They Ran till They Stopped

Astrid Francis

PICA: An encapsulation of The Duck House’s self-proclaimed ‘tragi-comic’ style, They Ran ‘Til They Stopped is chaotic, sad, funny, sweet and hopeful.
They Ran till They Stopped
What do a sheep, a quellazaire, kissing lips and a child’s loveheart have in common? When it comes to The Duck House’s latest production, it’s the delightful assemblage of objects of desire, the mundane, and the masking of loss – a stream of ephemeral moments, in a playful yet affecting investigation of inhibited grief and the fear of moving forward.

In a colourless, characterless, slightly mismatched kitchen (a subtle yet distinct design by Alissa Claessens), Caitlin, Maggie and Aaron move though the motions of their busy mornings. We all have rituals at the beginning of the day: flicking on the switch for the kettle, or perhaps pouring out biscuits for the cat. But not many of us ensure a fresh blood-red rose is clipped to the Kelvinator, alongside post-it notes of quiet remembrance. Or setting a bowl of cereal for a fourth person who never makes it to the table. A disavowal of absence – the unprocessed loss of friend and lover – manifests in Caitlin, Maggie and Aaron handling their inner conflicts by turning them into distinct symbols of repressed grief.

Kathryn Osborne’s direction is assured, deftly juxtaposing unreal moments with stark expressions of emotional frustration within the domestic realm. While the pacing of the opening sequence, a time-motion montage of domestic routine, is a little drawn out, the rest of the performance is a tight package. The image and movement based explorations of sadness and grief are always touched with sweetness and humour, even while the inner chaos of the characters spills spectacularly over the floor in an emblematic deluge of cascading cornflakes.

Gita Bezard’s script combines restraint and surrealist humour, set within the comfortable, all-too-familiar confines of domesticity. This is a space where each character’s subconscious is explored, culminating in the unexpected appearance of an oracular elf to Caitlin; Maggie’s first stand-up routine in an antiquated cabaret lounge, and Aaron desperately trying to work out his heart’s strategic distribution of emotional energy via a pie-chart scribbled on a table-top. Bezard skilfully brings moments of laughter into her characters’ turmoil. However, on occasion this very turmoil feels somewhat self-conscious.

The cast, Lawrence Ashford (Aaron), Arielle Gray (Maggie) and Whitney Richards (Caitlin) have a playful and authentic energy together, genuinely portraying the complexity of broken dynamics between friends who live together, where the sense of losing one’s feeling of home is as strong as the breakdown of friendship and love.

Arielle Gray brings to her Maggie a complex vulnerability: one minute buoyed with her new love for Aaron, the next easily broken by his distracted grief, and her own guilt at ‘taking the place’ of her missed friend. Lawrence Ashford has the right touch of ambivalence towards his friends, whilst just under the surface his heartache is swelling to breaking point. As Caitlin, Whitney Richards is petulant as she struggles with being abandoned by the two people she needs the most.

They Ran ‘Til They Stopped encapsulates The Duck House’s self-proclaimed ‘tragi-comic’ style: chaotic, sad, funny, sweet and hopeful, these characters almost tear themselves apart until they finally speak openly to themselves and to each other – bringing a messy and liberating release, for the characters and for the audience alike.

Rathing: 3.5 stars

The Duck House and Performing Lines WA in association with PICA presents
They Ran ‘Til They Stopped
By Gita Bezard
Director: Kathryn Osborne
Designer: Alissa Claessens
Lighting: Mike Nanning
Composer/sound: Will Slade
Production Dramaturg: Jeffrey Jay Fowler
Production Manager: Jenna Boston
Stage Manager: Alice Hatton
Cast: Lawrence Ashford, Arielle Gray, Whitney Richards

November 10–19

About the author

Astrid Francis is a Perth-based reviewer for Artshub. She has a background in theatre performance and has worked for a number of performing arts organisations and funding bodies in Perth. Rather than prop up the bar with her opinions after a show, she is now putting her criticisms on the page and into the ether to stimulate a broader audience.