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Fringe review: Oat Milk & Honey

This world premiere, presented by South Australian creatives, offers a unique and stunning expression of one of the most common mental illnesses in Australia. ★★★★★

Mar 15, 2023, updated Mar 15, 2023
Amanda Lee and Nathan Chettle appear to have uncovered a new, compelling form of storytelling. Photo: Jack Fenby

Amanda Lee and Nathan Chettle appear to have uncovered a new, compelling form of storytelling. Photo: Jack Fenby

Oat Milk & Honey explores how we experience and manage anxiety. As the production suggests, some may find comfort in the voice of David Attenborough, while others may need movement – or perhaps what’s required is a cup of tea with a splash of oat milk and a spoonful of honey.

In the intimate, snug space of Gluttony’s Ukiyo, the audience circles the two performers: acrobat Amanda Lee and musician Nathan Chettle. The pair enter through a wooden hexagonal-shaped structure, which is rimmed with lights that change colour throughout the production. This structure acts like a portal into a private experimental place, a separation from the outside world.

The performance opens with a guided meditation-like voice-over from musician Dominic Wagner. This is soothing, and Wagner’s voice returns throughout the production to emulate mindfulness practices. In a show about confronting subject matter, it is a gentle and comforting addition.

There isn’t a traditional narrative to this avant-garde show; instead, it is an elegant and emotive journey through an anxious episode. For most of the hour-long production, Chettle sits playing the keyboard, while Lee moves around the space. At points, Lee even physically moves Chettle as they interact and become intertwined.

There is no sense of personal space between the performers. Lee intrudes on Chettle’s space, interrupting his performance, much like anxiety can intrude on the mind and body. The music also appears to dictate Lee’s movements, perhaps in a statement about moments of control over anxiety.

The acrobatics are spectacular, and Lee executes them with precision and composure. At times, she is playful, and at others her movements are the personification of anxiety. The original music is composed by Chettle and takes the audience through a plethora of emotions experienced alongside anxiety. The score doesn’t just accompany Lee but shares the stage with her equally, in a powerful collaboration.

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According to Beyond Blue, one in seven Australians live with anxiety, making it a widespread experience. It is felt as much in the body as it is in the mind, and it can be difficult – arguably, impossible – to give language to the experience. Expressing it through instrumental music and movement provides another layer of potency, tapping into feelings that can be hard to generate through words.

Lee and Chettle are the co-founders of Mo-Ko Piano & Circus. Between them, they have worked with internationally renowned companies such as Circa Contemporary Circus and Gravity & Other Myths, as well as acclaimed musicians. Oat Milk & Honey is their first production, and they appear to have uncovered a new, compelling form of storytelling.

Oat Milk & Honey is being performed in the Ukiyo at Gluttony until March 19.

Read more 2023 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews on InReview here.

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