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THEATRE: 19 AUGUST 2016

By JOHN ROZENTALS

Never Did Me Any Harm, devised by Force Majeure (http://www.forcemajeure.com.au) | Directed by Kate Champion

Sydney Theatre Company (https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au) & Force Majeure (http://www.forcemajeure.com.au) | Glen Street Theatre (http://www.glenstreet.com.au), Belrose, Sydney | Until 20 August (visit Force Majeure’s website for details of subsequent touring)

I was in Sydney’s Wharf 1 Theatre some three-and-a-half years ago for opening night of Never Did Me Any Harm, a provocative piece of dance-theatre created by Force Majeure and presented in conjunction with the Sydney Theatre Company.

So it was with considerable interest that I attended the latest version at Glen Street Theatre and was able to re-judge the company’s ongoing quality and piece’s relevance.

I didn’t think that there’d be any qualms on either ground, and there weren’t. Indeed, if anything, in the suburban location of Sydney’s Belrose — and before a largely northern-beaches audience — the relevance had increased.

And I don’t make any apologies for making extensive use of my observations from more than three years ago, for even if the cast has changed somewhat, the directorial-and-design team largely hasn’t.

Everyone has experienced life from at least one side of the parenting minefield.

It’s that universality of experience, as well the emotions generated, that made parenting the ultimate barbecue stopper long before debate over performance of the current Australian Test side came along.

Parenting has never been easy, but has it ever been as difficult as it is right now, when the boundaries between discipline and abuse have become so blurred?

Are ‘helicopter parents’ producing a coddled generation? Is children’s inability to deal with failure a result of our political correctness? Has childhood stopped being real fun? Are we more interested in our own gratification than our children’s long-term happiness? How should we handle issues relating to mental challenges?

That confusion about the rights and wrongs of parenting forms the core of Force Majeure’s scintillating piece of dance theatre, Never Did Me Any Harm.

It isn’t a story with a beginning, middle and end. Rather, it’s a series of poignant vignettes — sometimes deliciously funny, sometimes desperately sad, but always cutting straight to the quick of reality.

Under Kate Champion’s strong but sympathetic direction, the physicality and interpretive skills of the cast — this time around, Kristina Chan, Alan Flower, Tracy Mann, Veronica Neave, Joshua Mu and Timothy Ohl — create a veritable emotional rollercoaster from a text largely derived from many hours of interviews.

A blink of the eye can move the action from bristling confrontation to touching tenderness. It’s an aural and visual delight.

And surely not enough praise can be heaped on the design/lighting/sound team of Geoff Cobham, Chris Petridis and Max Lyanovert.

The backyard setting is quintessentially Australian, with a distinct sense of menace added by lighting that can turn lawn into a claustrophobic cage, and a potted succulent seemingly into an intimidating spider. And then there’s the barking of dogs that must be the size of wolves.

Check it out, whether you’re a parent or not. You’ve certainly experienced growing up from the child’s viewpoint.

Alan Flower.