Author Archive for Xanthe Coward

19
Nov
19

Matrix

 

Matrix

Expressions Dance Company (EDC) and Beijing Dance/LDTX

QPAC Playhouse

November 13 – 16 2019

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

 

 

 

Through the power of cultural exchange and flow of creative understanding, we demonstrate how artistic relationships foster appreciation of diversity and empathy across borders, making our world a better place.

Amy Hollingsworth, Artistic Director, EDC

 

Matrix is the latest development in Expressions Dance Company’s (EDC’s) five-year Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Project, begun in 2015 under the leadership of former Artistic Director Natalie Weir, and carried forward under current Artistic Director Amy Hollingsworth.

 

In this project, EDC has been working with companies led by Willy Tsao, currently Artistic Director of Beijing Dance/LDTX. The Matrix double bill is the second collaboration between EDC and Beijing Dance/LDTX, the first being in 2011 with the work First Ritual.

 

 

The 20 dancers of the combined companies (6 from EDC and 14 from Beijing Dance/LDTX) have worked with choreographers Stephanie Lake from Australia, and Ma Bo from China to create two very different pieces: Auto Cannibal and Encircling Voyage. The Brisbane season follows a five-week development period in China, and performances in Cairns and Queanbeyan.

 

While the two works are different, there are some basic similarities. They both use the dancers to great effect in coalescing and fragmenting groups, often with the whole 20 dancers on stage. When the whole group moves with everyone very close together, the impression is of different parts coming together to form one whole — like a flock of birds, or a herd of animals, or some colonial organism.

 

With a run time of 25 minutes, Lake’s Auto Cannibal is just over half the length of Ma’s 45-minute Encircling Voyage. While there are pauses, and places where the action freezes, the overall impression is of relentless, synchronised action, driven by the strong rhythms and the snapping, pounding, croaking, and breathing sounds of Robin Fox’s electronic music, composed for this work.

 

In contrast, Ma’s work is overall more contemplative, although there are moments of frenzy and intense action. The music, by composer and cellist David Darling, is darkly melodic, and has an epic or heroic quality. The rich sonority of cellos and other string instruments combines with many other sounds (bells, gongs, babies crying, singing) (sound effects by Mao Liang).

 

The look of the two pieces is also contrasting. In Auto Cannibal the dancers wear sporty white singlets and black shorts (costume design by Xing Yameng), and overall the lighting is warmer and brighter, while in Encircling Voyage they wear dappled-grey coat-dresses (costume design by Wang Yan) and the lighting is generally softer and bluer.

 

 

In Encircling Voyage, polished steel benches are used by the dancers as benches, mirrors, and, end-to-end, as a bridge or walkway, while in Auto Cannibal, the stage is bare.

 

In her program notes, Lake explains that she is ‘sometimes afraid I’m repeating myself or cannibalising my own work’ — hence the title Auto Cannibal — but that in this work she celebrates the reusing and reinvigorating of choreographic ideas.

 

The precision and timing in this work, with 20 people pounding out movement absolutely on the beat of the varying rhythms in the music, are euphoric. Sometimes all the dancers are doing exactly the same thing on the beat, at other times different groups are responding at the same time to different rhythms.

 

The movement ranges from swaying hips, rotating shoulders, pulsing the upper body, nodding, waving the arms and wiggling fingers, to making tiny fast tramping steps, lunging, jumping up and down many times, and running. Having a large group making intricate movements very close together multiplies the movement effect, as do the punctuating freezes and pauses, which are also absolutely synchronised with particular rhythms and sounds in the music.

 

 

Following Auto Cannibal (and an interval) on the program, Encircling Voyage is a very different experience. In this work, Ma celebrates the journey from birth to death. She has been quoted as saying that she was inspired by a documentary about migrating birds and their journeys, and also by witnessing the ageing of her parents.

 

Images of ageing — shuffling walks, bent upper bodies, shaking — are interspersed with different impressions of journeying — people trying to head in opposite directions; a group lifting and carrying someone along; people walking along a bridge with tiny quick steps; someone frantically swimming; a large group marching slowly, bending backwards and looking up. The synchronised intricate movement of a large group has a mesmerising effect.

