Written by Norman Price, directed be Ian Lawson and produced by La Boite Theatre Company, Urban Dingoes is a contemporary dark tale of senility and dissolution, love and treachery, and shattered illusions. Urban Dingoes tells the story of a feuding family from the northern suburbs of Brisbane. The three siblings descend upon their ever more complex and problematic mother, a burden who occupies their family home, a gold mine of a house in Bardon. Determined to obtain their inheritance, the children covet to dispose of their mother who is suffering from an apparent decline in mental health and sanitary habits, the unfortunate outcome of a life spent forced into a closeted role full of dissatisfaction.
Urban Dingoes is acutely stimulated by theatre practices of the 20th century. Integrating characteristics of symbolism, absurdism, surrealism and feminism, the production embodies the enduring power of such theatre forms and their broad influence within 20th century modern theatre. The exploitation and success of these practices can be seen through the analysis of characterizations, acting technique, dramatization, sound, lighting, and prop usage.
Central to Lawson’s production was Symbolism – the systematic use of symbols to represent or allude to something, a subversion of what is “real”. Throughout the production Lawson creatively put the techniques of Symbolism to work in the form of staging, prop use, characterization, sound, and lighting. Even the title was apt. The siblings representational of wild-eyed feral creatures, yapping and snapping at each other, scavenging like dingoes, their survival instincts driving away the normal social niceties of urban existence.
Designer Bruce McKinven created a significant set of a broken down Queenslander pungent with age and decay. The lattice fencing of the house in which Claire occasionally hid behind listening and watching her children was an unsettling symbolisation of a preying captive anima. Her children talk irrespectively about her, and do not address her directly. They converse as if she were absent from the action, perhaps dead. In contrast, Claire’s escape from the harsh reality and her memories of her youthful freedom are represented when she sits “flying” over everyone in a swing suspended above one side of the stage, referring to herself as, “Floating bride. Threatening Angel.” (Gattenhof, 2004: p12)
Although costuming was very realistic, symbolic meaning could be drawn from Lawson’s use of props. Particular props, mainly introduced by Claire, were deeply symbolic and feministic. The pram filled with bags of blood, the wooden sacrificial cross and the carrying of infant doll parts were all a representation of Claire’s detestation, meagreness, and reluctance towards being a mother and her desire to seek relief in ways that threaten the “supposed” stability enjoyed by her children. Within characterization, Symbolism was primarily evident in the depiction of Claire. Symbolic of her sense of lost youth, Claire returns to her 25-year-old body and her childish, self-indulgent behaviour symbolises her inability to face reality, accept her present situation and live outside of the past and her memories.
The symbolism of sound in Lawson’s production was multifaceted and very effective. Sound played a major role as it represented sentiment, flashbacks and childhood memories. Sound effects were used to create a brewing storm throughout the entire action and a somewhat harsh, chilling wind, which added to the dark unsettling disposition of the production. Occasional music played throughout the performance signified memories. In particular, “que serah serah”, a prominent song symbolic of its translation “whatever will be will be”.
In order to signify the state of action onstage, lighting designer, Jason Organ, created lighting effects which were also a prominent form of symbolism – from present time to memory or the surreal, generating an intense ambiance and disposition within the performance and complimenting the acting style. As mentioned earlier, the lattice fencing symbolised the cage in which Claire felt trapped and restricted within her own life. The lattice also worked to create a caged lighting effect that was predominant during Claire’s outbursts, representational of these restrictions she felt. Lightening strikes creating the sense of electricity is another effect employed, which is symbolic of the power Claire has over her children, even if at times they are ignorant of it.
Absurdism is another one of the theatrical forms evident in Urban Dingoes. A well-known form, Absurdism developed principally though Theatre of the Absurd, a rebellion again naturalism, focusing on revealing a world that has lost all meaning. Recently, Absurdism is representative of a socially productive theatre and/or a theatre of existential conditions. Urban Dingoes tackles both areas of Absurdism of the 21st century. Drawing its focus to creating a depiction of contemporary life and a theatre of existential conditions.