October 1, 2022

Canberra’s bushfire shows resonate at the Edinburgh Fringe

Penny Chivas. Photo: Brian Hartley.

Environment / “Burnt Out”, designed and performed by Penny Chivas. At Dancebase Edinburgh, August 26-28; and “You’re Safe Til 2024: Deep History”, presented by David Finnigan and the Barbican, London. At Edinburgh Fringe, August 18-29. Review by HELENE MUSA.

IN the final days of the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe, I caught up with not one but two performances derived from the Canberra-area bushfires of 2019.

Both creators are the children of Canberra environmental scientists and each begins with an acknowledgment of the Ngunnawal people and a welcome to First Nations audience members, striking an unusual note in the festival.

The first was Penny Chivas in “Burnt Out”, inspired by her own experiences when she returned from Glasgow, where she was completing an MA, to Canberra in late 2019, to be greeted by a vision of hell.

The setup is deceptively simple, a ring of light in the dark, into and out of which Chivas pushes his way as his body and gestures show both fear and extreme anger.

There are only two props – a large box of matches and a large piece of coal, a reference perhaps to former Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Later, she smears it on her face.

Chivas opens with his own a cappella rendition of “Along the Road to Gundagai,” but you can just tell from the visual atmosphere that “sunny skies” won’t be long in coming.

In another sequence, feeling this piece of coal, she performs her own version of “I Still Call Australia Home” by Peter Allen. The irony is not lost on the public of committed environmentalists, who seem well aware of who/what Adani is.

Elsewhere, she lists years of recorded extreme fires – 1851, 1898, 1926…and so on.

It’s an angry piece, an act of outspokenness that would have benefited from tighter, more poetic writing. More often composed of calm, restrained movements familiar from the butoh theater that influenced her, the slow movements speak volumes, although there are occasional moments of extreme speed.

A unique aspect of the performance is composer Paul Michael Henry’s score, which recreates the anguished sounds of magpies and an almost didgeridoo drone reminiscent of helicopter or fire engine sounds.

Chivas’ vision is pure rage as she asks why we haven’t acknowledged what’s going on.

‘Burnt Out’ has already received the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s first sustainability award and, all being well, will be seen at QL2 Dance Studios in Canberra later this year.

David Finnigan. Photo: Anna Kucera.

DAVID Finnigan’s solo show “You’re Safe Til 2024: Deep History”, is already familiar to audiences at the Canberra Theatre.

It’s one hour. an explosive theatrical and scientific examination of our place in deep history in terms of climate change.

Finnigan wasn’t in Canberra in December 2019, but his best friend Jack Lloyd (co-CEO of the Belconnen Arts Centre) was there and decided to take his family to the coast for a holiday – bad decision.

At the same time, Finnigan’s father was hospitalized with a spinal infection and, in the fog of pain, texted Finnigan in London asking him to summarize his notes on the 75,000 year old. history of human beings.

He embarked on the project, aiming to tell the story through the eyes of a universal “She”.

Finnigan is a well-known poet and theater artist from Canberra who, along with Lloyd and musician Michael Bailey, ran a science theater company and is a natural storyteller. He affably discusses with the audience his own appalling selection of popular songs – one of which is about climate change – and posits that through art we can confront and address climate issues.

Using the butcher paper technique on the wall, he begins to map out the positive things we can do – “taking power” is one of them. False – at the end of the show, he is forced to give up everything because he realizes that in such precepts lie the roots of the problem.

Surrounded by piles of Demerara sugar, used to demonstrate the increase in the world’s population, Finnigan lists the destruction of the 2019 bushfires, particularly on the one billion animals that were incinerated.

There was no dryer in the house.

But all is not lost. His companion Jack and his family escape the coastal fires, his father comes out of the hospital in one piece, and Finnigan comes to some sort of optimistic conclusion that the era of climate change may pass so that a future generation can enjoy a happier future than ours. .

These two personal and very different shows, one dominated by sound and movement and the other by intellectual ideas, make a welcome inclusion in the Fringe programme, especially as the UK has recently been informed that Nor was he immune to the problem.

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Ian Meikle, editor