Pinch Me presented by Dead Owl Factory reviewed by Charlene Li

Pinch Me is a one-person theatre and multimedia performance that starts out as a whimsical Alice in Wonderland-like tale, but gradually reveals itself to be an environmental fable that’s pertinent to the present day and nuanced, one which doesn’t belittle the audience.

It’s a frame narrative in which the bulk of the events are set within the dream of our gutsy and exuberant protagonist, a young girl named Sophie.  Her dream starts out with her frolicking through an idyllic forest.  She encounters a voice which relays to her an Aboriginal dreamtime story of how the rainbow bird came to be the black crow, and leaves her with a piercing question:  what is the story of Sophie’s people?

The next scene is a juxtaposition to an austere and frenetic city.  As it’s a dream, nothing makes perfect sense logically but there is an unmistable sense of dread and foreboding  —  owing in no small part to the sound design and film projections that serve as a backdrop.  The rest of the performance traverses through a series of scenes and images with an environmental focus, most of which depict or allude to the disastrous effects of modern civilization on the environment.

The unfolding of events has the tenuous logic and imaginative freedom of a dream, but is not so abstract that we as the audience have no idea what we’re seeing.   Rather, it allows for a subtler, multi-layered way of conveying  the various ideas it attempts to express.   Messages aren’t stated bluntly but implied.  For example, the ugliness of modern farming is expressed not through descriptions of carcasses or abbatoirs, but through the image of a bleeding apple.

The acting is strong throughout and convincing; I would have found it challenging not to empathise with Sophie’s emotional journey from innocence, to heartbreak, to the sense of urgency and conviction as her dream (and subsequently the show) ends.

The showing I went to was an evening performance set on the balcony of Brisbane’s SAE Institute in West End.  It’s a modern building set right next to Musgrave park on one side and Brisbane River along another, which made for a very appropriate setting and a strong case for the use of non-traditional theatre spaces.   This show is also being performed in a cafe, and I would be interested to see how this affects the show overall.

The scenery is minimal but effective, using few props and film projections against a wall as a backdrop.   Tying all this together is the sound design, which has ambient electronica at the start and interspersed during the more reflective moments, and grungier sound textures at other times to create an atmosphere of disharmony and unease.

All of the elements combine to make a show that is polished and aesthetically pleasing, without in the least bit sacrificing authenticity.  It doesn’t attempt to proselytize or prescribe a simple solution to what is acknowledged as a complex issue, but rather imparts the audience with that sense of urgency and desire for change felt by our protaganist at its conclusion.