‘RUNT’ was gigantic.
Runt, the character, gives a voice to the little ones, the ones forgotten, the ones who fight tooth and nail for freedom from their oppressors;. and ‘RUNT’, the show, does so with a resounding primal scream of contemporary political theatre.
Presented at La Boite Theatre as part of CIRCfest Meanjin, ‘RUNT’ is a celebration of the limits one can push one’s self in performance and the incredible transformation that can occur at those edges, ‘RUNT’ was no exception to testing boundaries. Devised by prolific co-collaborators, Patricia Cornelius, Susie Dee and Nicci Wilks, the show explores how being ‘lesser’ in the eyes of society impacts the physical and emotional nature of ‘being’. ‘RUNT’ had its first performance at fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne and received wide critical acclaim for its unique style and daring subject matter..
Cornelius’s writing blends juvenile bouts of attention-seeking, moments of extreme intimacy and rousing addresses mixed with musical poetry – all of which is profoundly compelling. There is a vagueness to her speech, in the sense that most people from the outskirts of a society could be speaking them with the same power and profundity.
The set, designed by Romanie Harper and dressed with a circular wooden track, both traps and frees ‘RUNT’, and is a physical manifestation of the circularity of nature embedded in the story. The only prop used in the show was a calico sack from which Runt was born, frees the other Runts from and returned to once she had met her downfall. It was womb-like and used as a violent weapon against her, representing how significant maternal relationships are for humans.
Lighting design by Jenny Hector brilliantly and dramatically complemented the rising and falling action of Runt’s endeavours. Audio composition by Kelly Ryall was eerie and haunting, readying the space for nauseating moments of action.
Performer Nicci Wilks spent the entire performance on stage as she sequenced the character’s life, from the neglect of her mother to her first rejection by a romantic partner, to her ultimate social downfall.
She brought physical age to the character, taking her from a child birthed at the beginning of the performance to unimaginable heights when she began to feel liberated from her puny status. The show told a story of someone rising above their station through acts of service for fellow humans, only to repeat the cycles of neglect enacted against them once they felt ‘liberated’. As Wilks’ character fearfully states, ‘greatness forgets runtness’. Wilks’ had enviable stamina and ease and grounding in both her physical and vocal presence.
The plot of the 55-minute performance was packed with meaning that made for a beautiful challenge to unpack. Her freedom meant ignorance, for so many who were still suffering – an all too familiar trope in real-life circumstances of social marginalisation. ‘RUNT’ does not give the audience answers, it gives them provocations and encourages conversations about symbolism and activism. It was precocious, and a truly thought-provoking experience.
‘RUNT’ does what theatre does best – gives a resounding, screeching voice to the voiceless.