Adelaide Fringe

Fringe Review: OWEaDEBT

This un-fairytale take on love and partnering up will entertainingly challenge your perceived notions of dating, with a fair few laughs along the way

This un-fairytale take on love and partnering up will entertainingly challenge your perceived notions of dating, with a fair few laughs along the way

Presented by:  HEYwire Theatre

Reviewed: 18 February, 2024

OWEaDEBT at the 2024 Adelaide Fringe is the Australian premiere of this international act from Edmonton, Canada, which investigates the twisted and potentially harmful messages of fairy tales and their envisioning of love.

As the audience enters the intimate theatre, an orange-beaked human-swan hybrid slowly flits around the stage, occasionally making bird-like chirps and dressed in a green up-do wig, white tutu, diamanté-covered leotard, green pointe ballet dancing shoes, and a white feather crown, and then as the lights go down, this un-fairytale begins…

OWEaDEBT is a well-choreographed mixture of clowning, physical theatre, and dramatic monologues, mixed in with humorous audience interaction, short dance routines and sporadic song ballads in this one-woman show which follows the romantic journey of the protagonist, Odette. Mirroring the dramatic tragedy of the historically-famous Swan Lake, Odette recounts her journey of being cursed and transformed into a swan with the cure being to claim a very magical thing – someone’s first love. When the prince/hunter comes into the picture, Odette instantly turns into a giddy, lovestruck teenager, until a powerful promise is made to the wrong person, throwing her plans for both never-ending love and freedom from the curse out the window.

The show’s performer and creator, Lauren Brady, a professionally-trained ballet dancer who also studied theatre (which involved elements of clowning), challenges the idea of fairytales that we’re fed as we grow up, and the questionable influence they have on society as they shape certain views, and especially those regarding love and worthiness.

Similarly to the lauded Hollywood film Black Swan, both female leads have moments of flitting between a more conventional princess type, and a darker, more intensely realistic personality. When Odette’s lighter fairytale side has the stage, there are many moments of teenage-like naivety, excitement that comes with first loves, and an innocent romantic infatuation, mimicking the young in society whose minds are malleable and who still live within the belief of these fairytales.

Odette is light, airy-voiced, and elegant, until dark turns spontaneously take place, and Odette’s eyes darken, her smile vanishes, and everything feels a little more fearful. This physical change is paired with Odette’s recounting of the darker realities that women face, such as the un-wanted male gaze and the harm of modern-day misogyny, as well as anger and frustration that princesses (and women in general) are normally pushed to hide – it’s like she’s yelling “Why do I have to be in love to be worthy?”. Some monologues also question what love really is, and its intertwined and complicated connection with sex (which includes graphic miming of sexual acts to surprising and messy completion).

Lauren drew from her own personal experiences for the show, including challenging her past unhealthy and harmful relationship to understand why they happened. A recurring theme seemed to be the fear of being single or ‘alone’ and from here she looked deeper, where society’s harmful messages became a lot clearer.

Lauren shines when it comes to interacting with audience members, and especially when desperately attempting to find love with those in the seats in front of her – kind of like a spontaneous dating show that also includes audience member duets and bonding interactions with spray-bottles. Another space where Lauren’s talent is on proudly on display is when she gracefully performs her ballet moves, with an especially beautiful and heart-breaking routine including leaps and en pointe pirouettes when the swan sees her opportunity for ’true love’ slip away.

OWEaDEBT has strong bones and plenty of potential to become a strikingly strong piece of theatre, though it does need a tad more workshopping and polishing. At points the show’s messages become a bit distorted and loses its strength, with parts of the script not flowing as cohesively as they could. Workshopping with a director and/or other solo-performers may help to tighten Lauren’s content which would assist in strengthening the power of her message, and polish the production so it can reach its full potential.

This piece of theatre is a great example of the kind of thoughtful and explorative work that those behind the production – HEYwire Theatre – aim to achieve. The human experience, and especially that in regard to our fears and vulnerabilities, are fascinatingly put under the microscope, and in this case the production challenges the pressure to partner up. With some more workshopping it will become especially powerful.

Reviewed by Georgina Smerd

Venue: Star Theatres
Season: 16 – 21 February, 2024
Duration: 50mins
Tickets: $25 – 30

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