REVIEW: Cephalopod | Squid Vicious and The Blue Room Theatre


Squid Vicious and The Blue Room Theatre

November 1, 2019

Now, maybe my theatre tastes have changed vastly over these six or so years I’ve been reviewing, but I’m increasingly finding it’s the shows that abandon formula in favour of sincere and controlled chaos that are the most exciting and interesting to watch. Sometimes I find the most theatre joy in being taken for an utterly weird ride, each twist and turn of a performance’s anti-narrative revealing something wildly surprising. This is the kind of show I found in Cephalopod.

It’s a two-part one-act: the first half, an absurd/surreal physical theatre pop extravaganza, the second half, a verbatim autobiographical karaoke love-in. The two couldn’t be more different in tone and character, but they complement each other beautifully.  Lead Creative, Performer & Sound Designer Jess Nyanda Moyle has emerged over the last couple of years as a strong, compelling performer and collaborator around the Blue Room, and now she flexes her writing chops so that we get an intimate glimpse into her mind, heart and soul and, well…it’s complicated. She’s a gay squid.

Part one plays out in an underwater kind of sports training facility-cum-aquarium, sorta. I’m not really sure, to be honest. The central character, played by Moyle, is lured out of her black-and-white, neatly-pressed shell by three neon fishnetted seapeople-squids, Andrew Sutherland, Ramiah Alcantara and Molly Earnshaw. She’s forced to endure the awful Pauline Hanson “swamped by Asians” nonsense (which made me cringe in my seat during the show upon hearing those first pinched warbles from Old Red). She’s also a kind of aquarium tour guide as she recites interesting facts about cephalopods in a deadpan manner. There’s a lot of simulated sex in the middle of the stage. I don’t think I can accurately describe what goes on in the first half and come across sane to the reader, but the point is, she’s finding growing up a metaphorical gay squid in Australia confusing, conflicting, confronting. Not a second is wasted on that stage showing us the extent of Jess’s internal turmoil, and though the performers are sometimes doing ridiculous and puzzling things, they do it with such commitment and sincerity that I never even once questioned the truth of what they were attempting to express.

The second half begins as a stripped back monologue about Jess’s family life as she details how her parents got together and ended up in Australia. It’s more or less a loving tribute to her mother, who was there in the audience the night I attended. There is some audio of her mum speaking in her lovely blended Filipina-Ocker accent, and family photos, where Jess points out all her cousins by name. Here too, she’s a tour guide, into a culture that many audience members might not know much about (I want to know more about the spaghetti sex bomb song), and a family most people in the crowd will know nothing about. The pace and tone of the show calms considerably at the start of part two, which is a bit of an adjustment for the audience to make. But this quietness allows a new crescendo to begin, as we karaoke our way to a glorious end that sees all four performers tucked cozily into one another, Earnshaw on guitar, with Jess singing “She Will Be Loved” with Sutherland and Alcantara harmonising. Did I cry? Almost. Did Jess cry? Yes. Yes she did.

Director Joe Lui was also in the house on the night, and seemed to enjoy himself just as much as the rest of the audience. Video art by Mia Holton supported the production, creating visually striking tapestries behind the players.

I can’t fathom the kind of courage it takes to create such an openly, deeply personal show, along with the strong artistic instinct that it takes to make it worthwhile for audiences to be part of, but Jess Nyanda Moyle has both, and has gathered a team with those same qualities to create Cephalopod.