Review: Insomnia Cat Came To Stay, Adelaide Fringe Festival

It’s not often you leave a theatre show feeling that what you’ve seen has actually had an impact on you. Too often theatre seems to rebound off the armour that I’ve built from my four-shows-a-week for the last god-knows-how-many years. Then you see a show like Fleur Kilpatrick and Danny Delahunty’s Insomnia Cat Came To Stay and you’re reminded again of the power that theatre can have in awakening your senses.

Strapped into bed linen, performer Joanne Sutton stands immobile for the full 50 minutes of Insomnia Cat Came To Stay, but don’t be fooled into thinking this makes for a static performance. Kilpatrick’s poetic and fragmented stream of consciousness creates  a lively performance, a homage and desperate plea for those people who suffer from insomnia, the silent disease with no cure. From twilight to dawn, the tick-tick-ticking of the bedroom clock and the counting of sheep do not offer slumber for those who lie perpetually awake. When the alarm clock sounds, it’s not relief they feel, it’s the understanding of failure. Insomnia Cat Came To Stay gives several days in the life of an insomniac where every nighttime brings a mixture of comedic and tragic undertaking, sleep prevailing, and the insomnia, like a stray cat that refuses to leave, purrs in your ear for the hours that past slowly but surely.

What makes this performance so endearing is its ability to tap into the very thing that we have all experienced at some point in our time. I’m currently writing this after over 30 hours of traveling across the world, and whilst I slept some 11 hours last night out of exhaustion, my body yearns for the normality of sleep – am I in Australia or the UK? My body can’t tell but the exhaustion is apparent in my body, and writing a review of Insomnia Cat Came To Stay post traveling makes for a deeper  understanding of the piece. The lack of sleep is universal, especially in a time where our lives demand more of us than in previous generation; every second counts in this digitally generated world. Kilpatrick’s text spirals and swirls inside our heads, it scatters and falls, not soft and lulling but as sharp as daggers.

It’s not just the text that offers a way in for the audience but the use of song; a collection of songs from Jagger’s ‘Satisfaction’ to Waits’s ‘Midnight Lullaby’ enrich the experience. This, and the animated designs that overlap the performance by Thomas Russell, add to what could be described as a hallucinogenic experience. It all fits together with ease, despite the central performer standing still singing songs about a lack of sleep against a chaotic text that fumbles and bumbles with projected animations of cats and Peter Pan. It fits because of our inability to really take control of our sleeping and dreaming.

As a performer, Sutton has an intoxicating essence that we seem to soak up. The more I think back to the performance the more I remember feeling like I was trapped within this dream-like state. It’s quirky as hell, but it is also skilful and delivered with passion. It certainly isn’t your usual Shakespeare or Chekhov, but from my experience the jumping into the unknown of a theatrical experience can often yield some excellent results. To summarise, if you’re looking for something unique, an experience that sounds as whacky as it might actually be on the stage, then Insomnia Cat Came To Stay would certainly prove a good watch.

Originally published on A Younger Theatre.