Amongst the highlights of the first weekend of the Singapore Night Festival, we were particularly interested in Acrojou’s The Wheel House. Having debuted in 2006 (a whopping ten years ago!), the Wheel House is a truly unique piece of street performance mixing acrobatics with a quirky ‘stage’.
Acrojou’s Wheel House could very well be set in the world of Mad Max or the deserts of Tatooine from the Star Wars franchise. Its two inhabitants (played by Artistic and Creative directors Jeni Barnard and Barney White) don goggles, dirt encrusted clothing and grizzled desert boots, and live in a house that’s constantly rolling across an imaginary, post-apocalyptic sandy landscape. There are no words during the 25 minute performance; only ambient, atmospheric music (also from the wheel). The two unnamed characters maneuver the wheel’s awkward state of constant motion, moving alongside it, comforting each other, popping in and out to observe their whereabouts before diving back in again. The performance ends with them stopping, leaving the hodgepodge wheel and trudging on towards their final destination.
As such an abstract piece set in a sci-fi landscape, there’s plenty of room for multiple interpretations, and no one right answer. Speaking to Jeni and Barney after the show, there’ve been people who were brought to tears watching it. They gave the example of an Australian man who related it to his grandfather, who was on a sinking ship to Australia, and the themes of survival and hope resonated strongly with him. On our part, we were mostly impressed by the technical aspects (thanks in part to Acrojou’s technical director Richard Mowbray). As a fan of the sci-fi genre myself, I really enjoyed the attention to detail in all the design aspects and the multifunctional (but not always practical) wheel design. In essence, because it never stops, the audience’s attention never wanes, and there’s always a small facial expression or gesture to catch through its run that offers any number of meanings.
Jeni and Barney also explained how the medium of street art was truly unique, offering accessibility to many people who often don’t get the chance to catch theatre to see something being performed in a familiar setting, transforming the ordinary into an extraordinary space. And perhaps sometimes, it is moments and opportunities like these that offer up some of the most diverse set of views and reactions, compared to the usual theatregoing crowd. Art becomes a kind of great uniter, and in our confusing and changing times, be it Brexit or the various acts of terrorism that’ve been happening, perhaps the Wheel House acts as a kind of safe space to figure out the truly important things that still matter – other people, and the hope that lives on in all of us.
It’s no wonder then that the show has been ongoing for so long. Of course, it’s not all that Acrojou does, and the dynamic team let us in on a bit more about their show All At Sea (currently on tour), an installation set in a boat about a man figuring out if he’s done all he can with his life on earth. The most striking thing about that piece is its soundscape, which change with each new country the show tours to, utilising the performer’s daily conversation and musing to create a new soundscape each time.
Our verdict? Acrojou produces some really magical, thought provoking works that have a ton of potential to get your imagination running and rethinking about our world in new ways. Catch them if you can at the National Museum tonight before they leave, and check out their website HERE to find out where they’re playing next.
On a side note, their last performance may be tonight but they’ll be here all the way till Sunday evening and raring to try some local dishes! So as every good Singaporean would do, you can recommend some must try dishes if you tweet them @Acrojou. So far, they’ve had their fair share of oddities, from chendol to roti prata, and enjoying every second of it.