Theatre Review: Unfathomable – Immersed With The Ancestors, Or Wait And Sea

July 1, 2020

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Unfathomable / Directed by Athena Mazarakis / Virtual National Arts Festival


I recall seeing the live version of Unfathomable (winner of a Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award on the 2019 National Arts Festival Fringe) at the Wits Theatre last year and leaving the performance afterwards with a feeling of being suspended, floating within the story that unfolded on stage.

This unique form of storytelling employs the collaborative efforts of Athena Mazarakis (choreographer and embodied mindfulness practitioner), Alex Halligey (writer and performer), Jenni-Lee Crewe (designer) and film editor Jessica Denyschen to bring us a gentle, sensory experience of a young woman threading pieces of her family history and significant events together.

The considered choices made in this solo performance lead us into contemplating the small, fine details – the flimsy paper on which the biographies of her family are sketched; the water floating in the suspended glass tank; the numerous glass jars grouped together; the rolls of plastic; the haunting music, all lead us into the sea with Alex, the watery element where she feels most at home, free and weightless: “I swim to feel, I swim to escape, I swim to be a body in a body of water.”

Her search is how to move forward with her ancestors: “How long do you grieve for? How many times do you bury someone?” Her actions are deliberate and contemplated; her comfortableness in her skin and the journey through her memories draw us in to a shared understanding of loss and grief. The production is like a light caress, a whispered mantra that stays with us long after the theatrical experience. I felt like she was talking just to me.

And yet, the virtual experience does not do it justice. The intent behind breaking the whole into an episodic, non-linear form was perhaps a way to capture a particular mood or memory in self-contained fragments, but the flow is interrupted, the intimacy is not as powerful. That aside, the technical issue of having to return to the main page after each episode and then scroll down to click on the next episode and wait for it to load, further disrupts the harmony and stillness of the whole. If the episodes had flowed on one from the other, the viewing experience may have been enhanced.

I want daily life and the clatter of screen business to be deferred; I want to sink in and dip into another’s life for a while; I want to swim with Alex wholeheartedly into the imagined sea and memories of her father, to adjourn with the ancestors, just for a little while.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]