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Theatre review: Siarad, Goodwood Theatre and Studios

A one-woman spoken word performance with personal reflections and incisive cultural commentary.

Siarad, a theatrical and spoken word event by Caroline Reid, was presented for an extremely limited season in a rehearsal space at Adelaide’s ‘The Goodwood’, a self-proclaimed supporter of ‘the cultural diversity and future of South Australian Arts’, no small feat in these COVID times. This reimagined venue is a community hub with a history and where an intimate audience witnessed Caroline Reid emerging onto stage in black hot pants and a polka dot shirt for 50 minutes of language-inspired performance. 

Reid has been previously described as displaying ‘ferocious honesty’. Here, she wanders casually about the makeshift stage, warming us up to her brand of dry, incisor-sharp wisdom: ‘The lizard brain is powerless in the face of art’ she says, and perhaps she is endeavouring to show us. 

Reid unpacks a suitcase of sentimental objects, laying them out alongside conversational gems such as ‘We live in a world where the chairman of the board of Sydney Theatre Company is also the CEO of the Commonwealth Bank’. Reflecting on life and wooing us into her meandering monologue, her style is humble and unassuming. She continues on with her astute observations on cultural influences: in reference to David Attenborough she identifies his ‘clipped, wet accent’. It’s this turn of phrase and many others that allows us to enjoy the coruscating moments of her craft bound up in Siarad, and in her storytelling.

Read: Dance review: Forgery, Australasian Dance Collective

Reid’s thoughtful words come tumbling out in this collected works with its Welsh title. Siarad means to speak and is a nod to Reid’s cultural heritage (the production was first launched as a collection of poetry and prose in 2020). Reid succeeds in drawing us into her narrative: ‘The world is a kind of nothing place and I am like a rubbish place inside’ she says. 

Without artifice, without ego, Reid weaves her brand of awkward magic, stringing together stories of her life, bantering between poems. There are so many ideas in this tumble dryer of a show that it feels like a development, a not yet complete performance but nonetheless, it was a privilege to be part of it.

Reid leads us through the challenges of growing up: ‘Be who you want to become but first know who you want to become,’ and growing old: ‘These things were bound to come up: love, disappointment, not being dead’ and the achingly, all-too-real task that greets many of us – having to look after one’s parent(s) as they become less independent, and nearer to the end of life. For Reid this is tied to her mother’s illness. ‘I think of lives lost to dementia all the time,’ she says and it’s in her observations of love and the small moments that her talents truly lie. 

There are so many ideas in this tumble dryer of a show that it feels like a development, a not yet complete performance but nonetheless, it was a privilege to be part of it.

Reid’s musings are set to a well-considered, ambient soundtrack. From the start, behind her words is ambient R & B and later, there are elements of a richer, urban landscape woven between phrases. Jeffery Zhang’s soundtrack assists Reid in lifting her words from the page, letting them live in the room with us. 

What’s good and bad about the piece is a lack of judgement and the steady flow of words. Reid’s range of moods and nuances is unstoppable; at times energetic, at times opaque and loaded with meaning. This reviewer had to go home and Google ‘Zimmerman’ to understand the connection to and reverence for a character in her youth. In not spelling things out to her audience, she honours our intellect and at times we struggle to keep up. 

Her self-depreciating honesty and lack of artifice comes across in lines like: ‘This little poem … will disappoint you, like a seafood laksa with only one prawn’. Reid has made an experience that is both appealing and melancholic, a bit waffly but well-crafted. Delivered as it is, as a one-woman show in a rehearsal room stripped of many theatrical conventions, we never forget, nor are we allowed to forget, that this is Reid laid bare. 

Siarad is the hallmark of a woman who has the need to speak, and thankfully, also has something to say. A nuanced, experienced, Australian voice choosing her words carefully, and presenting sometimes gentle, sometimes brittle poetry. On grief in the Riverland she muses, ‘Do they live with the memory of drought written into their days?’ As with the final poem, the show as a whole is something like a punch in the stomach, surprisingly painful in its intensity. With dramaturgy and pruning, this work-in-progress has potential as a worthy vessel for Reid’s prodigious talent.  

Siarad by Caroine Reid
Presented by Goodwood Theatre & Studios as part of COMEBACK Festival
Siarad was performed from 17-19 September 2021

The print book Siarad: Poetry and Prose by Caroline Reid is published by ES-Press, an imprint of Spineless Wonders and distributed by New South Books. The audio book is available through Authors Direct.

Emma Bedford is a writer, professional audio describer, and general life enthusiast. Emma is also a production manager for theatre, festivals and major events.

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