Kitten - screener

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by Jenny Kemp

Year: 2008, 81 mins
Code: JK-Kitten
ISBN: 978-1-921895-99-9

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"Kitten – a bi-polar soap trip – opera A drama in three acts: from tragic, to manic, to sonic

The tale of a Contemporary Icarus.” Kitten’s husband Jonah has disappeared. Kitten is overwhelmed with grief and guilt. She plummets. She wants to die. Kitten finds herself on the edge of herself and literally on the edge of a cliff, dreading what she might find. From this darkest place of pain Kitten struggles to speak – to find a language to express what feels inexpressible to her.

A battle ensues between Kitten’s destructive and creative impulses. Manfred Jonah’s friend and rival, whose feelings for Kitten have no doubt contributed to the husband’s suicide, struggles to manage the desperate and difficult situation he finds himself in. He is in love with his best friend’s wife. His friend has disappeared. No body has been found, and Kitten is losing control.
What can he do? The shock of the suicide has caused a major downward spiral in Kitten. From the depths of despair, she finally tunes in and discovers what her husband has been working on.
She literally begins to ‘listen’ again and discovers the power of the natural world. It is from here that her new path begins. Her mood swings upwards as she develops a wild hope that he is still alive and an extraordinary plan to rescue him. She begins to soar like a contemporary Icarus into a full blown mania, which finally culminates in a spectacular and psychotic crash landing. Once again Kitten is reduced to nothing. And from her hospital bed, she very slowly begins to rediscover her lost ability to sing….
Kitten asks three questions:
1. How do we deal with suicide?
2. How do we deal with insanity?
3. What is our relationship with the natural world?
And proposes three answers:
1. The human imagination can be a powerful, healing force.
2. To find language or expression is a necessity for healthy survival.
3. We benefit from remaining in tune with and protecting the natural world.

The play looks at two people struggling with these increasingly frequent yet still socially taboo areas. Because Bi Polar Disorder is an illness that causes a disregard for the normal emotional boundaries, Kitten’s herself is intended as a kind of ‘emotional shaman’ for the audience, taking them on a roller coaster ride, to extremes they may seldom contemplate.
A journey against which they may measure their sanity. The play is also tracking our organic connectedness to the natural world, and exploring the way the natural world gives expression to and communicates through a variety of intelligences.
The play attempts to capture the Bi-Polar experience in it’s form as well as content. This is achieved by the externalising of the internal experience of Kitten. This is further augmented by the character of Kitten being played by three performers.

Cast: Margaret Mills, Natasha Herbert, Kate Kendall, Chris Connelly.
Writer/Director: Jenny Kemp.
Composition/Direction: Darrin Verhagen
Design: Anna Tregloan
Choreography: Helen Herbertson.
Lighting Designer: Niklas Pajanti

Jenny Kemp has been recognised as one of Melbourne's most innovative directors and writers for more than two decades. She has been associated with the Australian Performing Group and the groundbreaking Stasis Group and has directed in Melbourne, Sydney and South Australia.
Kemp occupies unique theatrical territory. A writer and director of exceptional vision, she mines the unconscious for images and tales that defy conventional narrative.

Black Sequin Productions creates performance works, that investigate the human psyche and it’s ability to function creatively in a contemporary world. ‘ you walk down the street you see the real world but feel aware of an inner world..’ Black Sequin Productions attempt a dialogue with this disjunction. Our intention is to liberate the audience from the usual constraints of linear time and provoke an imaginative and associative engagement with image, action, text and sound. 

Other Black Sequin Productions: 
On the Edge: Madeleine
Still Angela
, (Playbox Theatre & National Tour / Mobile States),
The Black Sequin Dress (Adelaide Festival, Playbox, Belvoir St.),
Remember (Gasworks)
Call of the Wild (Spoleto Festival)
Goodnight Sweet Dreams (Anthill)
Shifting and Sliding: The Feminine Psyche in Performance

“In Kitten, Jenny Kemp and her design collaborator, artist Anna Tregloan, deliver a finely crafted, highly intelligent work, created in response to a joint commission of the Melbourne International Festival, Malthouse Theatre and Black Sequin Productions. This is a play that drills deeply, focusing on exploring one female character in great depth to the expense (at last perhaps!) of male characters. We find a mind worn thin in crisis. Kitten can imagine her splendid deliverance and we hope – and sing – with her. But we might also suspect that life’s attritions have robbed her of the means to be whole." - Gary Anderson, Arts Hub, October 13th, 2008.

“Kitten is a sophisticated and comprehensive theatrical production. It employs many story-telling techniques which compel and compound. Jenny Kemp’s writing oscillates between eloquence and coarseness as the audience becomes privy to Kitten’s stream of consciousness, her dialogues with Manfred, played by Christopher Connelly, Jonah and herself. The character of Kitten is embodied by three actors; Natasha Herbert, Kate Kendall and Margaret Mills. As the play unfolds, Herbert, Kendall and Mills remain onstage simultaneously, embellishing various facets of Kitten’s psyche with synchronicity and detail…. Jenny Kemp’s Kitten is a unique piece of theatre. As Kitten’s journey evolves and her ‘reality reasserts itself’, music becomes the channel for communicating her transformation. Kendall provides a distinguished performance singing a variety of songs with depth and expertise. Kitten is a production which benefits greatly from the quality of its actors and the intricacies of Kemp’s writing, which realistically creates a subterranean world of despair, but challenges its characters to chart a course out of it as well.” - Melita Pereira, Australian Stage, October 10th, 2008.

“Jenny Kemp’s latest work, Kitten, draws inspiration from the story of Icarus. The wax and feathers are gone, replaced by neoprene and microphones, and Kemp’s fascination lies not with the youthful curiosity of Icarus nor with the natty craftsmanship of Daedalus, but with the narrative dynamic suspense of the myth, its freefalling verticality…. Kemp is not interested in the narrative suspense of the search, but on the other hand, neither is she interested in the relationships. The only driving force behind Kitten is the internal life of the eponymous character…. In the end, Kitten’s freefall takes her, and the audience, from the thick, submerged world of the first act, through the temperate naturalism of the second act into the stark, clinical clarity of a psychiatric ward. At this point, jumping into a liminal space of polar bears and inflated tuna, Kitten performs a concert. Kemp stays true to her inversion of the Icarian arc and finishes with this theatrical parachute, a floating denouement, where the audience leaves the theatre to find themselves in Crete.” - Carl Nilsson-Polias, RealTime 88, Dec-Jan 2009.

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