Performance review: Catastrophes, PICA, WA

This performance piece is hard to describe, but easy to love.

Renée Newman and Ella Hetherington spent over five years creating Catastrophes, drawing parallels between experiences of parenthood and aspects of existential threat. This deeply authentic collection of vignettes, impressions and introspective monologues combines elements of truth-telling, absurdity and hope. 

From the beginning, large swathes of cloth are suspended from the roof by strings and pulleys. Many chairs of different kinds (all retro, all unique) line the perimeter, beneath the strategically-lit sea of cloth. Two mums sit and converse, sometimes in text-speak. Throughout the show, this canopy rises and falls, taking on the fluid shape of the show’s shifting structure to envelop the women in billowing uncertainty. Constantly in motion, the material conceals and reveals dialogue-heavy expressions of cleverly-curated chaos.

Newman and Hetherington swim, verbally and figuratively, between snapshots of motherhood and existentially terrifying reminders of political, sociocultural and environmental tragedy. Speaking words most won’t admit to thinking, the duo retain razor-sharp humour in a disintegrating world. Between the asking and answering of deeply personal questions, these captivating performers cancel long-held social plans and remind the audience that women can be burned alive during school drop-off. In one moment, repetitive jumping conveys the rhythmic beat (and palpable exhaustion) of using a breast pump. In the next moment, an anecdote contains the phrase ‘s****ing seeds’.

Part observational comedy, part poignant ode-to-parenthood, Catastrophes is hard to describe, but easy to get lost in. Dealing with life and death, self-loathing, war, injustice and the precarity of human flourishing, this show gets raw, and yet is light enough to support the inherent darkness at its core. Drawing parallels between the micro and the macro, minor inconveniences are contrasted against global catastrophes in a confronting and relatable expression of female bonding and radical honesty.

Catastrophes reveals an array of brutal truths about grief and loss, love and life, fear and hope – all of which are intertwined – appearing everywhere and nowhere, simultaneously. With concerns ranging from potentially judgemental Spotify algorithms, to the absolute terror of fearing for the future, effective juxtapositions convey the warm and cold colours of life in equal measure. 

Newman and Hetherington are flawless in the conception and execution of this memorable feat of dramatic symbolism. The synergy between the performers is electric. Ben Collins’ dreamy sound design of intermittent soundscapes of waves and ambient compositions enhances the fragmentary nature of the narrative. 

Read: Theatre review: Escaped Alone and What If If Only, Southbank Theatre

Powerful, compelling and the right amount of everything, this hilariously sad show is tragically funny. A celebration of beauty as much as a symptom of angst, this bittersweet dialogue will make mothers cry, and bees rejoice. 

PICA (Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts) Performance Space, WA

Co-Creators and Performers: Renée Newman and Ella Hetherington
Scenography: Mark Haslam
Composer: Ben Collins
Design Associate/Stage Manager: William Gammel
Movement Dramaturge: Emma Fishwick
Script Consultant: Andrew Sutherland
Costume Consultant: Amalia Lambert
Technical Operator: Catherine O’Donoghue
Special thanks to Kevin McCloud
Acknowledgement of Country by Kylie Bracknell
Additional field recordings by Renée Newman and Sam Newman, and ‘Vitti na crozza’ by Rosa Balistreri

Tickets $25–$35

Catastrophes will be performed until 26 August 2023

Nanci Nott is a nerdy creative with particular passions for philosophy and the arts. She has completed a BA in Philosophy, and postgraduate studies in digital and social media. Nanci is currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing, and is working on a variety of projects ranging from novels to video games. Nanci loves reviewing books, exhibitions, and performances for ArtsHub, and is creative director at Defy Reality Entertainment.