Written by Joe Paradise Lui, Enlightenment is a re-imagining of two characters from a towering story of Lui’s childhood – the young prince Siddhartha, and the magical Monkey from Journey To The Westaka Monkey Magic – as young women in contemporary Australia. Enlightenment is part queer romantic comedy, part crime saga and part cosmic fever dream.
Writer Joe Paradise Lui is a prolific artist, winner of the 2013 Spirit Of The Fringe Fringeworld award. He is a founding member of Renegade Productions and within its aegis, he creates, writes, directs, designs and composes theatre and performance works.
It’s been a long time between shows for Melbourne audiences, but slowly our theatres are coming back to life, with one notable show in particular having opened last week- Enlightenment- the latest from luminary Melbourne theatre company, Elbow Room.
Written by Singapore-born, Perth-based artist Joe Lui, the writer has taken stories from his childhood and reimagined the characters as young women in contemporary Australia, successfully taking two worlds and two opposing concepts and smashing them together in a hot mess of social commentary, sexual fluidity and legend.
Here the stories of the young prince Siddhartha, and the magical Monkey from ‘Journey to the West’ have been woven into a parable that points to the kinds of issues that Australia is still very much grappling with- as the story continues to unfold, so to do the layers of this rich drama. The story is made even more pertinent given the exact moment ours and other country finds itself in, be it Brittany Higgins or Sarah Everard – things need to change, and quickly.
For the most part the dialogue toes a fine line between the dramatic and the comical, with Emily Tomlins delivering more than a few rip-snorting moments. Merlynn Tong in the role of the Monkey King, delivers some powerful monologues which unpack and explore privilege and discrimination, with this character’s story in particular, helping to ground the work in its sobering final quarter. The rest of the ensemble give fine performances, and really bounce off each other with the razor-sharp dialogue at hand.
The lighting design and general feel of the production is adequate- however it felt like more attention to detail could have been paid to match this with the illustrated projections- created by renowned artist and activist Badiucao.
At times the lighting cheapened the feel of the production, yet at other times, as in the sequence of shadow play, the lighting really elevated the work. Run The Jewells playing as audiences entered the theatre – a nice touch which set a definite tone, the soundscape which underpins the production further added yet more layers to what is a beautifully constructed show.
As with many others, Enlightenment perhaps also ran just a little too long, and could have been tightened had just 15 minutes been shaved from its runtime, but in saying this-this could also perhaps come down to the attention spans of audience’s members being different to what they were a year ago, pre lockdown.
As one has come to expect from Elbow Room, Enlightenment is a whip smart production loaded and brilliantly executed- but is it perfect? Perhaps not, but it comes damn close.
Enlightenment is on at Northcote Town Hall until March 20th, for more info or to book tickets,