Whether you interpret The Sheep’s Song as a modern fable or a medieval morality play, its stunning staging establishes the power and impact of the message.
The Bell tolls; the curtain rises. We are confronted by a flock of sheep on the stage, clattering about on their hooves, bucolic and settled, secure in their herd.
One Sheep emerges, one who wishes to explore the world outside his mob, a large Sheep, uncertain on his feet as he stands upright, eager, innocent, and curious. Equally curious is the fact that he seems invisible, at first, to the people, faces masked, who walk past him, on a moving walkway which takes them either back into time or forward; significant in itself.
Eventually Sheep becomes an object of interest, perhaps to be gently mocked, encountering people, never quite understanding this world of humans, until he is subjected to violence and cruelty. By the end, robbed of his identity as a sheep, yet not recognised as a human, he returns to his mob, only to find no acceptance with them either.
Fables are stories which have a moral. Is the moral here to stay with your mob, your designated place in the world? Is it to highlight the indifference, selfishness and inherent violence within our society?
We watch Sheep robbed of his fleece by a medical team who sought to heal him, but then showed no interest in his recovery.
We watch him stumble about clutching his half human-half sheep baby, now dead, in a specimen jar.
We see him tied to a tree, reminiscent of a crucifix, hounded by dogs and humans.
There are so many interpretations that one can devise. So many stories from our past. So many stories today.
Throughout, the members of the cast, who need to convey so much physically, without speech, are exceptional, although there is the frenetic over-stimulated wooden puppet, who appears from time to time to preach warnings and doomsday, and the dogs who bark.
There is the man with the bull’s head, pierced with arrows, which symbolises cruelty to animals.
There is the music of Frederick Leroux, which supports the action throughout.
Given the visual nature of this production, it is difficult to encapsulate it in words. Belgian theatre collective FC Bergman’s The Sheep Song is a richly nuanced creation, flamboyant at times, brooding and dark at others, and called to attention at times by the Bell. It can not fail to leave a lasting impression those who see it.
Dunstan Playhouse Adelaide Festival Centre 16-19 March