Have You Tried Yoga? (Owl & Cat) – theatre review

A series of vignettes about what it is like being disabled and chronically ill, and the judgments others make, Have You Tried Yoga? is both illuminating and engaging. 

The star of the piece is also the creator and director, Rachel Edmonds; who makes her professional theatrical debut. Edmonds radiates warmth with her matter-of-fact style of storytelling. She is at times humorous and, in turn, frustrated and distressed.    She has been guided on her journey by Owl and Cat stalwart and artistic director of the theatre’s “Platform” series, Catherine Holder.

When you enter the theatre, what confronts you is a wall containing hundreds of “chalked” platitudes, such as “You Take Too Many Meds”, “Change Your Mindset” and “Can I Pray for You?”. 

The hour-long play is the creative result of interviews and conversations with members of the disabled and chronically ill community. It is also partly autobiographical. Edmonds, a 2016 graduate of the National Theatre Drama School in Melbourne, suffers from many chronic illnesses, including trigeminal neuralgia and fibromyalgia. She feels there is a gap in society in both representation and awareness of the disabled and chronically ill.

Edmonds says one in five Australians live with some sort of chronic condition and they face “able-ism” and challenges in their daily lives. They are often misunderstood. Although her interviews and research started more than two years ago, the last two months were the first time the stories and ideas were developed into a show. The final monologue was only added a fortnight ago.

Edmonds says much of the text is verbatim or taken directly from written submissions, with only minor tweaks to ensure correct meaning is conveyed. Alongside the verbiage, she was keen to explore the various senses and make the production accessible to the blind, deaf and hard of hearing. An Auslan interpreter will be used for the one matinee performance.

Performing alongside Edmonds is Martin Astifo, who helped develop the final product. His time to shine is when he talks about what it is like to date and marry a person that is disabled and chronically ill.

The show is at its finest when we – the audience – empathise with the characters. I found some of the pieces more accessible than others. Alongside her stories, Edmonds sings, performs yoga and even dances. Not all of this made sense to me. There were moments I was perplexed. I was also largely confused by Astifo’s often short-lived appearances. These could have been developed further – or done away with altogether, save for his moment in the sun that I described above.

None of these remarks, though, should diminish what I found to be a fundamentally insightful and much-needed perspective. While perhaps it could benefit from further development, this is a piece that can help bring about greater understanding, consideration and care.

There are only four performances of Have You Tried Yoga? at The Owl and Cat Theatre, 34 Swan Street, Richmond. It closes on Saturday, 17th June, with a matinee performance at 2 p.m. that day and another show at 8 p.m.

Alex First

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