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Wolfe Bowart: Transcending barriers with physical theatre

Sep 12, 2013

The finest moments of physical theatre come when the observer, having split their sides for the past half-hour, is suddenly (often mid-laugh) hit with a moment of overwhelming poignancy that forces them to reconsider everything they’ve seen so far, opening up a deeper level of intimacy between the performer and audience.

In Letter’s End , by SpoonTree Productions , Wolfe Bowart’s clownish, pathos-infused everyman has managed to transcend the barriers of age, culture and language, finding a place in the hearts of audiences from London to South Korea. SpoonTree producer Kerryn Negus has seen the show’s impact first-hand, displayed on the faces of audience members that range in age from six to 96.

“About two-thirds of the way through the show, people realise there’s something else going on here, as they start to put together the pieces of the story they’ve been watching,” says Negus.

“We have people coming out afterwards saying ‘I was laughing hysterically and suddenly I was in tears’ – it’s a rollercoaster of a ride.  There’s a deep connection by audience members to a story that is being conveyed through visual images and physicality rather than through the spoken word.”

While Bowart’s performance may look effortless, tripping seamlessly between puppetry, film, physical theatre and circus, each element has been painstakingly choreographed and considered.

“It’s not by coincidence that these shows work – it’s something that we’ve worked to achieve, to have shows that work all over the world for multi-generational and multicultural audiences,” says Bowart.

Critics and audiences alike have remarked on the European feel of Bowart’s productions, with many assuming that the director/playwright/performer hails from France. Instead, the Helpmann-nominated company is based in Australia, with Wolfe testing each of his shows in front of local audiences.

“Australian audiences get it. We have Lano and Woodley, the Umbilical Brothers and a lot of physical actors in the early days of television [in Australia], not to mention the surge in popularity of circus in recent years, so I think it’s ingrained in the culture. The Australian sense of humour really fits with this, so I think that they get it and we’re honoured to be received so well here,” says Bowart.

Following a sold-out season at the London International Mime Festival, Bowart will premiere Letter’s End in France, the home of some of the world’s most renowned physical theatre companies. The seven-city tour, taking place during September and October 2013, will include a season at the Festival Effervescences, founded by Philippe Genty and the Maison de la Culture de Nevers (MCNN).

Ahead in 2014, Bowart will not only continue to tour Letter’s End and his other productions LaLaLuna  and The Man The Sea Saw , but will launch his new show, Apple Tree Apple.

“Because our new production has a cast of ten and is larger in scale than our past one-man shows, it provides the freedom to continue to explore the disciplines I’ve been working with over the years, though this time the shadows will be three storeys high, and the stage illusions will interact with animations by the filmmaker Miwa Matreyek .  It’s very exciting.”