Bagabus Inc are Hannah Malarski and Jack Richardson. They brought the delightfully dark Bushpig to the Melbourne Fringe in 2013 and are back for Midsumma with The Jacobeans, an equally dark and satirical exploration of the imbalance of power between men and women.
That makes it sound like it’s all “hear me roar”; it’s not. It’s subtle and honest with a power that gently builds and packs its punch at the end as it circles back to beginning and the whole show is seen with a clearer perspective.
With a series of vignettes, it starts in the Dark Ages with a peasant woman dreaming of a day where she doesn’t peel potatoes. It stays in the later-but-just-as-dark-ages with Freud and Jung knowing all about female orgasms; Saint Joan talking to God, who really doesn’t care; a suffragette trying to explain her hunger strike to her husband who wants her out of gaol; and Julie Andrews dealing with Mickey Mouse and a three-toed sloth called Jeremy.
It can be frustrating to find the link in these mis-matched stories, especially as each is more short play than sketch, with its own tone, reflection and complete story, but there is clarity.
On a knife edge between satire and despair, or maybe anger, each looks at the love between women and men (platonic, comfortable, sexual, fearful and everything else along the scale) and how this love could be what keeps the power out of balance. But with or without love or not, the power isn’t equal and even the strongest women are left knowing that they’re not going to win – yet.
A dining chair and fake grass design lets each piece begin with a blank slate while the exceptional lighting, by Zoe Atterbury, declares the mood, creates vivid worlds, and makes the small and awkward space seem so much bigger than it is.
Which leaves Malarski and Richardson, who developed, wrote and perform the piece. They work beautifully together, bringing a complex understanding and empathy to all of their characters and ensuring that every character tells their own unique story. Both also know that the best clowning comes from an uncomfortable truth and that the best way to face and such truths is through laughter and story.
The more I think about this show, the more I like it. It’s easy to enjoy the surreal stories and the terrific performances, but there’s a deeper understanding that comes when it’s seen as a whole, and I look forward to seeing this duo continue to develop new work.