 

In extended lifts and movements such as twirling and falling to the ground, the dancers have a lovely fluidity and pliancy, with exceptionally flexible backs.

 

Near the beginning and end of the work, a small figure walks slowly across the stage holding a book, and we hear a soft voice speaking in Chinese (perhaps reading out the words about an encircling voyage printed in Chinese and English in the program?). The dramatic end represents the death of one of the group, visually accentuated by clouds of symbolic white dust.

 

This is a meditative and moving work, providing a balance to the hyper-energetic Auto Cannibal, and sometimes seeming a little slow after that.

 

In both works, the passion, commitment and precision of the dancers is awe-inspiring. The exhilaration of Auto Cannibal and the contrasting control, flow and expressiveness of Encircling Voyage make Matrix an intense and absorbing experience for the audience. 

 

The collaboration between the artists from the two different companies and two different countries has generated great energy and creativity. What will the Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Project bring us in 2020? That’s something to look forward to.

07
Nov
19

Jane Eyre

 

Jane Eyre

QPAC and shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

October 18 – November 9 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

No one does a slow-burn gothic treatment better than shake & stir, and there was never going to be a better time of year to schedule this one than during the sassy, scary Scorpio season. Let’s face it: Rochester is as Scorpio as Scorpio gets.

 

shake & stir’s Jane Eyre, like its titular character portrayed by Nelle Lee, is fiery and full of promise, but it’s not Polly Teale’s take and it’s not my favourite. Adapted by Lee and Nick Skubij, it’s quite simply overly long, however; if you leave before Interval, you’ll miss the best half of the show, so don’t!

 

Have we even seen a Jane Eyre since QUT’s student production in 2010 at Gardens Theatre? (And is it true that Gardens Theatre is the next live theatre venue to go?).

 

The tech elements here are absolutely next level, a bleak mood from the outset, helped by smokey blue hues and the darkest shadows, cast across multiple levels of a scaffolded set, thanks to Brisbane’s most awarded and appreciated creative triumvirate, Josh McIntosh (Designer, having designed a completely different production for HR in 2008 – wish I’d seen Edward Foy’s Rochester), Jason Glenwright (Lighting Designer) and Guy Webster (Additional Music and Sound). If you can’t imagine how incredible the result of a collaboration between these guys can be, see it for yourself before Jane Eyre closes this weekend, or during the return to QPAC later this month of A Christmas Carol).

 

shake & stir’s productions are truly world class.

 

The Superjesus and Green Day’s American Idiot star, Sarah McLeod, takes artistic stakes even higher, and it’s a gamble that pays off, with a haunting, stirring soundtrack of original music commissioned for this production. In her compositions and rasping, grasping vocals, lies the deeper realisation of both Bertha, the mad wife of Rochester (McLeod), and Jane. And without feeling the need to return to Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea I get a sense that it’s this version, or essence, of Bertha we see here, beneath McLeod’s sculpted arms and ink, and fierce, frightened eyes in this challenging role. (McLeod’s Bertha is probably as Polly Teale as we can expect to get for audiences that include Year 9 – 12 students). In a future role, it will be interesting to see if there is a need to reign in McLeod’s extraordinary energy and natural presence on stage. Let’s hope not; it can be better managed than that!

 

The duality of the female characters is further examined in the treatment of little Adele, Rochester’s ward, represented here by the actor’s posturing and impossibly wide eyes, a Sia-sized ribbon in the hair, and the jaunty movements, as marionette, Adele’s invisible strings pulled by the adults, who regard her with vague interest, or none at all, rather than with Jane’s attitude of love and acceptance, until the little dolly demands more and drops the coquettish act – literally; this is a very funny fuck-you moment – as individuation finally kicks in, and she is seen to stomp – not skip or twirl – to assert her place in the household, in the world. I would like to have seen a more deliberate prelude to this, in Jane’s very early behaviour, which of course would have had little to no effect in the context of the Reed’s oppressive home; perhaps this would be too subtle after all, to foreshadow the widening distinctions between class and wealth and society and privilege and pride, or perhaps we just had to see her as someone different. 

