REVIEW: The Goblin Market (The Dust Palace)

Review by Brigitte Knight

[The Market Will Decide]

Created by The Dust Palace in 2016 and directed by Mike Edward, The Goblin Market is a narrative circus theatre production incorporating music, film, spoken word and acrobatics. Exploring the Victorian Christina Rosetti narrative poem Goblin Market, the performance aims to develop the original characters and storyline within a contemporary setting. Upon entering the theatre, audience members are greeting by the performers masturbating fruits and moving amongst them. The aim is titillation; slightly awkward audience interaction includes performers poking their fingers into fruit and encouraging people to eat it afterwards. The Dust Palace’s penchant for burlesque is strongly evident in the first third of the production and includes full-frontal male nudity for no particular reason.

The Goblin Market set is overcrowded and messy, and the costumes appear cheap and poorly constructed, however, the goblin masks are a nice touch. In a small venue like the Hannah Playhouse, these flaws are all too apparent and give the show an amateur/student flavour. The show is set to a varied and engaging soundtrack, peppered with occasional stints at a microphone stand by each of the performers. Sound levels require some adjustment as the heavier songs are uncomfortably loud, and a monologue by Jay Clement is largely inaudible. The projected film is pleasingly abstracted and ambient, lending depth and dimension in a restricted space.

A circus company at heart, The Dust Palace’s strength is their fluid and creative use of their apparatus. Aside from one fall by Clement, rope, hoop, silks, trapeze and balancing chairs are manipulated with confidence and skill by the performers. The most engaging and artistic moments of The Goblin Market are the intricate partnering choreography for trapeze and hoop. This is the company’s real point of difference and originality and is thoroughly impressive in live performance. Floorwork and balancing chairs are less effective, partly due to issues with proximity; only the front row got a clear sightline, yet with so little distance between performers and audience every wobble is visible.

Narrative elements connecting the apparatus performances have varying degrees of success. Development of character is one-dimensional, with the women falling into the trap of a whore/child dichotomy in both physicality and expression. Rochelle Managan managed a sense of loss and despair successfully, however the denouement followed a murky and  undeveloped crescendo. The physical skill and strength of circus performers seems to render the demands of physical characterisation in theatre challenging. While choreography and thematic emotion blend well during apparatus work, The Goblin Market struggles to utilise a sense of climax to round off each section. Entrances, exits and connecting links would benefit from a dramaturge’s eye, although these issues became less evident in the second half of the performance.

Reading Rosetti’s Goblin Market is helpful in contextualising the stylised visual symbolism in The Goblin Market, particularly in terms of the fruit and imageries of temptation. Programme notes promote the production as both feminist and empowering to women, which strikes a jarring chord when reading the gang-rape imagery in the original poem. The strongest and most enduring connection between the works remains the bond between the two sister characters, concluding The Goblin Market with a hopeful tone. Two young women in nude-illusion costumes scissoring in a spinning hoop might not be everyone’s idea of sisterhood, but it seems to be The Dust Palace’s.

The Goblin Market plays Wellington’s Hannah Playhouse 27-30 March then Auckland’s Herald Theatre 3-13 April 2019. 

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1 Comment on REVIEW: The Goblin Market (The Dust Palace)

  1. When I was a first-year student I wrote what I thought was a very smart essay and my tutor wrote at the bottom of the essay: “This is merely picking.” How dare she? Was my first reaction. When I got over my righteousness, I realized she was right. I went to see her. She told me: Understand before you judge. Honour the work by seeing it as a whole. I have been grateful to her for 50 years, which is why I remember the exact words she wrote.

    Christina Rossetti’s enigmatic and exciting poem about food, sex, desire, the body, and women and women and men, The Goblin Market, like Robert Louis Stevenson’s equally exciting and enigmatic narrative Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, stands at the gateway of that modernity, where we now live and where goblin merchant men still welcome us to their marketplace where food, sex, desire, bodies and women and men are still selling fast. This market is problematic for most people, but for women it remains profoundly difficult, despite the Victorian world disappearing 120 years ago. It was very canny of Dust Palace to choose to revivify this narrative. First that overall choice should be honoured.

    In the context of such a narrative the momentary and comedic presentation of a naked male body is not without its point. The naked male body is one of those little things we don’t see in our marketplace. Forbidden fruit – ah! When I saw the performance, Jay Clement played the moment with panache. Oh, we’re only going to see his butt – then, oh my god (as the audience member beside me exclaimed)! Jay’s smile to us all said look, in all our dreams and mythologies and cruelties, this is the common ordinary flesh, the thing we are, which doesn’t last. Best we laugh at it together, no? The power of Rossetti’s poem – and Dust Palace’s versioning of it – is that they don’t tell you how the world should be, rather through the narrative you are provided with a way for thinking about ourselves and our world. For work in which performance skill and risk is at such a high level, Dust Palace’s Goblin Market is a profoundly non-narcissistic creation. They do it for us.

    Is ‘student production’ a useful shorthand for ‘not very good’? The problem is that one can, without much searching, see ‘professional productions’ which present entitled, lazy and boring performances on expensive and dead settings of texts that have not been well-chosen. Then one gets to see a ‘student production’ in which the performers are doing it like their lives depend on it and suddenly this play makes sense, even though, sure, the production values are limited. It might make real sense to consider Dust Palace’s work in Goblin Market in relation to Lyubov Popova and Vavara Stepanova’s constructivist designs for Meyerhold’s 1920s productions, where the possibilities of integrating circus and theatre were initiated as a modernist pathway. That search goes on. Let’s understand what we are seeing.

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