The Outhouse | Phoebe Manning & Sarah O’Shanesy

On Saturday 27th November, running ahead of stormy skies, a horde of arts lovers and adventure-seekers wound their way through the back streets of our town to see a magickal bespoke performance.

The artists clearly underestimated their own popularity, and new friends were made and old embraced, as we all crammed into a tiny house in Highgate Hill in a manner reminiscent of many clowns jammed into a tiny car. Sitting on laps and crouching in corners, we settled in on top of each other and traveled together on a whimsical journey.

Phoebe Manning and Sarah O’Shanesy specialise in character clown, comedy, and improvisation. Their show, The Outhouse, is a work-in-progress on its second showing. The story-line is unassuming; we have all climbed aboard a space-travelling vehicle, and we are off to the moon! But don’t let the simple premise fool you, this lovely show has depth and grace.

Phoebe is charming and welcoming, with a lovely presence and a natural gift for comedy. She brings out her recently debuted character Hope, who talks us through the ups-and-downs of being true to yourself aka a nervous breakdown. Sarah is quirky with a cheeky glint in the eye, and feels very comfortable in her place on the stage. In her hands every-day items are creatively transformed.

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There are elements of the Theatre of the Absurd, and that of the Ludicrous. Clowning is an art form of juxtaposition and opposites, charm and incitement. They make mild suggestions at one moment, and demand you rise to your feet the next. The artful clown is friendly, but not so friendly that you can just relax and enjoy the show, a mere observer, unchanged and unchanging. Clowns challenge while they amuse, and invoke reflection while they entertain.

A small but versatile set in the end of the lounge allowed for exits and entrances, and custom-made features made for a most memorable night. Handmade props utilise household objects in unusual ways. Colanders, tinfoil, torches and cheese graters were all used in new and unusual manners.

Prior to the show there are homemade cakes by donation, and you are invited to create a tiny survival kit. Matchboxes are filled with miniature crafted items, from torches to toilet paper. Before we break for interval, we leave the lounge to observe a kind-of puppet show held in a suitcase, the meaning of which is never quite clear. A friendly audience member shouts back a running commentary to those unable to fit in the room.

The show meanders from funny to poignant – what kind of people will we need when we colonise the moon? Why do we even need to go? What went wrong? What is going right? It’s earnest, but also tongue-in-cheek; and I’m always up for a good dose of healthy political jabs and a handful of adults-only jokes. The show ends with a black-light disco on the blanketed lounge floor, with each dancer handed a glowing moon wand to bob along.

This is what I like to call a passion play; a work of art created for the joy of making and sharing art. There is a frivolity and freedom that comes with such works, when there is nothing to prove but all the welcome in the world, all the joy of art-making without any of the systemic pressures. As I leave I look back upon a happy house on the hill, buzzing with families and creatives and local misfits and darling performers. A little bit of magic was made and shared. And they say nothing ever happens in Brisbane….

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Images by Alex Zanda

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