Adelaide Festival Review: Us / Them

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Presented by Carly Wijs and BRONKS
Reviewed 10 March 2018

All the way from Belgium comes a show that presents the audience with an unusual perspective on the horrific act of terrorism, allowing for a childlike interpretation of what strikes fear and horror into the minds of most adults.

Two young and unbelievably talented actors enter on stage and begin to draw a map on the floor, comically running into each other as they sketch. As they narrate their straight-lined drawings, it becomes clear that they are creating the outline of a building – a school in fact. The audience soon learns that this is the top school in the Russian town of Beslan, which, on the first of September 2004 (the first day back at school), was taken over by terrorists. Over 2,100 children, teachers, parents and grandparents were kept hostage in the suffocating heat of the gymnasium for over three days and always were surrounded by bombs. The terrifying siege resulted in over 330 casualties.

Inspired by her eight-year-old son’s perspective on the horrific terrorist attack in a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, the show’s author and director, Carly Wijs, created Us / Them as a way to express the innocent thoughts and expressions of children about unspeakable events such as terrorism. The use of two youthful-looking actors playfully presenting the audience with the intense story of Beslan conveys a strange sense of innocence and humour to this traumatic experience.

Wijs challenges not only the idea that is instilled in society of ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’, but also topics such as terrorism that are usually seen as taboo in the arts arena, especially when addressing children. The show was originally designed for a younger audience, but it is definitely not limited to this age group with everyone able to enjoy what it provides.

Both young actors, Gytha Parmentier and Roman Van Houtven, are mind-blowingly outstanding, not only due to their ability to follow strict choreography to absolute perfection, but in their capacity to truly hold the audience in total awe for an entire performance. One minute they have the audience in cascades of laughter, and the next in chilling silence, perched nervously on the edge of their seats.

The set is simple at first; a large wall that doubles as a chalkboard sits at the back of the stage, while a handful of floating, black balloons rest at the side. As the show progresses this simple, empty set becomes an intricate web as the actors weave rope around the stage with their perfectly timed, choreographed magic.

It’s no surprise that Us / Them produced sell-out seasons at both the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe and London’s National Theatre as it is an absolute must see at this year’s Adelaide Festival.

Reviewed by Georgina Smerd
Twitter: @Georgie_xox

Venue: Space Theatre, Festival Drive, Adelaide, 5000
Season: 8 – 12 March
Duration: 60 mins
Tickets: $30 – $59
Bookings: https://www.adelaidefestival.com.au/2018/us-them

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About Author

Georgina is a Media student majoring in journalism at the University of Adelaide, and has a keen interest in the arts, culture, fashion, food and people. She hopes her passion and enthusiasm about the Adelaide scene will influence others to make the most of what Adelaide has to offer!

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