Adelaide Festival Centre season poster, 1996
DAZE OF OUR LIVES was a visual theatre interpretation of Melbourne cartoon artist Mary Leunig’s1 work.
Leunig’s published drawings - There’s No Place Like Home (Penguin 1985), A Piece of Cake (Penguin 1985), and One Big Happy Family (1992), collect her darkly witty commentary on domestic life. Their unusual and slightly disturbing look at motherhood, housework, family life, alienation and fantasies was the stimulus for the style and the story of the play.
Staged through gestural movement and animated design, the production was described as:
a bittersweet monument to domestic terror and the poetry of the everyday
, Artistic Director's Report, Handspan Theatre, March 1995
DAZE OF OUR LIVES was directed by Annie Wylie, who also co-wrote the play with Katy Bowman. It was based on several creative development periods during 1994 with Handspan performers, and consultations with Leunig to ensure that interpretation of her drawings remained as a close as possible to their original intention. Leunig claimed that:
Watching Handspan make theatre, their creative process, their own interpretations of my work ... By taking liberties and not confining themselves to what I may have 'meant' by a single drawing, the artists of the company have taken the work to a new level which is innovative and inspiring.
Program Notes, Victorian Arts Centre, 1995
In the Director's Notes, Annie wrote that:
Each one of Mary Leunig's drawings is bubbling with comment, narrative and action, all of which is a godsend to a company like Handspan, whose work it is to let the universal language of images speak to the hearts and minds of audiences.
Program Notes, Victorian Arts Centre, June, 1995
Despite this enthusiasm, the writers found that creating a play from preconceived illustrations was a more difficult process than they had anticipated. The work was originally envisaged for performance using only articulated images, props and body-costume puppets manipulated in black theatre to bring Leunig’s cartoons to life on stage. As its development evolved however, dramatisation of the cartoon moments centred on its pivotal housewife character which became an actor's role, created by Julie Forsyth. As planned from the outset, the play nevertheless had no spoken text or dialogue and was accompanied throughout by percussionist, Peter Neville’s soundtrack.
In a preshow interview for the Melbourne premiere season, Annie discussed the evolution of the plays central housewife character:
Working this was is really arse-about for us because it's taking images and then working back. Normally what we take is a notion or a story and then pull images out of that. Staging the drawings was actually quite easy - creating some sort of drama out of that was the really difficult part. There were so many drawings to choose from, great pictures creating miniature stories, but finding a way to link all that and have a character develop was the tricky part ... There was no way for the audience to access any of the humanity of the piece unless we did have a central character''
: Interview with Michael Harden: Southern Cross, Caulfield
, 7 June, 1995
'She' or 'Her' became the universal housewife whose world came alive as her domestic objects embroiled her in chaos that was by turn hilarious, poignant and darkly frightening. Julie explained how she developed the role for which she was praised by critics:
It's everyone's black world and everyone's fantasy world and my function in the piece is to be that human element, that can filter, can comment and have a sense of irony about the piece, of being in an environment that seems to be closing in. How this person is able to detach herself and make a comment on what is happening will in many ways undercut what can seemingly be a black moment.
Julie Forsyth: Interview with Jim Schembri: The Age, Melbourne, 9 June, 1995
Performer Julie Forsyth as She builds a determination and self-reliance while negotiating her way through both puppetry and props, and and does so with a vulnerability earmarked by both confusion and resolution. She is a full, honest character, neither saint or martyr, and as such holds the audience interest while negotiating life in the suburban '90s.
Avalon Sperring Review: JB Magazine, Adelaide, 20 November, 1996
In the standard Leunig living room the harried 'she' figure attempts to cope with rubbish that accumulates as fast as it can be disposed of, windows that become barred prison walls, a headless husband whose newspaper suddenly grows arms and legs and rears up metres high, and a couple of hessian figures to perform a weird mummer dance of copulation and mutual mutilation.
Guy Rundle Review: The Age, Melbourne, 12 June, 1995
Husband and wife (Julie Forsyth) at breakfast
Photograph: © Ponch Hawkes, 1995
Newspaperman in rehearsal
Photograph: © Ponch Hawkes, 1995
Designer, Laurel Frank and the company's puppetry magic have produced a strong, faithful piece of theatre that strikes a good balance between narrative momentum and moody, surreal detour.
Julian Meyrick Review: The Melbourne Times, 14 June, 1995
Laurel copied several of Leunig's cartoon elements in her staging and articulated images, but enhanced their characteristics and dramatic capacity, aiming to
Focus the design on what the play was trying to say about the internal world, extending on the feelings that are found in Mary's drawings and bringing them into the broader environment.
