Trailer by Proudly Asian Theatre
When you watch a movie, there is a particular desire to feel unaware of the film’s construction. However, with theatre, you are always aware of its construction: there is a strange recognition of the fact these are people on a stage, reciting words, pretending to be something else. Proudly Asian Theatre’s Deep pushed this constructivism further, forcing us to confront the social constructions around us. With puppets so explicitly made of pool noodles and plastic bags, I felt confronted with the fact everything is constructed: our language, the way we perceive sex and sexuality, the idea of ‘feminine and ‘masculine’ — it is all a construction.
Deep follows Rebekah Poleman, a marine archaeologist trapped over 4000ft below the ocean’s surface. Talking with the marine creatures around her, Rebekah undergoes an introspective experience, contemplating ideas of sex, sexuality and humanness. With a tight ensemble performance of singing and puppetry, Deep was a wonderful mix of both the energetic and contemplative.
Before I go on, I must give my commendations to the puppet designer and builders: each puppet moved with the fluidity of really being under water. The puppet mechanics, especially of the viper fish, were absolutely captivating.
Furthermore, the puppets were built from clearly reused materials. I felt this was a clever touch, as it forced the audience to confront how foreign and strange our norms are. The sea-monster with pool noodle tentacles, the plastic bag viper fish — these puppets were normative items made foreign. Whether intended or not, I felt this connected so smoothly to the play’s critique on social constructions. Also, the use of different creatures to embody different responses to sex and female sexuality was fantastic. It was such a clever way to integrate a social commentary into the deep sea setting. I also loved Deep‘s use of the ocean to confront our tiny, insignificant human perspectives and social orders. The way the puppets created a zoom in and zoom out was amazing!
My huge love to the character Sike who made me realise how hard we are on ourselves. How we feel we aren’t doing enough, or aren’t normal. This character was a perfect light in the depths of a sharp social commentary.
At times though, the performance did feel somewhat like a final draft, as though it needed one more rewrite to be complete. Some of the humour and comments on sexuality felt a bit overdone. I actually preferred the moments that were left unsaid, and would have particularly enjoyed Rebekah’s experience with the bioluminescent cloud to not have been labelled as an “orgasm”. I felt it defeated the purpose of the performance a little. I really saw Deep as trying to move away from constructed response to female sexuality, and move towards a more fluid, open response (as symbolised by the water setting). Using our male-dominated language to label Rebekah’s final transcendent experience felt somewhat regressive. However, I do agree with reversing the taboo-ness of the female orgasm, and perhaps this is what Deep intended with labelling her experience.
More contemporary performances are connecting humanness to non-human scenarios. Deep achieved this by refracting the human through the non-human, by using the marine setting to invert our norms. I would definitely recommend Deep as a fun and introspective performance with some really fantastic puppet design.
Deep is playing at Q Theatre from 25 – 29 February 2020 as part of Summer at Q and Auckland Fringe Festival.