Femmes ex machina

By Tania Herbert

What to do on a summer’s night when Melbourne is covered in a haze of bushfire smoke? Clearly some rather disquieting contemporary performance art outside at the base of the Arts Centre.


The audience is ushered into a construction site set with a back drop of the Arts Centre spire, and tech crew are cleverly perched around the set in their construction worker fluros. A long lead-in of banter and set-exploration with some very light humour by the protagonist female forklift driver (Nicci Wilks) left a full house quizzically wondering what exactly they were in for.

When the forklift arrives complete with a pair of mannequin-esque women (Henna Kaikula and Amy Macpherson) sprawled across it, the show quickly shifts into gear. The obscure storyline appeared to be based around elements of the forklift driver’s simple worklife merging into a dream-like world the suggests a contemporary Alice-down-the-rabbit hole.

An intensely physical performance, the contortions, dance moves, circus stunts and incredible balancing were interwoven with the movements of the forklift in a mesmerising and terrifyingly dangerous spectacle of movement. The sound track, composed by Melbourne local Jethro Woodward, punctuated the ever-shifting world and gives an eerie, almost steam-punk feel.

As the performance continues, and people wandered past the outdoor stage, a ‘fishbowl’ effect added to the disquiet, with theatre-goers on their way home finding a perch on any place where they could catch glimpses of the performance.

The piece is all that is feminism, with strong, powerful, changeable women completely in control of their art. And yet, it is all that is not, as our rather stereotypically ‘butch’ female lead is gradually converted into a sexualized, scantily -lad lipstick-wearing version of her former self.

Unique, bizarre, and utterly enthralling, Forklift defies definition. It’s kind of circus, kind of contemporary theatre, kind of dance… and yet none of these things. Forklift is oh so very Melbourne, and for a very different kind of “pop up” art, KAGE is certainly a group to keep an eye on.

Forklift is playing at Arts Centre Melbourne at the Theatres Forecourt

Wed 12 – Sun 16 February – 6.30 and 9pm nightly