Crush
Playhouse, Sydney Opera House
November 25
★★★½

After a year in which many of us have spent more time than ever in our own homes, seeking entertainment, imagination, and sensation in the ordinary, Crush – the new work by performance art group Branch Nebula – feels like a natural extension of our collective, extended isolation. Haven’t we all, this year, sought to find solace, or even outright magic, in the mundane? In the essential? When the world shuts down, what is left but force and space and gravity and time – and time to think?

Sealed and delivered: One of the bizarre stunts in Crush.Credit:Prudence Upton

Crush is interested in limits, gravity, space, and how bodies intersect with objects. It looks at the contents of your kitchen, your tool shed, and even your local Bunnings in new ways. It feels like a science experiment bred from liberating boredom (and not in a bad way). It’s a 60-minute performance asking the questions any pre-teen might ask in their long summer holiday stretch, when novelties have burned out and days blur together into endless afternoons: "What would happen if…?"

What would happen if you catapulted spoons at someone wearing a magnetic tunic? If you leaned against a spatula in said tunic and put some reverb on it, could you make it sound like clanging armour amid epic battle? (Isn’t science an epic battle between atoms and the space they occupy?) What would happen if you vacuum-sealed yourself into a giant plastic bag? What would happen if you stepped on a lightbulb? What would happen if you loaded mousetraps with projectiles?

Collaborating artists Lee Wilson, Mirabelle Wouters, Mickie Quick and Phil Downing have pushed rigging – and bodies – to new places. In one moment, Wilson is lifted and suspended between panes of glass by force alone in a dance of physical theatre partnering with physics. Unidentified goop hangs from a makeshift ceiling and connects performers; piles of flexible conduit become an unstable floor for walking, and later, a warped and waterless slip-and-slide (maybe that’s what school holidays will indeed look like as the planet gets hotter).

While Crush might benefit from a little more whimsy, there is an expansive, curious approach to spectacle and space here that tugs on the edges of your mind. The spirit of this show is a restless and recognisable one: Crush explores our idle, human compulsion to understand how the pieces of the world fit together.

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