info I contact
editorial schedule
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

Ten Days on the Island

March 23 - April 1 2007

 Da Contents H2


queen of the snakepit: islands apart

virginia baxter

Cheryl Wheatley, Queen of the Snakepit Cheryl Wheatley, Queen of the Snakepit
photo Michael Rayner
Distracted for a moment in Cheryl Wheatley’s Queen of the Snakepit, I found myself mentally revisiting that seminal 70s pedagogical text for actors by Robert L Benedetti entitled Seeming, being and becoming—as you do.

Wheatley comes on strong in her persona as Lois, our guide on a virtual tour to Flinders Island in the northeast corner of Tasmania. Lean and rangy, clad in skirt and blouse, knee-high stockings and plimsolls Lois is an instantly engaging, if brash and bawdy host, shouting some of us down the front a beer (or a shandy), which she whips from her well worn Esky. Later, from this bottomless pit, she’ll also extract a slide projector and a couple of inflatable kangaroos. Like any good guide Lois introduces us to the outstanding features of the island, including its incessant wind. To do this, she lugs an industrial strength wind machine from the wings. When, in the process, she inadvertently knocks the hat from the head of the Mayor of Tasmania (who’s apparently rarely seen without one), Wheatley handles it all with bravura and the audience (Mayor included) respond with even more good humour. Playing the affable guide seems an easy transformation for Cheryl Wheatley who was born and bred on Flinders Island and has a deep love for the place (she identifies its location by referring to her own breast) and the earthy characters who populate it. As in all good performance, it’s often difficult to untangle the persona from the performer herself.

The other aspect of the work demands that, before our eyes, the performer “becomes” a series of women—the ones who stay on the island while the men go to sea and hence, she believes, share a unique understanding of the place. Most are variations on Wheatley’s relatives, among them, Queenie, based on her grandmother, an earthy old lady who holds court in the “Snakepit”, the ladies’ lounge at the back of the pub. Wheatley’s work with mentor, John Bolton, presumably focused on developing each of her personae in this work in situ. Somehow, though, as Wheatley steps in and out of these imagined bodies, she loses her performative footing. She adopts the physique, the vocal tics, a nicely poetic turn of phrase, but now appears actorly, tongue-tied, less assured in her connection with the audience.

Finegan Kruckemeyer has the writer credit on this show but clearly its construction has involved a number of hands including the performer herself as co-devisor. Sound artist, Jethro Woodward’s work provides an important atmospheric layer. There’s also a rudimentary show of slides that fits the homey feel of the show. At another distracted moment, I imagined Lois as one of those well-equipped guides with a video camera that would allow us some quality images of the Island. Principally, though, I’d say this promising work has a way to go to achieve the fluidity of form suggested by the material. Some sharper writing is needed for the island “characters” and a more comfortable performative bridge to take performer and audience safely from the friendly engagement of the guide we meet at the beginning of Queen of the Snakepit to the deeper understanding embedded in the female spirit of place that it seems Wheatley would like us to souvenir from her tour.

is theatre, Queen of the Snakepit, deviser/performer Cheryl Wheatley, co-director/dramaturg Robin Laurie, writer Finegan Kruckemeyer, co-director Tania Bosak, designer Greg Methé, executive producer Ryk Goddard; The Backspace Theatre, Hobart, Ten Days on the Island, March 29-31

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

Back to top