 

 

We have to remember that Charlotte Brontë published under the male non de plume, Currer Bell, in 1847 – a time when class structure began to be challenged and the romantic notion of the gentle ‘feminine’ was supposedly being left for dead, and a stronger ‘feminist’ approach was taking hold, although not everywhere; even the women of the day were shocked and dismayed by the boldness of Brontë’s Jane Eyre. A female critic famously referred to the story as a “very naughty” one.

 

A production picture of McLeod and Lee, facing off only inches away from each other, contains all the intensity and harnessed energy expected on opening night. The adaptation is still too dense to make this version a truly captivating one, and this production lacks the necessary pace to keep us on the edge of our seats. At least it’s not set in space. There is something lacking in the bullying scenes, which are rushed and light-handed, and then we spend an overly long time in the red room, and away at Lowood School. An extended choreographic sequence here, of ritual and repetition, ticks a box but fails to enhance or advance the story; it’s such a short moment actually, and you might enjoy it as a prelude to the very interesting symbolism later of little Adele, but these are the things that are slightly clunky after seeing other, flawless moments work magnificently in shake & stir’s previous productions.

 

Nelle Lee’s Jane Eyre is quietly brash and bold, with appropriate agency, giving us a sense that actually, Nelle Lee is quietly this brash and bold.

 

Anthony Standish is the bully, John Reed, the principal, Mr Brocklhurst, the missionary, St John and the gentlest, gruffest Rochester ever, and despite the distinct lack of scintillating, simmering sexual energy between he and Lee (let me know if you sit closer and feel heat from anything other than the house fire), at least we get the gorgeous playful moments, such lovely moments for actors and audience, and those looooooong looks that should have felt more…thrilling. Perhaps each piece really is just so precisely measured for schools now, so careful not to titillate or offend. Or does it still, in the moment, on the night, come down to casting, timing and bold, impulsive choices? With Intimacy Coordination/Choreography/Direction and wellness at the centre of our actor training and the entertainment industry, and in the meantime, complaints directed to school administrations at the mere mention of a gothic element, or a stiletto strutting teen in a scene for assessment or assembly, this is a very interesting conversation. To be continued…

 

 

Helen Howard is one of our most accomplished actors and directors (and with a bit of Irish luck, COCK will start something in terms of regular directing engagements for Howard). As Aunt Reed, as well as various school teachers, each with their own stance, posture, gesture, accent, and social mask/set of facial expressions, and as Mrs Fairfax and Blanch Ingram, Howard reasserts her superior authority and versatility on stage, and her place in the hearts of Brisbane audiences. 

 

Did you remember that both Helen Howard and Michael Futcher are Matilda Award Hall of Fame(ers)? No. So. There’s your reminder and a little timely nod to Rosemary, whom we miss. so. much.

 

Director, Michael Futcher, has a sharp eye; his astute and super sensitive direction of just four performers in this magnificent contemporary starkly gothic space, contained beautifully by the Cremorne, brings some splendid literary moments to life, and heightens some of the subtleties of the original text, including a stunning image of the women, Bertha above and Jane Eyre below. But by resisting taking a red pen to this adaptation, in its inaugural season this Jane Eyre is not yet the absolutely extraordinary example of live theatre it promises to be. When this production grows up and goes beyond even its own wildest imagination, watch out!

 

What a joy it is to always be able to recommend a company for each new theatrical work offered (even when it’s not my favourite!), based upon the extraordinary body of work, and on the clever and creative team’s ongoing commitment to making live productions continue to work for as broad an audience as possible.    

 

25
Oct
19

Explain Normal

 

Explain Normal

Daniele Constance, AHA Ensemble & Phluxus2 Dance Collective

Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre

October 17–26 2019

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

 

What I think we’ve learned in the making of this work is that there’s a whole spectrum of perceived ‘normal’ and normal behaviour. This show is about celebrating the parts of normalcy that we find difficult to reconcile with as well as celebrating our own ‘normalcy’. In this show, we get to decide.

