Bayou Bart – Theatre Review

Take some childlike innocence and mix it with the beauty of the Bayou, the mystique of talking animals, the harshness of humanity, and you are only partially on the way to describing what Bayou Bart is about.

Written and directed by Kalina Lauer, Bayou Bart takes you on a journey from the moment you walk into the theatre. The lighting design by Vanessa Gregoriou, baths the Theatre Works stage into an eerie green tinge that enhances the trees and shrubbery. Then the stage comes to life with the haunting song of The Spirit Of The Bayou (Tash Atkins).

What plays out is the story of Henri (Pippa Asome) whose friend, Tristan (Rowan O’Keefe) goes missing while the pair walk through the Bayou during the late 1800s. As she continues to wander, Henri soon meets some of the talking animals that call the Bayou home. She learns that while some are willing to help her, others are only looking out for their themselves and are willing to sell each other for money.

I loved the story and production of Bayou Bart, although I felt the script itself needed some work and the production itself needed to be made longer. Watching the various creatures, especially the alligator and bird doctor come to life in front of me, drew me into their world. I wanted to know more about Cyprus, the city that they had built.

But while the design of the costumes and masks were visually stunning and made me believe that these animals could talk, I felt that the script itself is a bit of a tease. It opens this beautiful world to the audience but just doesn’t give them enough time to spend in it. It feels like a missed opportunity, especially given that Lauer has done an amazing job creating such a unique experience for her audience.

The shortness of the production really hits home in the second half when Henri’s story suddenly seems to hasten up and key moments in the story happen without the suspense that they deserve. Even worse is the fact that the importance of Miles (Bailey Griffiths) comes and goes so quickly, the audience doesn’t really get to know him at all.

That aside, there are some truly amazing things about Bayou Bart. The creative set design allows the creatures and the Bayou to come alive with ease, while the direction by Kalina Lauer takes some chances and they all pay off.

Tash Atkins’ live vocals brings a dark Gothic feel to the production, while allowing the ‘masked’ creatures to go close to the audience, providing a natural feel more that mask work would normally allow. Sitting in the front row, I came face to face with the wise old alligator and the detail on the mask and costume was amazing.

I realised that it felt like a mix of Alice In Wonderland, Animal Farm and Peter Pan, and I found myself thinking deeply about some of the topics that the production explored, especially the notion that while most animals can be trusted, very few humans can be.

Lauer’s direction really allowed for some of the cast to shine. Pippa Asome is amazing as Henri and the talent of this young actress will ensure that we will see her on stage or on the screen for many years to come. She was well supported by Lucy Payne and Mikaela Innes who were brilliant with their characterisation and mask work, while Lucy May did an amazing job playing a character that was loved by the entire audience. Her costume was also truly remarkable.

Bayou Bart is an amazing piece of theatre, although at just 30 minutes in length, it is far too short. I found my time in this world of the Bayou so enjoyable, but I wanted more. With a real Where The Wild Things Are vibe, one can only hope that Kalina Lauer expands the story to make a longer theatre production, or maybe even a film one day as this is one story that deserves to be told right around the world.

Bayou Bart is playing at Theatre Works from the May 3rd until 13th.
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