REVIEW: Into the Bush (Butch Mermaid Productions)

Review by Jennifer Cheuk

Photo: Peter Jennings

The Importance of Fun

Walking into TAPAC, there’s an immediate feeling of being in the Garden of Eden. Lush and living greenery surrounds the stage. There is a sense of openness, as though the stage has widened into a larger expanse beyond what I can see. But this Garden of Eden is not concerned with virginity and godly purity. This is a garden of freedom, individuality, and absolute fun. 

Into the Bushreinvents an Elizabethan play [Gallathea] into a rainbow circus theatre spectacular”. It takes classic story tropes – the virgin sacrifice, the cross-dressing, the cupid’s strike – and reinvents them through the eyes of consent, sex positivity and queer representation. These Elizabethan plays are often wrought with queer and camp imagery. But there is the Very Important Conclusion where he is established as a he, she is established as a she and he marries she. Into the Bush wonders what would happen if this Very Important Conclusion was not necessary. What would happen if we only cared about love and having fun?

Into the Bush plays on the tension between social constructs and the absolute arbitrariness of these constructs. It satirises the ridiculousness of these made up ideas governing who can love who. My favourite part is when Neptune is offered a virgin girl as a human sacrifice. All the Gods look puzzled and Diana exclaims: “Why virgin?!”. This was such a hilarious way to confront the bizarreness of virginity as an admired trait. 

I love the way Into the Bush never takes itself too seriously. It points fun at these classical narratives, but it also points fun at itself. This performance is about enjoyment and laughter as much as it is about confronting ideas of gender, sexuality and social constructs. I often feel guilty for enjoying myself, but Into the Bush carved out a space in my day for me to just stop and have fun. A celebration of life and love, the production is fun and colourful and sometimes fun and colourful is what we need. This performance revels in its chaos and never waivers in its positivity. It pushes you to live authentically, discard societal standards and above all, have a good time.  

Furthermore, I love the connection between gender performativity and circus performance. Bodies are full of power and strength and grace. There is no gendered gaze, no sexualization. Bodies are bodies. The moment Neptune begins his circus routine, I am astounded with the attention to shape and shadow. The texture of his routine andthe way he moves with the light and dark is beautiful. There is such nuance in the choreography of each circus routine, a flow of movement that works with each character and each motive. It is refreshing to see bodies as powerful refractions of shadow and light, rather than sexual things to be gawked at.  

I must commend Monty Montgomery. Their energetic cowboy boot tap across the stage brings fire to an already blazing performance. Also, Ariel Cronin’s clown-esque comedy is fantastic.  I am always weary of theatre clowning, as I dread the feeling of second-hand embarrassment. But Cronin’s routine never passes into that cringey territory. The actors all bring their own sense of colour and personality to each role. 

I only wish there was more. More circus, more chaos, more colour. Sometimes the stage is a bit sparse, especially when the energy dips and there is a gap in the action. There are inklings of larger than life colour and energy and I want to see more of it. The dance scene in the end brings such a smile to my face, I wish these breakouts into dance could be interspersed throughout. 

Into the Bush made me realize I do not set aside enough time to just enjoy. I think too much. We all think too much: Everything must have an end goal, a purpose. During the performance even, I had a moment of wondering what the point of this all was. It was certainly fun and colourful, but what’s the point? Sometimes the point is to be a fun and colourful show and that is purpose enough, in my opinion. Into the Bush lets you lose yourself in laughter, for just a second. And above all, this show reminds you to love who you are, love who you want to love… and have fun. 

Into the Bush plays TAPAC 13-16 May, 2021. 

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