 

Daniele Constance, Director

 

Explain Normal focuses on celebrating people’s abilities and on seeing both their superficial appearance and their fundamental inner qualities. It is moving, but not sentimental, often funny, and surprising in what the characters choose to tell us about themselves or about some aspect of life.

 

This is a collaboration between Phluxus2 Dance Collective and Aha Ensemble, a physical theatre group established in 2015 to support the development of artists living with disability and impairment. The ensemble, and this show, are directed by Daniele Constance.

 

 

Explain Normal is a physical theatre work combining spoken word, movement and contemporary dance, enhanced by some clever electronic technology, and inventive sound and visual design. (Sound and AV design is by Joseph Burgess, photography and videography by Jorge Serra, and lighting by Keith Clark.)

 

In between movement sequences, performers take turns at the microphone, each talking about something very different and unexpected, from ‘normal ways to die’, to lost socks, a one-night stand, and the end of a friendship.

 

The set consists of a moveable framework and platform, screened by clear plastic-strip curtains (like a giant shower cubicle), and a screen backdrop for projection of still and moving images. The nine performers, seven from Aha Ensemble and two from Phluxus2, are dressed simply in everyday clothes — T-shirts, pants, jumpsuits and sneakers. They appear in various combinations as blurred figures inside the cubicle, and moving outside to the floor of the performance space. The contrast underlines the difference between the way we see others without appreciating who they are, and the way we ‘see’ people more clearly as people.

 

 

The creative team (including Constance (Director), Nerida Matthaei (Choreographer), Ruby Donohoe (Assistant Director), Min Collie-Holmes (Dramaturg), and the performers) have created a polished, yet still raw-edged show. The structure and pace I’m sure owe a lot to the input of Dramaturg Min Collie-Holmes: the spoken pieces are mostly very punchy, and the combination of movement and speech, and the flow between them, work well. The recurring theme of superficial impressions contrasting with what’s underneath provides a robust infrastructure, and its strong exposition at the start and end of the show provides a satisfying and energising resolution.

 

 

The show begins with performers seen blurrily through the plastic curtains. Photos of people are projected onto the large screen, and different voices describe them in detail, starting with the words ‘I see …’ and moving from the obvious superficial characteristics (e.g. ‘pink shirt’, ‘blue eyes’) to other, deeper impressions and qualities (e.g. what the person might be feeling). The accompanying sounds are harp-like ripplings.

 

Three performers in turn stand in front of the screen and with their hands trace around the images. As they do so, thick coloured lines are drawn around the images: pink, yellow, pale blue and bright magenta. The characters stand in front of different images, as if trying to fit themselves into the outlines, while other outlines continue to be drawn. The larger the outlines get, the less detail they include.

 

We then hear a rustling noise, and a large figure, in an orange blow-up suit covering every part of the body, strides down the stairs through the audience onto the performance floor. The outline of this grotesque figure is like the rough outlines around the projected images, but we know that there must be a different, more sharply defined person (Nadia Milford) underneath. In an effective movement sequence, the figure dances with a tall young man (Charles Ball), who grapples with it, and hurls it around, giving the impression of trying to get at what’s underneath.

 

In two dream-like sequences, a performer wears a lovely ‘halo’ made of strings of tiny white lights wound into a net-like cap, at first appearing behind the plastic curtains in dim ambient lighting, then coming out to mirror another’s slow waving movements before retreating. Later, Tara Heard is crowned with these lights, appearing as the embodiment of a touching monologue, spoken by another performer.

 

Megan Louise West has a powerful, yet gentle, presence in her initial appearances interacting with the projected photographs, and in her monologue about an intense friendship. Another memorable moment is a solo by Mitchell Runcie, with its raw, jerky movement matched by Joseph Burgess playing strident electric violin.

 

There are some ensemble dance scenes, one featuring two women (Rebecca Dostal and Allycia Staples) who lift others and whirl them around with great ease. A frenetic scene to pounding electronic music has all the performers dancing wildly as if in a club, led by an amazingly energetic Ruby Donohoe. Leading into this, Donohoe has taken the microphone and verbally described a series of images projected at a blistering pace, becoming more frenzied as she goes.

