Exploring the effect COVID-19 has on individuals, Disruption Theatre’s ‘Mosaic’ is a celebration of strength in diversity despite isolation. (Image source: Disruption Theatre)
By Helen Karakulak | @Helen_Karakulak
Creating new and original live theatre amid the COVID-19 pandemic presented a challenge few were willing to take on as the creative sector was one of the first industries to be hit.
However, UniSA’s cohort of undergraduate performing arts students undertaking a final year course in live performance production managed to defy disconnection to create Mosaic.
Most admirable of this production is its insistence that the overall message incorporates culturally and linguistically diverse voices. It would have been easy to localise such a production, but its success lies in its scope, truly defying the isolation that separated each performer and crew member throughout pre-production. Initially incorporating German, Italian, Cantonese, French, Swahili and Mandarin was effectively enticing through its inclusivity and insight into a shared experience about to unfold.
Drawing on experiences of isolation-induced anxiety, the characters fulfil archetypes we’ve gotten to know all too well since collectively making the switch to remote learning or working from home.
Such effective characterisation includes Frena Ahmad Yusof as the insatiable Jamie, a glamourous mother dressed to the nines for every Zoom meeting, who’s biggest concern is the effect COVID-19 has on her sex life. Crafted as effortlessly crude, Yusof knows her character’s worth and her stage presence and vulgar-tongued remarks reflect that well.
Jarrod Brew as struggling teacher, Mark, has a disgruntled energy to his performance that will make viewers wonder if the joy they get out of changing their Zoom backgrounds is really that infuriating.
The team of writers prove there is value in writing what you know. This extends to the authenticity of individual and collaborative conflicts that present more intensely.
The effectiveness of this writing is evident in a well-balanced juxtaposition between comedic archetypes and the impact of isolation on mental health. This is particularly notable in Zoe Lelliott’s performance as The Sims obsessed university student, Maddy. Emphasising anxiety and lack of motivation through the popular video game, suggesting a ‘simception’, was particularly engaging and well-delivered through Lelliott’s erratic physicality.
Following multiple characters with intertwined plot lines was effective in representing a diverse range of experiences navigating various types of relationships amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with such a variety to cover, and a large ensemble to manage, the cohesion between scenes was at points lacking, with character development difficult to follow. Such is the case with the plotline following community television host Lana.
In her initial appearance, Chantal Ball shines as Lana aside Sinead Kemp as Fiona, her anti-vaxxer, community member interviewee. Ball and Kemp successfully build off one another’s comedic timing, introducing the characters in a light-hearted way. Incorporating a television show setting for this plotline allowed effective use of pre-recorded content projected onto one of the stage’s many well-utilised screens.
Unfortunately, as memorable as this interaction was, too much time passes between Lana’s first appearance and the context later provided to her character. Ball is incredibly engaging in Lana’s monologue with strong physicality reaching a heart-warming emotional brink touching to anyone that’s been in her character’s position. However, the plot following Lana struggles to present as a character arc as much it does a before and after perspective with very brief context of her journey, which audiences deserved more of. Such brief context, along with little to no beneficial foreshadowing or indication of underlying tension between Lana and her co-workers in the earlier scene, results in her later emotive work feeling out of place as a result of rushed writing.
While the disjointed nature of the script was fitting to the overall theme, and had value as contributors to its titular Mosaic, the ensemble struggled to command the attention they deserved throughout as a result of trying to cover so much. However, biting off more than you can chew while your resources are impacted by a pandemic has become a universal experience an audience can certainly forgive, especially with such commendable energy brought to the stage and screen.
Complimenting each plotline and setting the tone of the production was the originally composed score by Disruption Theatre’s music department headed by Daniele Affortunato and Tim Cook.
On the night of review, there were slight issues with sound throughout the performance, resulting in occasionally overpowering rising static, murmured chatter and a few other moments in which microphones hadn’t had their volume adjusted in time. Although this is a shame as it led to some dialogue being inaudible, such hiccups can be expected in a preview showing, and for the most part didn’t detract from the overall message.
In its very conception, Disruption Theatre’s Mosaic expresses the value of performing arts during a pandemic. Despite audio hiccups and missing pieces of attempted character arcs, the theme of uniting those damaged by events unfolding during isolation hits home. A beautiful score, effective comedic timing and well-thought-out projection incorporating the Zoom calls and television watching that have become staples over the past few months gives Mosaic plenty of beautiful tiles to piece together an engaging and commendable production.