‘Zagazig’ was dreamlike.
Curtain World invites audiences into the cosy arthouse dream that is VENTspace and welcomes them to observe a version of Brisbane that is lopsided, lucid and loaded with colour, in their original production of ‘Zagazig’.
Written and directed by Esther Dougherty, ‘Zagazig’ is an abstract exploration of a woman’s quest to find or rather force someone to be her mother. From a saucy nightclub to a borderline sentient apartment, and eventually, to the Brisbane River itself, ‘Zagazig’ sees Honey, our leading lady, take a magical journey that draws on themes of loneliness, sanity and the ties between family and identity.
Fuelled by design elements, the show is unashamedly camp and dripping with queer aesthetics. Upon entering the space, lighting design by Steven May sees the stage drenched in the lesbian pride colours of pinks and oranges. A projection of the moon looks down upon audiences with the face of musician, SOLCHLD gently serenading patrons throughout the performance. A tree with blinking eyes and reaching branches, courtesy of Clo Love and Seren Wagstaff’s set design, stares down an open door with a softly glowing lopsided exit sign on the opposite side of the stage. Walking in to be greeted by this scene grants an immediate sense of the dream that is to commence.
Love and Wagstaff’s set design pairs with costume design by Asia, in an arts and crafts love story that is essential in skewing the lens through which audiences are observing Honey’s version of Brisbane. With a constantly changing set that featured oversized faucets, extravagant clam dressing rooms and a mysterious cave, these paper-macheted, multi-textual set pieces were a treat to the eye. The actors moving these pieces were an equally delicious sight with costume pieces ranging from bright bulbous gowns, black bob wigs, colourful chiffon and more. In particular, the costuming of the Ibis was a stand out with a newspaper corset, textured jacket and distinct mask. The beaklike mask, paired with May’s lighting design, cast some brilliant shadows that emphasised the ever-watching state of the character.
Sound design and music were another carefully considered element in the production with the delightful addition of a live band in parts. James Eyre Walker’s compositions paired with SOLCHLD’s vocals were synthesised and sweet, adding dramatic tension and an underscore that emerged the audience in Honey’s cartoonish yet high-stakes emotional journey. Additional music was supplied by Guppy, a live jazz band with a gorgeous whining saxophone and soulful vocals that acted as a diegetic backing track to the club scenes.
Carrying these club scenes with choreography by Yuki Tanaguchi was Luke Diamond in the role of Kitty, a drag queen which the protagonist Honey decides is her mother. Supported by Siobhan Gibbs and Liam Linane as dancers, Diamond commanded the stage with a powerful presence and distinct vocality that had a sultry tone but at times needed more volume. Gibbs and Linane were hypnotising in their movements creating a sense of awe that reeled in not just Honey but audiences too.
Gibbs and Linane were utilised in numerous roles throughout the performance. Alongside Phoebe Manning, the trio took on the characters of Honey’s housemates or rather, her house itself come to life. Linane in the role of Fly was buzzing and anxious with a distinct vocality and physicality that saw him pestering Honey pedantically. Meanwhile, Gibb’s Haunted Drawers was kooky and strange, performed with a strong sense of comedic timing and a wide set of eyes. Rounding out the house was Manning’s portrayal of Pot Plant. Bold, bashful and hilarious in both their physicality and language, Manning breathed life into the leaves of the character.
Unafraid of the abstract, these characters provided insight into the loneliness of our protagonist in a somehow simultaneously innocent yet adult manner. Taking on the role of Honey herself was Eli Free. Charming and sweet, Free’s portrayal of Honey was highly engaging with an endearing sense of naivety balanced with heightened states of hysteria. Free had an intense connection to her character’s wants and even despite the character’s questionable choices, the audience will find themselves rooting for her happy ending.
Dougherty’s script is colourful, camp and comedic with a distaste for the norm. Although sometimes confusing and ambitious in its more fantastical plot points, ‘Zagazig’ is palpable with feeling and generates meaning with its dedication to physical aesthetics. Dougherty’s direction is bold with an outrageously clear vision that feels entirely at home in VENTSpace’s intimate venue. It’s theatre that is art and although with clear messages surrounding family, loneliness and a sense of belonging, it will ultimately begs the audience to leave the space deciphering their own takeaway.
‘Zagazig’ performs until Saturday, 24 June 2023 at VENTSpace, South Brisbane. For more information visit their website.
Photography by Jade Ellis Photography