 

Finally, all nine cast members walk up the stairs between the audience and sit on the steps. They pass the microphone around and, each starting with ‘I see …’, make some short observations about the audience (if you are nervous about audience participation, don’t worry – this was a very inclusive experience!). If an audience member shows that they are willing, they might have their own chance to say what they see. None of us put ourselves forward on the night I was there, though.

 

A final, incisive remark rounded off this thoughtful and entertaining work: ‘I see people looking, but what is it that we don’t see?’

 

21
Oct
19

I’m A Phoenix, Bitch!

 

I’m a Phoenix, Bitch

QPAC & Brisbane Festival 

QPAC Playhouse

September 18 – 21 2019

 

Reviewed By Shannon Miller

 

 

Shrieking melodramatically and pursued by God only knows, co-writer and performer, Bryony Kimmings enters the stage in a gold sequinned dress and blonde wig, frantic and helpless. She is pursued ridiculously by herself, a creature of her own making, as she flips between the damsel in distress and the hunting beast; an introduction lampooning Hollywood clichés, scream queens, slasher films and creature features.

 

However, the damsel turns the tides and defeats the monster, triumphantly shooting invisible fireballs from her loins! Kimmings is victorious and turns to the audience posing the meta-theatrical proposition, “Imagine if I started the show like that.”

 

Surrounded haphazardly by set pieces covered in sheets, Kimmings sheds the bling and levels with the audience, donning active wear and embarking on a heartbreaking personal monologue of a much darker time in her life. She meets her partner, Tim. They fall in love, and move into a quaint cottage out of town of which they’ve been warned by the agent of a pastoral stream having the potential to swell and flood the property.

 

 

They move into the cottage nonetheless; part dream-home, part Evil Dead/cabin in the woods. Kimmings soon discovers she is with child and everything couldn’t seem more perfect. However, the stream rises inevitably as it has been foretold, and the story delivers a child plagued by medical issues, born in the midst of a relationship breakdown, while Kimmings’ character is flanked by a crushing post-natal depression.

 

Along the way, she reveals the set pieces, which appear shambolic at first but soon become a curated visual psycho-sphere, items of the symbolic order which join the dots to this quickly harrowing tale: a kitchen, a back window, a miniature of the cottage, metonymic icons of the limited roles she is expected to play in a patriarchal society.

 

 

She puts the book into song, too, at times channeling Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, the yes girl, the bimbo, the damsel, the siren, Lorna Jane, the psycho – stereotypes that seek to sum her up and limit her as the gathering plot begins to unravel her in synchronicity with the rising stream.

 

Kimmings has written a sharply targeted one-woman show, and she draws the audience so tightly under her control. Every second of this work is deeply felt, beautifully rendered and at times utterly exhausting. It’s funny, whimsical and a serious commentary on not just gender inequality in the domestic sphere, but it’s a personal anecdote in which the audience is voyeur to a working practitioner’s creative, self-healing process.

 

 

This is a grim modern fable daringly funny and with darkly uncompromising feminisms echoing Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion and Jeanette Winterson. The story twists in the direction of mother-shaming, anxiety-driven perfectionism, and self-flagellation as the new currency of excellence, honing in on the pressures to be a strong and independent woman, girl, and lady – to become everything: the lover, the caregiver, and the breadwinner.

 

With stunning multi-media and set design, and a dénouement so unexpectedly dramatic and nuanced, this remarkably redemptive narrative set within a current movement of self-care and mental health awareness is buoyed ultimately by hope. A truly compelling theatrical experience.

07
Sep
19

Henry IV Part 1

 

Henry IV Part 1

Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble 

Roma Street Parkland

August 22 – September 8 2019

 

Reviewed by Rhys M Becks

 

 

 

Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble delivered a refreshing interpretation of Shakespeare’s Henry The IV Part 1. Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre is the perfect outdoor venue for a Shakespeare, however; at this time of year I feel the bitterly cold winds sweeping across the stage, at times hindering my ability to focus on the text. I must commend the players on their ability to maintain their individual levels of performance throughout frequent cold blasts of wind! While Box Office was difficult to find as there was little to no signage, the polite and cheerful manner of the front of house staff made up for this minor inconvenience. The vibe is welcoming, the space cooly lit, and a pleasant ambience created by folk band Skimble Skamble Stuff, comprising actual cast members, playing us to our seats.

