Half full/empty with happiness

Francesca Rendle-Short

Red Cabbage 8, Half Full of Happiness

Red Cabbage 8, Half Full of Happiness

It began in the foyer, crept up on us crabwise—them filming, us filming them—and before we knew it (you could feel the audience holding its breath) we were following the faux princess willing us to join her in a journey out the front door and into the garden. The Red Cabbage 8 (RC8) ensemble was inspired by angels and we were brought face to face with lost dreams of white picket-fence suburbia and the toil of life—mowing, measuring, making babies. “You’ve got to get the horsey ride when you can and another ride after that.”

We wanted to love this one, really love it. And we did, just about. RC8’s principal creator and ensemble director is Louise Morris, partner of David Branson (who died tragically just before Christmas). And here we were so soon after at The Street Theatre, home to much of Branson’s work over many years, focus of the Canberra arts community’s outpouring of grief. The faces in the audience were the same ones that had bid him farewell. Half Full of Happiness—“a little token of remembrance”—was fat (full to the brim) with particular poignancy.

The 8 installations explored the concept of ‘invasion’ (according to the notes) in a dreamscape search for happiness through live music, multimedia and movement: outdoors, indoors. The installations that worked a treat engaged the audience, had us by the throat, laughing, expectant. Such as the swinging angels raining ice-cube tears. Such as the cackling trolls from the underworld throwing mud and spraying real water from real garden hoses to challenge any nascent arty-fartiness.

The in-between spaces were best. Navigating tight squeezy places. Crawling head to butt along sand tunnels (difficult for those in opening-night frou-frou). Reaching out to build our own sandcastles just about. Visually, Half Full of Happiness was full of impact. It was tactile, visceral. Our tongues licked ruby champagne. We were overcome by pesticide fumes. We immersed ourselves in something/anything half-full/half-empty with happiness.

It had echoes of ACME’s goldfish-pond sculptural installations at University House (National Festival of Australian Theatre, 1997). It was grunge extravagance, albeit on a smaller, domestic scale. It was a reflective, brave performance—of the moment. Even so (and I hesitate in saying this), there was something missing.

It ended all too abruptly, the ending arbitrary at that. For all our longing to get our teeth into it, feel grit, eat flesh, it was gone, quite finished (only just an hour) with the last of the performers brushing past nonchalant passersby and disappearing into the dark shadow of, as it happens, the Australian Family Court. Did we, at that moment of departure, step into the frame of the theatre, our action/inaction somehow becoming the muscle of the work?

It was as if Half Full of Happiness was a prelude to something not yet made, something grand and delicious but un-present, un-conceived, yet. But perhaps that’s the point…There is something ready now to be born.

Half Full of Happiness, Red Cabbage 8, conceived by the RC8 Collective: Tania Smith, Anna Grassham, Louise Morris, Kirsten Prins, Zita Whalley, Anna Hamilton, Katie-Jean Harding, Clint Dowdell, text by Anna Grassham; The Street Theatre, Canberra, Feb 26-March 2

RealTime issue #48 April-May 2002 pg. 35

© Francesca Rendle-Short; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2002