When the Tide Comes In

Carl Screwvala
23rd Jun 2016

Sitting at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta waiting for the show to start, I am not sure what to expect from When The Tide Comes In. Described as a mere chapter in the When The Tide Comes In story, which in itself as part of a wildly ambitious endeavor called Colony. The brainchild of artistic director S. Shakthidharan of CuriousWorks, Colony encompasses a grand narrative centred around Western Sydney, stretching from pre-colonial times to the 22nd century; a “universe of stories” told across numerous individual artistic productions. Varying in medium including theatre, film, music and art, the works will be released over several years, slowly enriching the central narrative and wider Colony universe of perspectives and sub-storylines for the audience to explore.

Colony begins with When the Tide Comes In, which tells the story of Sam – a young woman from a Sydney of the 22nd century. Told through a series of music videos, short films, illustrations and writing, it is presented online via the Colony website, with new chapters released each month with every “changing of the moon” throughout 2016. In addition, live audio-visual performances at the winter and summer solstices, of which tonight’s ethereal performance was one.

The central backdrop to the story and the Colony universe is that Sam inhabits a dystopian future Sydney that has succumbed to the weight of climate change, social division and restricted personal freedom. A world in which walled off compounds inhabited by communities of “Settlers” are overseen by a mysterious more advanced section of society. We find Sam alone, but for a friendly flying droid called SALAA, having returned from a journey outside of her compound.

Conversing with SALAA and undertaking a mysterious “mission” within the compound, she begins to explore her past, all watched by an unknown external power. We learn about the struggles of her upbringing, the propaganda preached to her at school, fearful of the refugees stuck outside the compound walls. We learn of her troubled father, and the drawings he made whilst under the influence of a drug that might portray visions of a long forgotten pre-colonial era. All is not what it seems. With clear nods to Orwell’s 1984, and the modern wave of youthful dystopian fiction of the Hunger Games and Divergent flavour, the story also has the shades of mystery. repression of knowledge and locked community, akin to M. Night Shayamalan’s The Village.

This is paired perfectly with the multi-media and non-linear way the narrative unfolds. We see short sections of dialogue on stage between Sam and SALAA (presented on screen behind the live action), followed by sections of film and graphic novel illustration and animation that flash back to earlier times, slowly piecing together the story. So much is left unsaid, replaced by tone and feeling, all set to powerful music performed live (by Kurinji) – channeling a melancholic Kate Bush or Björk-esque atmosphere into proceedings.

It is here that When The Tide Comes In shines best. The breakup of format between the live action and film works well for the slow expounding journey of discovery you are taken on with Sam, but the live dialogue couldn’t always maintain the powerful rhythm of the audio-visual sequences, dropping some of the momentum. Nonetheless, the overall experience was hypnotically intriguing, luring you in and then ending sharply, to leave you dying to know more about this cryptic, dystopian world.

Thankfully there is already other stories and chapters in this ever expanding universe to explore, whilst we wait for Colony’s secrets to be revealed.

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