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Jeremy Broom, Catalogue of Dreams, Urban Theatre Projects Jeremy Broom, Catalogue of Dreams, Urban Theatre Projects
photo Fred Harden
There is a central visual focus to Urban Theatre Projects’ Catalogue of Dreams: a small boy on a circular carpet, within a larger square. A fostered boy. He plays with a toy, his eyes remaining lowered. A man sits beside him on the floor, cross-legged, inviting him to eat at the table, if and when he wants to. The voice is delicate, even tentative; not pushing.

The contrast between man and boy is striking: the man, large, articulate, soft; the boy, mute but not unmoving. He stays within his own rhythm, his game, his routine, where he is sure.

We see three other adults, aloof at a dinner table. No enticing smells waft towards us: we are sharing the square chamber with something bland. But the playing space is also an arena or boxing ring, without a visible referee. Anything imperious in this scene is invisible, or leaches out through sound—the scrape of cutlery, cutting, slicing, measuring all the unspeakables, the gaps in experience and understanding between the order and routine of ‘normal’ lives and the disorder that must have thrown the boy into this, his foster child circumstance. What is striking is how much delicacy is manifest in this scene, and yet, one doubts to what extent touch, contact, redemption, is actually achieved.

Casey Keed, Catalogue of Dreams, Urban Theatre Projects Casey Keed, Catalogue of Dreams, Urban Theatre Projects
photo Fred Harden
This is a work—whether about or beyond the subject of fostering children—created in a city “perceived as the centre of decision-making.” The set largely comprises office desks and chairs. We, as audience, line the walls in plastic chairs (oh how like a Centrelink waiting-room!) and above our heads, shelves are lined with lever arch files which occasionally are shuffled around. There is a nice interplay between the number of files (hard to count how many) and not actually descending into a Kafkaesque hell where one completely loses count. One could count, if one wanted to. There is still hope here.

The strongest parts of this work are not in direct verbal exchange: they are in the soft voices, attempts at kindness, options offered, spaciousness, don’t push too hard; and where the adult actor Jeremy Broom—perhaps the boy when he grows up, pretending a coherent ascendancy—dons a messy, orange-gold cloak and cardboard crown and sings Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” as if his companions, as if the world, cannot contain him. His voice charges the room; the other performers give space for his illusion to unfold, spend its time, and be done.

 Moya Simpson, Catalogue of Dreams, Urban Theatre Projects Moya Simpson, Catalogue of Dreams, Urban Theatre Projects
photo Fred Harden
Indeed, in this production, the voice and the voice-over give the work its finest power. Broadcast excerpts of interviews and oral histories carry tremendous force, and the piece ends with a nice return: the voiceover of a young boy, 11 going on 50, who describes his only real concern as whether or not his incapable mother (a parent surely failing psychologist Donald Winnicott’s critical category of ‘good enough’) is safe and well. Curiously, the boy (if indeed it is the same boy, or an archetypal foster-child) has not appeared on stage for the last 20 minutes; he could be the hero of a radio-play.

The meaning of the animal masks—so significant a part of the marketing for this production—seems unclear as to its benevolence or malevolence, whether intended to hide, reveal, or represent the irrational taking hold. But aside from this underdeveloped point, the production is finely judged, not overbearing, not overdone, but delicate, nuanced and strange.

Catalogue of Dreams is a collaboration between seasoned theatre practitioners, newcomers, Indigenous and non-indigenous people and some on the ‘inside’ of the welfare system. It reaches no conclusions—about the inadequacies of the welfare system, of people, of parents, or of life itself—but opens a window wide enough for us to feel the breeze of lives surviving disarray, and wonder at what can be done.

Canberra100: Urban Theatre Projects, Catalogue of Dreams, co-directors: Rosie Dennis, Alicia Talbot, performers: Jeremy Broom, Mercedes Ellis, Casey Keed, Kasey Mitchell, Isiah Ritchie, Benjamin Slabb, Moya Simpson, contributors Myall Weazel, Amber Spooner, design Imogen Keen, lighting Daniel McCusker; Commissioned by the Centenary of Canberra; Canberra Theatre Centre, 13-27 July

This article first appeared as part of RT's online e-dition August 28, 2013

RealTime issue #117 Oct-Nov 2013 pg. 31

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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