 

 

Playing King Henry was Liliana Macarone, who gave a commendable performance, and managed to perform a cross-gendered king in a believable and enjoyable fashion. Rebelling against the king was Angus Thorburn portraying Henry Percy. Thorburn gave a delightful performance that held the audience’s attention. His performance, only slightly marred by occasionally delivering lines with too great a speed, was nevertheless engaging. The greedy, thieving, yet loveable drunkard, Jack Falstaff, was played by Rob Pensalfini, who gave an outstanding performance, practically flawless. Pensilfini kept us captivated by the way in which he spoke, and moved through the space, making the text come to life, especially, I would imagine, for those less familiar with Shakespeare’s floral language. He brought to us that much needed ounce of comic relief between the slightly more serious scenes, which aided in holding our attention for the play’s rather long duration. Opposite Pensalfini as the young Prince Henry, was Silvan Rus, another sterling performer who like Pensalfini, in many ways carried the show right through to its end, with his engaging, charming performance that was easily enjoyed by all.

 

 

 

The pub scenes, and scenes involving Pensalfini, Rus and Murphy, were beautifully done, however; less effective due to blocking, were the royal court and rebel scenes. Similarly, aspects of the stage combat proved hard to watch, with some cast members more proficient and practiced than others.

 

 

With a cast of nineteen players it’s impossible to mention every performer, however; honourable mentions must go to Rebecca Murphy (the show’s director), for her captivating performance as Prince Henry’s dear friend, Poins; Dudley Powell, who played both the Hostess in the traditional, comical, cross-gendered style of classical theatre that we have come to know and love, and for his depiction of the Earl of Douglas, demonstrating superb accent work. John Siggers, in the role of Bardolph, was always interesting to watch, and won us over with his frequent renditions of Up To The Rigs of London Town and also, his speedy recovery after unexpectedly falling straight through a bench mid-delivery. Leah Fitzgerald-Quinn as Francis, is a stand out, whom I simply enjoyed watching.

 

In Henry IV Part 1 Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble delivers an enjoyable production and lovely evening out. I look forward to their next offering.

 

 

 

05
Sep
19

COCK or How to Manipulate Media Coverage In Your Efforts to Secure Rave Reviews or I’m Just a Girl Standing in Front of a Box Office Trying to Buy a Ticket to Your Show

 

COCK

Bosco Productions

Metro Arts

August 21 – 31 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Somebody didn’t want me to see this show. Let’s pretend that we don’t know who that was.

This happens sometimes, following an unfavourable review; xs is left off an upcoming list and Box Office is directed to refuse us entry. But companies should be careful of what I like to call The Maleficent Effect, which is to say that not everyone would stand for being treated with such disrespect and still show up to see the production for what it is. Luckily for this Irish lot, COCK is brilliant and quite beautiful, in the most honest and transparent way, with not a single European pillow in sight. Even so, let’s take a moment to appreciate that the risk of being turned away at the door after a 90-minute drive in peak hour traffic, after a session with teens who still haven’t learned their lines a week out from assessment, is nothing; it’s more amusing than anything else, and not nearly as insulting or threatening as a spate of online trolling, name calling and death threats. So…Bosco…namaste. 

 

while the producers of any show may argue that as it’s their party, they can invite whoever they want, the principle of extending invitations across the board to established newspapers and reviewing outlets is a sound one. Trying to exclude particular reviewers is not – if for no other reason that it makes that individual critic seem more important than they are and hints at, if not outright censorship, than at least an over-developed desire to manipulate coverage and ensure good reviews all round.

You can never second-guess what a critic’s response will be.

The real issue here is the insidious, creeping desire on the part of producers and their PR agencies to control all press coverage by feature writers and critics.

 

You can never second-guess what a critic’s response will be

 

I’d like to suggest a new category for the Matilda Awards

Most Awkward Box Office / Foyer Conversation

 

Box Office Girls: stare up at me in what appears to be abject horror, or it could just be me pre-empting a Hilary Spurling scenario (Box Office Girls too young to know who Hilary Spurling is).

