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REVIEW: Echolalia, Kallo Collective, Gryphon Theatre, Wellington. February 2012

Echolalia, a theatre clown show
Created and performed by: Jen McArthur
Production Company: Kallo Collective
Directed by: Jo Randerson, Thom Monckton, Mel Hamilton, Sampo Kurppa, and Fraser Hooper
Set Design: Tom Whiteford
Costume Design: Tauko, Helsinki Finland
Technical Support: Lydia Easter
Venue: The Gryphon Theatre, Ghuznee St, Wellington.
Performance duration: Short – approx 35 minutes only.
Review Date: 2012-02-27 at 7pm
Reviewed by: David Murray

“The automatic repetition of vocalizations made by another person.” is the definition given by (

The Kallo Collective on their website sees McArthur's “Echolalia” as attempting “a difficult feat - to show through the magic of clown theatre... to investigate the question - what does the world feel like for someone with autism?”

Without knowing the above definitions I would imagine that few in the audience would have had any clue that this was the goal McArthur was attempting to achieve.

Despite the fundamental inability of this play to communicate this question without recourse to a thank-you note in the printed program, what transpires on stage is a confidently executed series of large-gestured highly repetitive scenes that show us the daily routine of Echo, a clown-like character (but without clown makeup) facing the challenge of going to three WINZ-organised job interviews all of which take place in the scary unfamiliar world of people, and places outside of the familiar and static surroundings of her home and the things within it. When the audience was let into the auditorium the stage was already fully lit with the performer already on stage and moving about in character, with hints of the repetitive activity that was to characterize the entire performance.

The play starts with the lights dimming for an extended period of time during which the vacuum cleaner was turned on and off a number of times. The ensuring scenes then proceed to show Echo's daily routine and then repeat it two more times, each time with small comic variations.
This is then followed by another series of repeated scenes each one breaking the Fourth Wall and portraying Echo out of her familiar routine and comfort zone asking audience members progressively more and more inappropriate and intrusive questions in the guise of doing WINZ job interviews.
Finally this very short play climaxes with Echo ending up back inside her home doing a delightful ballet-like dance routine with her beloved vacuum cleaner with the play ending when Echo exits via a prop door.

Lighting: This play was sharing performance space with another production and this was reflected in what seemed to be a compromise design in favour of the needs of the other production, with Echo frequently walking out of the light whenever she walked forward and into the central isle in the audience seating. There was a scene that used a number of additional coloured Fresnels and Zoomspots used in a flashing manner that should have been done using Parcans.Other than the points made above the lighting was un-intrusive and competently helped to take the play forward.
Music: The music significantly contributed to the overall success of the performance with the early big-band era music of Glen Miller used to good effect, under-pinning the moments that startle Echo.

The work felt like it was a devised piece, and had no discernible theme or message other than, perhaps, life consists of a lot of repetitive activity juxtaposed with random events.

While McArthur's performance was confidently executed I felt that the play as portrayed on the stage failed to answer the question that the Kallo Collective said it set out to answer.

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