First Things First
Brisbane Powerhouse & Joseph Simons
Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre
February 10 – 13 2016
Joseph Simons is the most extraordinary performer, celebrating in his original one-man show First Things First the human form, and a series of firsts, failures and the simple joy that is to be discovered in the small successes of everyday life. We watch in awe, his fluid movement and subtle transformations revealing a thousand characters in one as he shares engaging and entertaining stories that feel familiar and at the same time are undeniably this performer’s personal experience in the world.
In First Things First complex choreographic sequences stem from the tiniest observation of the immediate surroundings, the intimate space of the Visy Theatre opened up, stripped back, and baring its soul too. The show was created within the confines of a room during a snow storm in Berlin. So you can imagine. Moments are imbued with frantic pent-up energy and the stunning calm of the artist in contemplation of the world around him.
A white floor is made a work of art before we even enter the space, preset with black pieces of clothing – jeans, leggings, jocks, shirts, a bra, a velvet hat – and one by one the items are tossed into a pile in the corner, just as so many memories and aspects of life are discarded. It might not even be a metaphor… A mobile clothes rack stands empty except for a red t-shirt on a black plastic hanger, and used throughout as if it were the prop selected for a crazy improv game.
Simons is relaxed, greeting us outside the Visy Theatre. OH, HI! We’re wearing sticky name tags and he encourages us to meet someone new, to mingle. I cheat and catch up with Zoe Tuffin, we have a great chat before the show starts. But the show has clearly started already with this easy intro and I’m intrigued by Simon’s effortless engagement with everyone he meets, his openness and the obvious joy he finds in the act of sharing something of which he’s proud, and so humble about.
Last week Simons was our Associate Director on GAYBIES and on closing night I told him that of course he must keep directing; his intuition and care when working with actors are things that can’t be taught. And now I feel like telling him, forget it! Keep performing while you can! Because this is his first gift.
What Simons gifts to us is the experience of life and love and laughter, in every breath, every twitch and turn of his head, every look, every wink, every extension, every pointed toe. He’s simply stunning to watch.
The intricate choreographic sequences start small, the ordinary made extraordinary through keen observation, bold exaggeration and committed repetition. One particular sequence, more complex and rigorous than the rest, is repeated three times, involving incredibly controlled floor work, and balance and precision to make us marvel at the technique and exalt in the emotion so freely and generously explored.
A tale that we can only assume would be too long and too detailed to tell over drinks becomes a masterclass in the telling, frustrating and hilarious and gorgeous. It’s fine comedy and brilliant theatre, breaking up the demanding physical routines and, as if we were not already enamoured with Simons, successfully drawing us into his world.
Simons takes a “drinks break”, explaining unapologetically that all the best cabaret performers do so, and then opens the camera on his phone to take a photo of the audience. He’s already named individual audience members in the opening sequence, over a pre-recorded list of celebrity names, and he remembers everyone with whom he spoke before the show, greeting them, acknowledging their part in his story all over again. It binds us, bonds us, makes us one person watching another incredible person.
This 80-minute performance is like nothing I’ve ever seen, which in itself is thrilling. Simons is completely charismatic, and ever changing and evolving, challenging us to even try to keep up with his discovery of life’s bewildering and amazing things; he is child-like and wise and cheeky.
An accomplished dancer who can also sell a story vocally and physically, and move an entire audience from laughter to the sting of tears and back again is a rare thing; it attracts attention. Simons demonstrates solid commitment to story and character, and superior talent as a dancer. His experience of “firsts” is a delightful discourse on the simplest, loveliest things in life, and so expertly delivered in such an entertaining and authentic context, I could easily watch it again.