Me: Hi, I’m Xanthe and I know you’ve probably been told not to give me comps. So I’ll buy a ticket.

Box Office Girls:

Me: This must be the first theatre ticket I’ve had to buy in ten years!

Box Office Girls:

Me: Happy to support!

Box Office Girls:

 

You can imagine.

 

Fiona Apple’s Shadow Boxer pre-show, as I take my seat, seems appropriate. I know the play; I love Mike Bartlett’s properly real life writing, with its overlaps, interjects, repetitions, stutters and silences. I love that, as Writer, he has the audacity to demand of the companies brave enough to take on his play, a bare stage sans sets and props.

 

Queensland’s most under-utilised director, Helen Howard, has relished the challenges of a possibly highly stylised and potentially dated piece…or is it? After all, we are still insisting that relationships be bound by certain constraints, aren’t we? Howard has shaped this show from a contemporary place of power and compassion for these characters with whom we connect, and from whom we disconnect at the same time. It’s a voyeuristic lens that holds us in the gaze of the actors as we watch events unfold. Direct address is skilfully incorporated. Judge me. Don’t judge me. There is rarely physical contact between the actors; like a dance in a dream, their actions – undressing, touching, etc – are described but never carried out in the sense of showing us explicit stage business. This leaves scope for the imagination, creating a delicate, sensual intimacy that will make this production an example at the next round table re the results of best practice, as we continue to evolve the ways we work with actors, particularly student actors, on intimate/physical/emotional scenes. It’s a way into intimacy that’s been explored more extensively to date in the dance realm. A surreal, smoothly choreographed opening sequence at once feels beautifully fluid, and irregular and angular, leaving us distanced from the action, and yet completely committed, uncertain of where we are and what we’re in for.

 

The people we meet here are real and flawed, and either panicked or paralysed by tiny daily insecurities, as well as their – our – bigger fear of actually living life.

 

Derek Draper (M) and Julian Curtis (John) drive this narrative; a love triangle that’s more complicated than most, introducing the unexpected, and turning the stereotypical homosexual relationship on its head. When push comes to shove, M invites in his father – F – for moral support (Patrick Farrelly). When John meets a woman – W (Ashlee Lollback) – he questions his place…his worth…in his 7-year de-facto relationship with M.

 

The dance continues at intervals throughout the show, neatly devised transitions separating and marking for posterity each key moment; the tenderness of the storytelling and the heightened awareness of the actors evident in every pause. There is so much said, and left unsaid, in these silences. 

 

Draper is strong in this role; he finds the right mix of strength and vulnerability; M stands up for what he wants and ultimately, despite even more deeply doubting his power, he doesn’t back down. It’s enough to make us shrink in our seats during one of the most uncomfortable endings ever written. But more so, it’s John’s ineptitude that continues to make us cringe, even after the lights come up. Everyone knows someone this frozen by fear. The beauty of Bartlett’s protagonist is in this paralysis; the agony of being incapable of making a decision, squirming in the process; pushed to the edge and unable to decide whether or not to jump.

 

W challenges John on every level and gently exerts her most elegant use of force to urge him closer and closer to a decision that will suit them both. As John admits, it’s not as much about gender or sex as it is about the way he feels with her, the careful, kind way she speaks to him, treats him. Lollback is a beautiful, natural performer, at ease in her body and generous in her offers, employing a warm, firm vocal tone, and a sweet and comforting smile that reminds me of Naomi Price in Sweet Charity.

 

 

While we might judge John’s behaviour harshly, most of us can probably relate to his inability to communicate under pressure. The paralysis of indecision is no small thing so the dinner party scene, so fraught, becomes intense and fascinating and funny, and absolutely awful in the best theatrical sense, leaving us despairing, properly lamenting, John’s stubborn resistance to the power that we all feel quite desperately by now, is his to claim. There are exasperated sighs in the audience. And inexplicably, it could be said,  largely because it’s Curtis in this role making M completely hopeless and also, completely adorable, John keeps our sympathy, despite his reluctance to commit one way or the other, to one lover or the other, and the question arises: why should he be made to choose? Bartlett doesn’t go deeper here; he doesn’t suggest that John remain single for example, but we can imagine what John’s single life might look like. Instead…well, it’s that awful, uncomfortable ending, confirming once again, in case we are ever in any doubt, that we’re all needing as much validation as the next guy. Well, no. Some much more so than others it seems. 

