Awesome Ocean Party
Giema Contini & Matt Seery
Musgrave Park Pool
May 14 – 23 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
A show in a swimming pool?! Cool! Brisbane independent artist, Giema Contini, invites us to join her for a birthday celebration with the lot – stories, songs, a saltwater fish tank, a sand island in a clam and, of course, CAKE. It’s cold, it’s looking like rain, and Poppy and I have already been to Opera Queensland’s La Traviata, which was beautiful! BUT it’s been a big day. I’m grateful to score a car park right outside Musgrave Park Pool, despite the packed party atmosphere of the Greek Club across the road and three trips around the block indicating that we might have to take a long walk! Poppy and I say thank you to the universe and skip, with minutes to spare, down a path that leads to the makeshift box office where we are offered party blowers to exchange at the bar for a drink.
Poppy chooses our seats and we settle in the front row, where we’ve spied a spare green blanket. We might need that! Our bench seat is the low wall of the toddler pool so we giggle when we sit because our feet are in the pool! Of course, the pools have all been drained for winter.
For a birthday present Contini asks the audience to give her a new name. She will see which name fits. This allows some lovely vocal and physical playtime as Contini shivers and shakes and plies into each name, trying them on like party dresses that look like fun on the rack but just don’t fit as nicely as you thought they might. (toofrillytoosillytoopinktoogreentoofittedtooloosetoomuch).
Someone suggests Persephone. Esmeralda. Pancake. We vote. Pancake, with a quick yet graceful plie, it is! Later I notice that the guy who suggested “Pancake” is the same guy who eats the cake when it’s offered, right after Contini has face-planted in its frosting and transformed, becoming a tragic Butoh figure in black taffeta and brightly coloured ribbons, and standing on a chair centre stage, holding the cake as if to offer it to the world, white frosted face turned up to the moon, which is obscured by clouds. But we know where it is… It’s an awful, beautiful, terribly sad moment. There are a couple of these moments, making Pancake’s story poignant, unforgettable…
Pancake tells us some interesting things about herself. She’s not from here. She has three hearts. She sings good! We’re intrigued, not because each detail is especially intriguing but because Contini shares each titbit with the innocent charm and secrecy and excitement of a child whose birthday it is.
Suddenly Contini is smiling and winking at Poppy and in response Poppy gives her a thumbs up. Nope. Not what she wanted. Oh! We look down to discover AN ACTUAL GIFT-WRAPPED BIRTHDAY PRESENT leaning against the low concrete wall. Right! Poppy picks it up and hands it to the birthday girl. And the real story begins because when she ever so carefully unwraps it, the gift is a storybook, illustrated by hand (the most wondrous and alluring illustrations, sketched in pencil and enhanced by collage), telling the strange tale of a three-hearted, purple-blooded girl…Pancake. This is her story. This is special.
The story of loss, longing, love and self-love, delivered in Contini’s rich, special storytelling voice, is the real heart of the show and this is what I want to see her courageous enough to stage next. Just this. There is an exceptionally beautiful show in The Purple Hybrid if she trusts the material enough to focus solely on it and discard the flotsam and jetsam of the busy, clunky birthday party surrounding it. Some would disagree entirely. Wonderful!
Contini is an exceptional performer, just magic to watch, and she deserves the chance (and by chance I mean money and time and space) to continue working on this unique piece of theatre. Contini’s imaginative approach to storytelling, and her energy and originality, is what live theatre is all about.
Whatever becomes of this show, I hope that one day (or one cold, rainy, moonless night!) you get to enjoy Contini’s Awesome Ocean Party too.