slogans and jingles.
The performance moves seamlessly into dance sequences that capture the character's spirit and her humanity.
Early on, the fourth wall is shattered and the audience's presence is acknowledged. Interacting with the audience puts us in a position of not knowing what to do; we experience with Echo her moments of trying to reference social clues, we interact, we empathise, and we identify with her.
Jen McArthur moves wonderfully, vocally she's clear and strong, every physical and vocal nuance is meticulously observed. Her embodiment of the character is a joy to experience. A consummate performer she is both completely inside the character and perceptive of her audience's responses and needs. She simultaneously inhabits a character challenged by social interaction and creates for the audience the sense of safety and surrender that comes from knowing you are in ‘good hands'.
This production engages on a deep and meaningful level while providing the audience with humour, warmth, and insight. Rich in symbolism, the plays final breakthrough is perfectly placed and deeply satisfying.
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