Wilting in Reverse – Stuart Bowden

Fringe World Perth, 2016

Under the Blue Room Theatre’s crepuscular, cosying lighting, Fringe regular and multi-award winner Stuart Bowden returns to Perth to weave another offbeat tale with his low-fi one-man theatre of the posthuman absurd. In 2014, he was an alfoil-made robot trying to make do in a landscape of human ruin (She Was Probably Not a Robot). In 2015, he came to us in a lime-green sleeping bag as the last – or so he thought – beautiful bug of his civilization, mourning a father recently passed (Before Us).

This year, Bowden is dead. Yeah, he died. On an alien planet. It was a terrible tragedy. The guy in the full-body leotard and green snow-cap on stage? He’s just an actor playing him. Reading stumblingly from a script, him-as-character carves character-as-him back into imaginary existence within a little space called by its architect ‘This Moment’.

So far, so a hipster’s wet dream.

The audience is also ‘dead’. Designated by Bowden as the remainder of the colony on the interstellar outpost, we perished when the land grew parched and the supplies ran out. Audience involvement is the indivisible element and engine of the show, with random-picked individuals filling in for two-part scenes, altering the ‘script’, and reflecting upon their own mortality from ‘The Hut of Eternity’. This enfolded act of creation with the crowd is hardly whimsical though, or the tactic of an opportunistic performer. Rather, it structures the crux of the show’s message: that art revivifies; that people are never gone so long as they are sustained in the memories and tales of those who experienced them.

As with his previous shows, Wilting in Reverse is earnestly crafted and wistfully spoken. It throbs with lonely-hearted dream textures, aches over love and loss, and is obsessed with the silly yet sublime fragility of the earth and its silly yet sublime inhabitants. Melancholic little songs permeate, built up progressively via feedback loops featuring ukulele, mini-keyboard and his own richly-timbered voice.

It’s all very symbolic, pretty metaphysical, and unfailingly bittersweet. Yet certain aspects of the show suggest Bowden to be guilty of overdosing on his own earnestness. Whilst the script-reading worked for a while – Bowden amusingly faltering in its recital, tripping over words, trying out variations of lines to amp up the organic, untested vibe – it generated less warm chuckles as the hour wore on, and the audience gradually understood the show wasn’t ever going to break out of its self-reflexive delivery. As a running gag, it didn’t have enough mileage – delightfulness sagged when it should have evolved.

Less surreal and exquisitely-built than his past stories, Wilting in Reverse still comes with a recommend behind it. There is in the end nothing quite like witnessing a bearded man thrusting his way determinedly through the ‘thick darkness’ of night.

Published February 2016 in Pelican Magazine

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