21
Sep
15

The Theory of Everything

 

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The Theory of Everything

Brisbane Festival & Nuala Furtado

La Boite Studio

September 15 – 19 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Ants have had a bad wrap in this show.

 

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I’ve been listening to Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators, a fascinating account of some of the greatest minds of our pre-digital age. This has everything and nothing to do with the show I saw on Friday night.

 

It is destined to be the standard history of the digital revolution and an indispensable guide to how innovation really happens. What were the talents that allowed certain inventors and entrepreneurs to turn their visionary ideas into disruptive realities? What led to their creative leaps? Why did some succeed and others fail?

 

I raced down to Brisbane Festival’s Theatre Republic on Friday evening to see the sold-out The Theory of Everything instead of staying at school to see a student’s debut cabaret production that night. I was seeing The Theory of Everything instead of sending another writer to review it because the show’s creators wanted to be considered for Matilda Award selection. Originally, I’d planned to see it on the Wednesday night but it clashed with another consideration, ACPA’s SOUL cabaret at The Coffee Club in West End. (To clarify, student productions are ineligible for the Matilda Awards but we are looking at entertainment options for the Awards evening in March). So I went and enjoyed some great company and a relaxed evening of soul music, a mixed bag of performances, directed by their groovy tutor and Music HOD, Nathaniel Andrew, and ended up at The Theory of Everything on Friday night.

 

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Thomas Quirk’s The Theory of Everything sold out before it opened and on the strength of the artists involved, and due to its inclusion in the Brisbane Festival program, I had high expectations. Others may not be quite as disappointed but I feel this production misses the mark. I also feel really, really old in saying so because younger people will likely love this show and say I’m on crack. I know the artists involved love this show because it comes through without exception in their delightful, vibrant performances and that, at least, is something. This collective represents the next wave of talented and hardworking performing artists in Brisbane. They’re honest and bold and brilliantly ambitious, but despite their individual and collective readiness to bring us something new and amazing, the show falls well below expectations.

 

It’s enjoyed a development phase already and this season is perhaps necessarily its second. At worst, it’s prime material for a culminating event at a senior drama workshop and at best, an interesting theatrical experiment. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable, it just isn’t mind blowing.

 

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Staged in the intimate surrounds of La Boite’s rehearsal studio within the partial timber framework of an unknown structure, the performers mill around as the audience enters, stretching, preparing, and shredding what appears to be the pages of the script…

 

We’re actors. Standing in a line.

 

Actors standing in a line in an array of Mix Apparel style pastels (Yvette Turnbull). Um… Anyway, in a Horrible Histories/Epic Rap Battles of History segment, we hear from famous historical figures including Aristotle, Einstein, Freud, Warhol and Hitler about their theories on life and the universe. In what I thought was sure to be a segment inspired by the opening number in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, we get a painstaking re-telling of Cain and Abel, which would be unbearable if it were not for the comical request from one of the actors to stop, clarify, and repeat the entire scene from the start! N.B. no singing happens during this segment. This reminded me of the absurd nature of Sunday school tasks, having to learn the books of the Bible in the correct order. There were stickers and bookmarks and other prizes up for grabs. I don’t remember winning them or not.

 

 

Can we just go back? Back to the beginning?!

 

The most memorable moments of the show come from Katy Cotter, during an eloquently penned and delivered monologue contemplating language (this is one of the more accomplished of the written pieces), and later, a light-hearted and yet deeply soulful dialogue with Chris Farrell, sitting on the floor in near darkness discussing the speed of light and eternal happiness. These moments carry more weight than the earlier extrapolation on any theory in particular, and are genuinely affecting.

 

The use of sound (Wil Hughes) and light particularly (Daniel Anderson) is simple and effective. Anderson’s design uses caged light bulbs manipulated by the actors, and headlamps worn by the actors in an otherwise dark space. Outer space has never been so simply created, with the employment of slow motion lifts and a well choreographed sequence of headlamps flicking on and off to shift focus. Again, an interruption, and the consideration and verbalisation of the theatrical devices in use – the meta-chat – incorporated to make us feel…something.

 

The Theory of Everything certainly works on some levels and it’s an excellent example of a near pitch-perfect ensemble but it was probably a mistake to make sure Matilda Award judges got to this version of it. It’s so important that we support new, experimental theatre, but it’s not essential that we award it or rave about it. When the raves come unwarranted it can do more harm than good. The Theory of Everything will have divided audiences and there’s nothing wrong with that. For me, it was an appropriate end to a week of student theatre, which included yr10 theatresports, yr12 absurdist assessment and SOUL. There’s another week of Brisbane Festival events to come but I presume my experience this year has finished with Quirk’s undercooked production.

 

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There is always such a fuss over Brisbane Festival tickets. The venues, companies and individual presenters all year round are very accommodating; everyone appreciates a timely and thoughtful review. But the Brisbane performing arts scene becomes a vastly different landscape each September when one publicity agency holds all the cards and deals them indiscriminately.

 

I don’t begrudge the interstate writers being accommodated – of course their voices are a vital part of the broader landscape and a bigger conversation, hopefully attracting further interest in the program and greater numbers of attendees from outside Queensland. But for the past three years, despite a number of shows professing to be “sold out”, we’ve seen many empty seats in venues rather than reviewers or Matilda Award judges filling those seats. It’s astounding. Considering the amazing publicity the same company does to promote the festival there should at least be some truth to their “sold out” claims. It just doesn’t make sense to have empty seats.

 

The Theory of Everything genuinely, actually SOLD OUT. If it comes around again, better book early and let me know what you think.

 

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