MORAL PANIC written by Rachel Perks and directed by Bridget Balodis
A response by Georgia Symons - November 16, 2018
We begin with an oration. We must beware, we’re told, of witches. And what is a witch? She is someone who is childless, who takes multiple lovers, who lives alone, who is paid for sex, who makes her own choices. This tirade is cloaked in antiquated language, and yet there is an uncanny familiarity to this breed of puritanism. It’s not clear just yet whether we’re in the past or the present, but either way, we’ve found ourselves in some kind of dark age.
So what, after all, is a witch? It’s a contested thing. There are the campy TV shows of the 90s and now (Sabrina, Charmed). There is the cultural shadow of the burnt and butchered feminine, past and present. There is the real, diverse, global culture of practicing witches. Perks and Balodis invoke all of these witchy traditions, and others, to summon an almighty reckoning with their latest work, Moral Panic.
Three young women meet in a clearing to perform a midnight spell. It’s a decidedly campy beginning (and where better to camp than a forest clearing on all hallows eve?). These young women wish to curse an evil uncle, to prevent him from harming his wife, or any other women. But we discover that this man’s dominance is as nothing compared to the power of women coming together, sharing an intention, and witnessing each other’s whole selves.
So there is an unleashing of a great power, and then a rapid descent. We fall, and hit the ground hard, in a dark place. The set of the forest clearing is gathered up, and hangs overhead like an old paradigm as our coven furiously attempt to forge a reality where everything has changed. They are each undergoing rites of passage through to this new reality, and so there are necessary separations, purges, symbolic deaths. This is a time where the brilliant cast, light, sound, text and space all baffle and interrupt systems of meaning and understanding, instead shaping waves of affect and experience.
This chaotic middle wreaked havoc on my body - at times there seemed to be an infectious roaring as darkness and shame spilled across the stage; at others, I felt my eyes watering, my breathing interrupted. Language is still always present, but disfigured, or reconfigured, or undone - never quite one thing. Things don’t have to be understood to be felt. What does transgression feel like from inside a pink world? Or from outside a pink world, looking in? Things can be both. Or multiple. We can be earth, we can be inhabited by all manner of beings. Everything is queered - unmoored from easy definition, swarming, loose. It’s a kind of wobbly utopia.
And then, we end with another oration. In their program notes, Perks and Balodis allude to the departure from man-made languages and knowledge systems that has been threaded through so much of the show. So there’s a feeling of whiplash when we return to the rhetorical violence of an oratorical English for the final moments of the show. Isn’t this admitting defeat? After the immense power of the bodies, images, sounds that have come before, these words feel less than what they’re intended to be. But perhaps there’s something to learn here - perhaps if we feel that clean English sentences are now insufficient, then something has shifted. Perhaps, then, we’ve passed through. The spell is cast. We can leave the theatre infected with the brilliant, dark virus of the witch.
I want to honour the work of each member of the team on this show. It didn’t feel right to drop names throughout the writing, as the piece is so cohesive; it doesn’t feel in the right spirit to single out individual cast or crew in something that shines as such a complete whole. But I thank each of the artists. Kai Bradley, Chanella Macri, Eva Seymour, Jennifer Vuletic - what fierce, complete performances. Romanie Harper, Amelia Lever-Davidson, Meri Leeworthy, Rachel Lee, Bethany J Fellows, Steph Young, Kelly Wilson and Diane Pereira are all commended for casting a magic circle of immense power. And Rachel Perks and Bridget Balodis, with the support of Mick Roe, Emma Valente and Natasha Phillips, have summoned something ravenous, and so necessary.