They Saw A Thylacine. On sound alone it’s a snazzy title. But what is a Thylacine? What does it mean to say they saw it?
If you’re a ‘animals that are now extinct’ buff you’ve probably already left me straggling in the dust. But if you’re still as clueless as I was, then let me drop you a line. See, a Thylacine was the Tasmanian Tiger (which wasn’t actually feline at all, rather it was a marsupial which inhabited the Australian continent, once upon a time (until 1936).)
With that piece of knowledge in your ruck sack we can move to the snazzily named play itself.
They Saw A Thylacine.
Coming out of Melbourne Fringe, They Saw A Thylacine is a carefully crafted, eloquent and stunningly simple piece of story telling from Human Animal Exchange’s Sarah Hamilton and Justine Campbell.
Speaking from within a cage Hamilton and Campbell retell the last days of the Thylacine. Hamilton as Beattie, tracker. Campbell as Alison Reid, zoo keeper.
At first it’s hard to keep up, they talk so fast, but soon you’re there with them, you fall into their rhythm and find yourself enveloped in one of those stories of something that no longer exists. An ephemeral road to extinction. The language is stunning, poetic, the story tellers compelling. The 45 minute show whizzes past in a heart beat.
Overall it’s a simple show, a cage to hold the story tellers, thylacine skulls to adorn their heads, fruit strewn across the floor. A single birdy lights each story-teller, a flash of led colour every now and then as pace changes. Evan Thomas can be thanked for the zoo, Nick Merrylees for the lights. Together their work draws you to watch Hamilton and Campbell’s faces, their lips, their eyes, the little tricks of the face used to convince you to follow their story.
And they did a good job of it.
Last week Lynne Freeman (at a reviewers workshop at RNZ) said that if she woke up the next morning thinking about a play, then she knew it was good. This morning that was They Saw A Thylacine. (It even quieted the mind worm of True Detective for a moment or two!)
I love story telling like this. Snippets of the past now so unfamiliar that they seem magical, fantastical. Aspects of the past wrapped up to be made the story tellers own (Hamilton and Campbell make no qualms to suggest that things may have been different had the 30’s not been so damn sexist). It makes for a story worth watching. A story that gives you something back. A story which sets your mind off on a tangent on its own.
It’s a story that I would really recommend taking 45 minutes out for.
They Saw A Thylacine is on at The Basement until the 22nd before they return home to Australia to perform at Adelaide Fringe. Go see it, and if you want to gush afterwards – hit me up on Twitter or in the comments below.