Laurel Frank: Interview with Michael Harden: Southern Cross, Caulfield, 7 June, 1995
One of the most evocative Leunig images recreated during the performance is that of a woman with a beautiful pair of wings who is obviously meant to fly in the sky. Instead she is held back by the clay on her feet, which she tries in vain to chip off. In the production it speaks reams about a woman's unfulfilled potential, and the memory of it is still haunting.
Angela Crocombe Review: Melbourne Star Observer/Spinout, 16 June, 1995
Powerful images using puppet techniques bring the anguish of a woman all too close to the bone. Images of child abuse with the use of dolls, domestic violence and cameos of the Gestapo leave no part of the smutty, boring, psychotic side of housewifery unexplored. The show was impeccable but the material seemed dated. The image of male as perpetrator of all womens' woes was unrelenting
Barbara Biggs Review: The Sunday Herald, Melbourne, 11 June, 1995
Mary Leunig's world as interpreted by Handspan is feral domestica - a breathtaking work of visual theatre - with objects materialising and vanishing miraculously from the darkness. Furniture can suck a woman out of existence, the television set spits out dross, the lamp dances with the broom and the cat - well, it copes quite well with the existential mayhem. She, however, does not. She is being held siege by her own domestic life.
Samela Harris Review: The Advertiser, Adelaide, 9 November, 1996
In rehearsal, Handspan Studio, Gertrude St, 1994
Housewife (Julie Forsyth) dictator and queen
Photograph: © Ponch Hawkes, 1995
Seeing fairies at the window
Photograph: © Ponch Hawkes, 1995
Following its Melbourne premiere season, DAZE OF OUR LIVES followed Handspan’s award winning production, Four Little Girls, to the Ibero-American Theatre Festival in Bogota, Columbia in 1996, and subsequently toured Sydney, Canberra (with Colette Mann in the role of She) and Adelaide.
The production was nominated for a 1995 Melbourne Green Room Award and critics were fascinated and predominantly enthusiastic.
Handspan have risen to the challenge of Leunig's work magnificently. If the show is not a complete success it is perhaps because its very project is incompletable: the translation of static drawing to a dynamic show, in which narrative cannot help but intrude, tends to dilute the fantasised, primordial nature of the drawings. It's an entrancing work that benefits from being watched with a more shifting, relaxed consciousness, more a drifting in and out, than is usual in a theatre piece.
Guy Rundle Review: The Age, Melbourne 12 June, 1995
This is theatre that doesn't tell the kind of story that has a beginning, middle and end. But it does tell a story of a housewife enmeshed, of her extravagant fantasies and desperate fears. Daze of Our Lives is grand visual theatre.
Pamela Payne Review: Sun- Herald, Sydney 11 August, 1996
The production goes for a full 70 minutes without an interval and every moment is a joy to see. Not to be missed by anyone who enjoys good drama which lies outside the confines of much of our theatre today.
Julie Moffatt Review: Manly Daily, Sydney 9 August, 1996
In this delightfully imagined production, Mary Leunig's celebrated images of domestic angst and fantasy are taken from the page and transformed quite beautifully by Handspan Theatre into a vivid and seamless stage dream.
James Waites Review: Sydney Morning Herald, 12 August, 1996
Some reviewers, particularly in Canberra at the National Theatre Festival, were critical of the play:
Performance and puppetry have not very coalesced into a gripping, exciting and dramatically cohesive entity.
Peter Wilkins Review: Canberra Times, 17 October, 1996
In its swirl of images there is much that is clever, but without a clearly thought out and developed narrative, Daze of Our Lives is little more than a series of disjointed episodes.
Bryce Hallett Review: The Australian, 13 June, 1996
Such responses, and with a proposed tour of the work to Germany in 1998, 'prompted a structural review of the work to be carried out in 1997' according to incoming Artistic Director David Bell in his Artistic Report for 19962. However, in his new programming and plans for the company, this did not eventuate.
Daze of Our Lives
Handspan Theatre archival compilation 1995
Julie Forsyth, housewife yearning
Photograph: © Peter Weaving,
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Creative Development company: Gertrude St Studio, Fitzroy
Front (Fr L):Unknown, Clodagh Wylie, Avril McQueen
, Unknown, Unknown
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|8 - 17 June
|| George Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre
|| 4th Ibero-American Theatre Festival, Bogota, Columbia.
|| Glen Street Theatre, Sydney, NSW
|4 -19 October
|| Theatre 3, National Festival of Australian Theatre, Canberra
|| Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, SA
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