Adelaide Festival Review: The Sheep Song

FIFTY+SA Arts Reviewer Dave Bradley shares his views on Adelaide Festival's The Sheep Song performed at Dunstan Playhouse.

WORDS: Dave Bradley, Arts Reviewer

This bizarrely absurdist production (wordless except for some Italian-like gibberish) from Belgium’s FC Bergman collective was one of the stranger offerings from this year’s Adelaide Festival, and proved both technically dazzling and frequently baffling.

Telling a tale far removed from the talking animals of Disney (or even the simple fables of Aesop), this began with a naked man in a red hood ringing a bell at the front of the stage, and then we watched as a herd of real sheep milled about (and peered dimly at the audience). One, of course, lifted itself up on its hind legs, to the tune of the shepherd’s (?) banjo-playing, and proceeded to walk, dance and bounce its way down a conveyor belt that ran from right to left on the stage, and symbolised just about anything you wanted, from the evils of conformity to the frenzied pace of modern life.

What seemed to be a story about the sheep trying to fit into human society became something much more perplexing and grotesque as we went along. A guide dog (yes, a real dog) barked angrily at the anthropomorphic critter, while people in masks chased, fought and hated the thing, and even its attempts to undergo de-sheeping surgery proved hopeless. But it was the sheer weirdness of some of the other deliberately alienating interludes that stuck in the mind, especially visits by a sort of mobile Punch and Judy show, with a gibberish-spouting puppet that grew distinctly overexcited before somehow misplacing its puppeteer. And understandably panicking.

Some of the Dunstan Playhouse punters were flummoxed (what did they expect? Pixar?), and yet there was no doubt that this was an extraordinarily complex production with a cast in multiple challenging roles, not least the player under the sheep get-up, who spent 80 minutes leaping about on the balls of his feet. Oh, and the bell-ringer in the hood, who did a lengthy and cheeky dance to prove that, yes indeed, he really was naked.

So what remarkable production are FC Bergman trying next? I’m almost afraid to ask.

(The Sheep Song’s season has, of course, concluded)

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