Review: The Unstoppable, Unsung Story of Shaky M, Adelaide Fringe Festival

There are two ways to look at Rowena Hutson’s The Unstoppable, Unsung Story of Shaky M playing at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. The first, and this is how I experienced the piece, is looking at the show itself, with little to no knowledge of what it contains. I thrive off the live experience, so not reading any programme notes or blurb about theatre shows gives me, in my opinion, a better experience of seeing a show ‘blind’ and relying upon my observations in the moment. The second way of looking at the piece is through the eyes of Hutson herself, through her inspiration and the journey through which The Unstoppable… has come to being. The latter gives context, and does pave the way for a certain understanding for the audience as they watch the piece.

The Unstoppable... is Hutson performing a character, much like a buffoon or clown, who can not stop shaking. ‘Shaky M’ as she is known shakes her way across the stage, and attempts to tell her story. Shaky M, like any clown, replies upon support and encouragement from the audience. We clap, cheer and at times lend a helping hand to keep the performance going. It becomes clear that shaky or not, Shaky M is determined to have an adventure. From driving fast in her wheelchair, to saving a friend from a swimming pool and dancing to her favourite pop songs, adventures big and small come with determination and exhaustion, but still Shaky M continues.

For me, The Unstoppable… is a tiring experience. Having to clap and encourage Hutson along in her performance when I didn’t feel anything for the character of Shaky M was a challenge. Whilst clowning can at times be hilarious, it felt like the same mimed gag was being repeated. The adventure clearly wasn’t for me, regardless of the times when some of Hutson’s actions did enlighten me. I felt there was a need for more dynamic, more being on the edge of something – offering danger – than what felt like safe clowning.

At least, this is how I felt during the show, before Hutson gave a brief speech at the end  and before I had read the programme notes. You see, The Unstoppable… is based upon Hutson’s exploration of her mother’s Parkinson’s, a horrific disease that leaves the body shaking uncontrollably making everyday tasks such as talking and writing extremely difficult. This personal connection adds a whole new level to the performance which, during the piece itself, I didn’t latch onto. It’s obvious that Shaky M is potentially suffering from a condition, and her determination to work through this is clear too. It isn’t obvious that Parkinson’s Disease is the focus for the work.

The importance of programme notes is paramount in this instance as it changes my perspective on the piece. Does it soften my view of the work? Yes, it does. But can that knowledge of what the piece is based on really change my views on the show? No, I don’t think it can. Like all theatre viewing, it’s down to taste, and whilst there is compelling material within The Unstoppable… at no point did I feel compelled enough to go into the world of Shaky M. I felt fractured and disjointed, separate from this world. Hutson is a capable performer, and there is certainly merit within the quirky world she has developed with director Xanthe Beesley, but as a whole, the piece (which is still in development), has more to explore. For me, it has to find the risk and explore what happens when someone living with this disease is pushed to their limit. What are the real set backs and challenges? Subverting these through clowning and perceived happiness can make the whole show a harrowing look at the disease, but for me at least, I need to find more within the character; I need to feel connected and to feel that this adventure means something other than to pass the time of day.

Regardless of my thoughts, though, Hutson is a good performer, and the piece has its merits. I’d warrant that with further development and more time to ferment in front of an audience the piece will really come to fruition.

Originally published on A Younger Theatre.