REVIEW: WALK | Bobby Russell and The Blue Room Theatre

Review by Cicely Binford

WALK is a performance art piece that Bobby Russell described in an interview on RTRfm as the ‘origin story’ of a piece called ‘The Walk’ that they previously developed as part of the MoveMoveMove program at Perth Festival 2021. This year and a half-long incubation period for WALK has resulted in a mesmerising, thrilling, and joyous movement piece for the senses to feast upon.

It must be said that although there is a single performer on stage (Bobby Russell), this is undeniably an ensemble piece comprised of everyone on the creative team. No single design or performance element takes a backseat, and each designer, Opie Robinson (costume and sculpture), Joe Lui (lighting), and Peter McAvan (sound), communicates their ideas with a strong, bold voice, forming a multisensory tapestry.

Nightmare coat, Image by Jed Lyall

To set the scene, our WALK begins with a trip through a corridor canopied in blue-lit clouds. We then enter the dark theatre space where beanbag chairs form the front row, and the other seats have been set in curvilinear rows. The space feels cave-like, with a pile of cloth suspended at two points, alluding to stalagmites, and sculptural black foam pieces have been affixed to the walls. As the performance begins, the lights dim to nearly pitch black and the music rises, but no one enters the stage.

We sit, suspended in this dark space, as mist fills the stage, waiting for someone to emerge, but no one does. My eyes search the darkness for anything moving – they begin to play tricks on me and my hairs stand on end as my body remembers the haunted houses I used to go to as a kid. I’m immersed in a supernatural sci-fi/horror for a few tingly, giddy minutes, and I’m thrilled. Finally, I realise that the shape hanging from the top of the door is not Bobby Russell in vampire bat form – their faint outline at last emerges through the fog. A sudden bolt of front-facing lights blinds us, and we’re off.

Russell takes us on a journey from this darkness through various striking guises and personas, into a place of celebration and shimmering light. The WALK with Russell through this process of transformation is strange and unreal, but ultimately familiar to those who have Don Quixote-d their way through stages of their life and come out the other side to tell the tale.

Bobby Russell, Image by Jed Lyall

The stalagmite cloth pile becomes an amorphous, monstrous nightmare coat that swallows Russell and looms unnaturally large in the first section of the piece. The second section of the piece sees Russell battling with shining armour; as they suit up in the breastplate and helmet, it commandeers their movement, which becomes more robotic and rigid. They sit beneath a tripod of multicoloured fluorescent tubes that pulsate with the music. The third and fourth movements of the piece (which I will leave out so that readers can experience these for themselves when they book tickets) move towards a resolution, where Russell uses elements from the previous dark parts to reform a new identity that seems to convey acceptance and integration of the darkness into a persona that expresses colour, lightness and shimmers with joy.

Bobby Russell, Image by Jed Lyall

There is a strong DIY aesthetic to the entire work, not just through the design elements, but thematically as well with the idea of self-transformation. It’s always delightful to see materials you might get from a hardware store used in unexpected, beautiful ways when they’re artfully manipulated and skilfully lit. The soundtrack is atmospheric and visceral, but it also makes you want to get up and dance.

WALK is a vibrant journey from peril to splendour – a glow-up in real time.

WALK runs at The Blue Room theatre until July 30. For tickets and more information, visit the Blue Room website here.