Adelaide Fringe 2012
This year No Strings Attached once again draws on the skill and sensitivity of writer/director Alirio Zavarce to create an exquisite multi-layered work with the Men’s Ensemble. The result of a three year process that includes the making of a documentary feature film (yet to be released), Sons and Mothers paints unique and rich portraits of the relationships between six men with intellectual disabilities and their mothers.
Set in the heritage Queen’s Theatre—a magnificent shell of exposed beams, high tin roof and eerily lit broken windows—the layers of live action and projected images are exquisitely framed. The setting is a metaphor for the temporal and physical impact of the actors’ most significant relationship, the one with their mothers. At the outset, a projected quote (anonymous) states that the word Mother is one of the first words we say and although a simple word, it is often a difficult concept. That is probably even more so for these six men and their mothers who, as a result of these intellectual disabilities (or more aptly as a result of society’s attitudes and resources) live together for most or all of their lives.
Writer, director and performer Alirio Zavarce has added himself to the company on stage, himself with an intellectually disabled brother, and works beautifully within the action to support the other actors with his energy, musical accompaniment and physical cues. It is clear that theirs is a long relationship too (fifteen years he tells us) and with Zavarce almost directing from within, we are also reminded of how important the artistic process is in not just creating rich art but in building deep and nurturing relationships.
Incorporating excerpts of filmed interviews with their mothers (filmmakers Christopher Houghton & Louise Pascale) and projected collages of childhood photos and memorabilia (installation artist Eugenia Lim) each of the son and mother stories are given visual texture and autobiographic richness. The live ‘tellings’ are all unique in their approach, sometimes as direct address to the audience, sometimes as dance or gesture with recorded voice-over, and all woven together with combinations of live and recorded song, music or soundscape (Zavarce and Mario Spate). There are exquisite moments of beauty and tenderness—in particular the beautifully delicate dance of Ricky Samai (Aidan Munn)—and laugh out loud playfulness including an ACDC-style heavy metal serenade and a couple of live birth re-enactments.
Sons and Mothers is authentic, honest and alive. Like a live documentary, it unfolds on stage with a sense of unpredictability and spontaneity, acknowledging exactly who these people are and how the process of being involved in theatre has given them an opportunity to be heard and celebrated for being “just the way they are, as we all are.”