 

31
Aug
19

The Cold Record

 

The Cold Record

Horizon Festival

Brisbane Festival, The Old Ambo, ArKtype / Thomas O. Kriegsmann

Black Box Theatre, The Old Ambo, Nambour

August 28 – 30 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Kirk Lynn (Rude Mechs) wrote a story about a 12-year old boy who tries to set the record for the most days leaving school sick; during the process he falls in love with the school nurse and punk rock. Director of The Cold Record, Alexandra Bassiakou has fine-tuned Eli Weinberg’s sensational performance without losing the raw edge of reality. There’s an immediate and intimate connection between actor and audience, which comes from Weinberg’s easygoing manner, and our proximity to him, but also from the headphone verbatim approach to the production. In this country at least, Roslyn Oades is probably best known for this evolving performance form (her headphone verbatim piece, Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday toured extensively, and received critical and audience acclaim). We sense the same spirited energy here from just one dynamic performer.

 

Weinberg greets us in the foyer of The Old Ambo and leads us to the show’s secret location. We’re invited to enjoy a non-alcoholic beverage or local craft beer – Larry’s from Your Mates – and create a mix tape together, sharing the long-lost stories of our pre-selected punk rock song. Our mixtape on opening night comprises hits from the likes of Blondie, The Jam, The Sex Pistols and Blink 182. There are satisfied nods and some cool modified mosh pit moves, some long-lost memories that spark some other memories (LIVID 1994 in Davies Park, anyone?), lots of laughter, especially about the patience, and the intricate timing and precision required to record our favourite childhood/teen era radio tracks on old-school cassette recorders with the simultaneous push of two buttons, and general agreement that post-punk is a legit choice, as is Blondie. We’re thrilled that our listening and life choices have been validated, and that we’ll get to hear the mixtape in its entirety after the show, when the link appears in our inbox. The question arises, “What about all the other mix tapes from all the other shows?” Can we look forward to a Rude Mechs Cold Record Spotify playlist at some stage? The conversation is relaxed, and fun – but there’s more to the show, in fact, it hasn’t really started yet. Except it has… The nostalgic, casual lounge party vibe puts us at ease, almost dulling us into a false sense of security before Weinberg begins throwing us curve balls. And then there’s the ending.  

 

 

 

Weinberg is super relaxed and personable throughout, expertly manipulating the mood over the 28-minute arc of the show to take us on his rollercoaster ride through the final year of elementary school. We rally with him against the world of adults and unreliable friends. The group’s support is something of a special communal theatrical thing; people are visibly affected and because of our close proximity we can properly sympathise. Our eyes rarely stray from Weinberg’s, his 12-year old innocence a piercing gaze, challenging us to respond honestly to his musings about life, death and love, or not at all. Throughout, Weinberg wears the headset with the sound of Lynn’s voice in his ears, in real time telling the entire story a beat ahead of his own performance.    

 

The lasting impact of this performance is something interesting. While the story belongs to one young boy, the intimacy of its telling gifts his lived experience to each of us. We’re given the time and space to recreate, in minds and hearts for a moment, our own private version of first love, lost love, friendship, family, victory, grief, and getting up and getting on with it, without necessarily relieving or healing any wounds along the way, however; in the moments between we become aware of these feelings, and simply let them be what they will be until we make time to sit with them (or walk or run or dance with them). Neither live performance or life promises a quick or easy fix. 

 

Are there wounds that only music can heal? Is there music that only keeps us crying, bleeding, dying? 

 

The Cold Record goes to Brisbane Festival after this weekend and if you’re near, you’d be crazy to miss it. In fact, if you think you don’t have the time or the need to experience this neat, sweet, completely surprising and captivating one-man show, it’s likely the thing you need most.