[2014079] They Saw a Thylacine

[2014079] They Saw a Thylacine

Sarah Hamilton and Justine Campbell @ Tuxedo Cat – Room 4

6:00pm, Tue 4 Mar 2014

After the visual excesses of the previous evening, I was keen for something a little more refined… a little more subdued. A little Fringe-y. And with a quirky title, a one-line précis, and a great timeslot, They Saw a Thylacine got the nod… even though I had little idea what it was going to be about. I was hoping for a thylacine, to be sure, but one can never assume anything with Fringe theatre.

And first impressions were… curious, to say the least. There’s music pumping as we enter the room, with the stage dominated by a large cage; there’s half a mirror ball in one corner that seems in keeping with the tunes, scattering light around the room, but the two women eating fruit in the cage (daubed in dirt and wearing short, pale, clingy dresses) are at odds with it. The (presumably tiger) skulls sitting in the cage offer portent.

But when the house lights drop, the music and mirror ball is forgotten, and we’re drawn into the separate worlds of these two women. Their stories both take place in Tasmania, in the 1930s: each woman is amongst the last people to see a living Tasmanian Tiger, but there the narrative commonalities end.

The woman on the left is Beatie (Sarah Hamilton), a female tracker who senses the “tige” and follows it through the bush in an amiable battle of wits. Hamilton’s monologue is broad and gloriously ocker, with wonderful physicality in her performance as Beatie interacts with the simmering threat of another (less capable) hunter, whose only intention is to kill the Tiger… a thought that horrifies Beatie.

The other woman, Alison (Justine Campbell), is a less threatened but more tragic figure: a daughter of a zookeeper, her knowledge and understanding of the animals in the zoo’s care (including their thylacine, Ben) is beyond compare… but, because of her gender, no-one takes her skills seriously. The death of her father sees bureaucrats take over the operation of the zoo, with it – and its animals – falling to ruin and neglect; the description of Alison’s attempt to rescue the animal on a stormy night is chilling.

It’s no spoiler to mention that both Beatie and Alison’s tigers die; they solemnly leave their cage once their story is told. And make no mistake: the two tales are fantastic: seemingly simple with undercurrents of broader issues (animal rights? feminism?), the characters are wonderfully constructed, and Hamilton & Campbell are both superb. The script – also written by Hamilton & Campbell – is a wonderfully poetic and lyrical treat, with Alison’s more traditional rhyming couplets generating a ferocious pace. The direction – though sparse – is spot-on, with the cage creating an atmospheric ambience, and the way the two performers dealt with disturbances (a latecomer, a massive moth buzzing the stage) was so cohesive, so natural, so in sync… well, there’s clearly a wonderful understanding between them.

I loved They Saw a Thylacine. It turned out to be one of those surprising productions that is so complete that it’s impossible to imagine it existing in any other way: great script, great production, and great people. Lovely.

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