Do Something Else, directed and devised by Michael Pigott | Devised and performed by Cloé Fournier, Ryuichi Fujimura and Brigid Vidler

Old 505 Theatre (http://www.old505theatre.com) | Old 505 Theatre, Newtown, Sydney | Until 22 October

The Guest and I wondered what we were getting ourselves into as we walked up the steep old steps between the historic Newtown School of Arts building and a dirty, dark utility space with overflowing garbage bins. We were glad that the police station backed onto the place and that a bustling hotel was within shouting distance.

Although the section of once-narrow road leading to the venue has been recently paved to make it a shared space for pedestrians and cars, we still felt a little apprehensive.

But the nerves abated as we finally reached the top, panting, and the Old 505 Theatre space. A welcoming bar and friendly FOH staff made it all worthwhile.

The performance space itself is a curtained-off area within the larger venue. It looks almost makeshift, but old-fashioned wooden raked seating gives it an air of permanence.

This is one of the most intimate spaces I’ve encountered, which works both for and against it. I felt a part of the performance, but uncomfortably hot and cramped by the end of the thankfully short show of only 75 minutes.

Our overwhelming memory of the night is our reaction at the end as we walked back towards the hustle and bustle and sirens and chaos of a Friday night in Newtown. For the first time, it seems, The Guest and I agreed on a show and said, almost in unison:

“What the fuck was that about?”

Group-devised theatrical pieces can be exhilarating and extraordinary. They are often spawned and shaped in a fever of innovation, with a creative energy that pervades the work and the performance itself. Taking a nub of an idea, or concept, or even a phrase or an event, the creators weave various modes of art and communication into a performance piece.

The performers and director of Do Something Else use hand-held, as well as fixed, lighting, music, spoken audio, movement and dialogue as their palette for this creation.

Cloé Fournier is “a French-Australian dancer, physical theatre performer, actor, choreographer and movement advisor”. Some of Fournier’s moments were admirable, such as exquisitely and skilfully tumbling from a desk in slow motion, physically conveying the mania of modern life, and undergoing a physiological examination.

Ryuichi Fujimura is a dance artist. He is vocally the most reticent, but has a controlled physicality that speaks volumes.

Brigid Vidler is, according to the program, “a sculptor, puppet maker … performer?” The question mark needs to be removed because Vidler is definitely a fine performer. She has a captivating presence on stage and was the standout. Her face is an open book that draws you in. I look forward to seeing more performances from her.

These three skilled artists created a pastiche of moments that were individually interesting to observe but, unfortunately, the underlying theme was MIA. In abstract theatre, that theme is the grain of sand that uses what you see and hear on stage to create the pearl of meaning and understanding. Without it, the performance is just an empty oyster shell.

Often the director’s notes or promotional material can provide this grain of sand. Not in this case. Michael Pigott (Devisor/Sound/Lights/Direction) writes very little of any help in his notes. The work seems to have “the idea of doing something else” as its grain of sand. It’s a “seriously playful inquiry into life’s little distractions”.

Struggle as we might, The Guest and I could not equate what we had experienced in the Old 505 with that premise.

We couldn’t work out what it was all about.

And without that grain of sand, no matter how fine the individual performances, the show was simply a series of interesting but empty moments.

Above: Ryuichi Fujimura and Brigid Vidler. Below: Brigid Vidler and Cloé Fournier. Images: Michael Pigott.