Witch & Mansion
Sydney Spiegeltent, Fri 3 November, 2023.
Reviewed by Paul Neeson (Arts Wednesday)
It was an unusual decision from writer, director, producer Bass G Fam to put two shows, Witch and Mansion on the same bill, to be sold and ticketed separately. You had the choice of seeing either or both. Luckily for us we chose both and the excitement, energy, sexiness and theatrical surprises were way more than doubled.
So let’s start at the beginning with Witch, described as a 30 minute prelude to the story. In a recent interview with Arts Wednesday, Bass revealed that Witch is in its development stage and this version will be fleshed out over the coming months to become a full-scale production for release next year.
The premise is in the setting, a haunted Mansion. and the 6 witches were the previous tenants prior to the main story. As women they suffered terribly and now their troubled souls wander the corridors of the mansion, coincidentally performing some amazing circus acts – think aerials, silks and sword swallowing – and revealing their ghostly forms in a sexy parade of burlesque. These are strong powerful women in total control of their sexuality and prepared to use it to achieve their ends.
The lighting (Jack Pryce) created an eerie setting for the cast to inhabit, and the soundtrack (Rory Waters) was a pastiche of familiar touch points (such as Fly Me to the Moon) that quickly morphed into dark tortured versions of the same tune. We were constantly shifted between the sweet and the tormented keeping us in a constant state of unease yet relish.
As a genre, circus/cabaret/burlesque has come of age and Bass Fam has shown himself to be a true master of the form. Restricted to only half an hour, what we witnessed was not much more than the talented acrobatics and some raunchy striptease. The bodies were well crafted with lots of artistic tattoos and beautifully curated musculature.
A tease of what is to come in the final production, but I hope that we will see some of the more spiritual aspects of witchcraft. What about a bubbling cauldron, some alchemy and some healing herb lore. But I feel that whatever the creative team comes up with it will be a sensational theatrical experience.
And so to the main course. Mansion was a whole new cauldron of spells. We were lead into the narrative by Mr Emson, the Caretaker played by Bass Fam, Is there anything this guy can’t do? The eerie pre-recorded voice over told us that the newly widowed Mel Walker and her children seek refuge in an old Mansion hoping for new beginnings. While the creative team were keen to get into the story, the introduction felt a bit rushed and missed the opportunity to create a strong atmosphere. Once our protagonists were centre stage that was quickly forgotten.
Essentially Mansion is a dance work, with some circus acts leavened throughout. Here is where the choreographers (Josephine Magliolo and Jordan Charles Herbert) became the stars of the show. The scenes of the mother (Skylar Delphinus) feeling the powerful presence of her deceased husband (Timmy J Hickey) was a study in psychology portrayed in dance – the pulls and rejections of desires, longings and regrets.
Equally brilliant were the scenes between father and son (Lukas White) who was struggling with a feeling of rejection by his absent and once wayward father, who was now feeling remorse for his prior actions only to realise it was too late to make amends.
In the background of this family saga were a cast of demons and spirits that occupied the mansion, all complete with their own back stories – tortured lover, bride, flower girl, grandma – that were all trying to seduce the family into temptation, corruption and desire.
The narrative was propelled through a series of short vignettes of brilliant choreography, incredible costumes and masks/makeup and of course the atmospheric lighting and again the soundtrack. If a recording of the sound track was available I would have bought it on the spot. Some familiar horror cliches, such as a toy piano and the voice of Edith Piaf, pointed us in the right direction. Then there were familiar melodies that again morphed into uneasy corrupted versions of once sweet songs – genius remixes. I have to say it was the best version of Every Breath You Take I have heard, dare I say even better than The Police’s original. I’ll be watching you takes on a while new scary meaning.
The tension and excitement built as we neared the end of the show, making us wonder how they would bring all the threads of the narrative to a satisfying conclusion. Like the opening it was done with a pre-recorded voice over minus the eerie sound effects. To me it was slightly simplistic, saying basically that they managed to flee – not easy given the spirits that bound them to the mansion – and to all live happily ever after – though perhaps setting up a sequel. But that took nothing away from the captivating, thrilling hour and half of faux but so real horror, circus and amazing dance that we had just experienced – and it was, above all, it was an incredible experience.
I can’t wait for next year’s full production of Witch if this is what Bass G Fam and his amazing team are capable of.