Arts and Culture

Coldhands at Rumpus Theatre

Posted on: Tue 29 Nov 2022

Rumpus Theatre in Brompton is the home of some pretty innovative independent theatre, and its current offering Coldhands is no exception. Winner of the 2020 Flinders University Young Playwright’s Award, this play by Dora Abrahamson is having its world premiere season at Rumpus until Sunday December 4th.

A caste of three, as Mother, Girl and Hunter, lead us through a tale that is part fantasy, part fable, and part dystopian nightmare.

Bonet Leate, as Mother, sets the scene for us – the world was once a much nicer place than it is now. Everything was made of gold, but over time that gold has been plundered by an unquenchable greed. There are any number of ways this might be interpreted, but Ellana Murphy’s scorched earth set design leaves no doubt that our characters are struggling to survive in a wretched environment.

Mother is caring for a sick Girl who we come to know as Coldhands, and is teaching her to read. Mother is a source of strength, and Bonet Leate’s performance is captivating. At first glance Girl seems to be a weak link, unlikely to survive in this current climate, and we wonder whether Danielle Lim will have much to do in her first professional role. However as the play develops Mother is removed from the storyline, somewhat regrettably given Bonet Leate’s strong performance, but this creates the opportunity for Danielle Lim to shine, as it is Coldhands and her ongoing struggle with Hunter agains a hostile world that becomes the main focus of the play.  

Sam Lau is convincing as the outsider Hunter, who seems convinced that he knows best how to survive the world they find themselves in. But he is more of a pessimist – survival is a daily struggle and likely to be short-lived, whereas Coldhands is set on creating more gold and finding some way to make things better.

Much of the play takes place around a campfire where it is the spoken word rather than action that is carrying the story, and there are moments where this seems to slow down the pace a little. My seat is in close proximity to the campfire and I can see the minutiae of what is happening, but that wouldn’t be the case for everyone in the audience.

Sam Lau’s character speaks in Cantonese as well as English, which adds a universal dimension. An eerie soundtrack serves the tension of the play extremely well, but as the play reaches its climax Sam struggles to be heard above the pulsing music.

This is brave theatre with a lot to say about where the world is heading. I’m not sure I leave the theatre totally understanding the conclusions reached in Coldhands, nor feeling any more hopeful for the future of the planet, but I do feel like I have been given much to think about.

Adrian Miller

Images: Photos by Jamois, supplied by Oliver Marshall, Against the Grain

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