Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

25
May
17

Behind Closed Doors

 

Behind Closed Doors

Expressions Dance Company

QPAC Playhouse

May 19 to May 27 2017

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

Each dancer brings passion, dedication, vision and respect. I feel their trust in me and it is empowering. They are brave in the studio and brave in performance.

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, EDC

Set in an upmarket hotel, Expressions Dance Company’s Behind Closed Doors marries live contemporary jazz and contemporary dance.

If only all dance performances could include live music! It might not always be practicable or even possible, but this work powerfully demonstrates how the two live artforms complement and enrich each other.

Artistic Director/Choreographer Natalie Weir and the EDC dancers have collaborated with contemporary music ensemble Trichotomy: Musical Director Sean Foran (piano), John Parker (drums) and Samuel Vincent (acoustic bass), with guest artists Kristin Berardi (vocals) and Rafael Karlen (saxophone). Compositions by the group have been reworked for Behind Closed Doors, and performances include improvisation.

Behind Closed Doors is a reworking and further development of the 2010 EDC production While Others Sleep, also created and performed with Trichotomy (then called Misinterprotato).

The ‘film noir’ hotel setting (design by Greg Clark, lighting design by David Walters) seems a natural one for a jazz ensemble. At the end of the show, the audience stayed seated for a while, enjoying a final number from Trichotomy – it was as if we were transported into that hotel.

The stage is divided into three spaces: an area for the musicians, with space in front of them that is a foyer or a restaurant, and a revolving set, with doors on one side opening into ‘rooms’ with missing walls on the other, into which the audience can see.

We see glimpses of hotel guests’ stories in vignettes featuring a range of characters. In between these vignettes, people pass through the public spaces of the hotel, carrying luggage, hurrying to meet schedules, and presenting their public personae.

Elise May is very moving in her role as The Lonely Woman, partnered by Benjamin Chapman as the memory or ghost of her lost partner. Their duo in their first appearance is fluid, poignant, and sad, with beautiful complex lifts executed almost in slow motion. The lyrical effect contrasts with the strength and control that the movement needs, but which is completely transcended.

The Lonely Woman’s costumes (design by Greg Clark) are stunning: a filmy black dress strewn with 3D appliqué red poppies; and a full-length cream wraparound dress, reminiscent of 1930s film star Jean Harlow.

In this role and in his solo as The Dark Man, Chapman is strong and compelling. The Dark Man appears to be escaping from life in the outside world. Tormented and desperate, he trashes his hotel room, and is found unconscious by the maid. The acrobatic contortions of Chapman’s solo as he ricochets around the room convey the character’s torment and desperation.

May and Chapman also have a scene in the hotel restaurant as a warring young couple, whose row extends to involve other patrons, as they knock over tables and chairs, and hit the suspended lights. The force of the movement and its representation of disregard for polite behaviour is both liberating and discomforting to watch. They are not people you would want sitting near you in a restaurant.

While The Dark Man appears driven by torment to escape from life in the outside world, The Chameleon (guest artist Xu Yiming) disguises himself to avoid notice. He wears a cherry-red suit that blends in with the curtains and bedspread in his room. His fluid and boneless movements are in peripheral planes: he lies on the floor, flopping along impossibly, hides behind curtains, and sprawls on the bed.

In another story, The Businessman (Richard Causer) appears in a suit, so formal and restricted that he must be hiding something.  Sure enough, when inside his hotel room, he sheds the suit and reveals a struggle between his feminine and masculine personae, posing in front of us as if watching himself in a mirror. Causer projects both vulnerability and strength in this role, engaging our sympathy.

Michelle Barnett and Jake McLarnon join Causer to represent The Female Side (represented by a dramatic and erotic dark-red dress) and the Male Side of the character, struggling with him and each other. Barnett and Causer fly and fling each other through a duo, and all three finish by grappling together. We are left wondering how long The Business Man will be able to endure the struggle.

Barnett and McLarnon express completely different emotions and physicality in their roles as Young Lovers. Their duo is passionate, playful and joyous, with Barnett memorably taking a flying leap onto McLarnon on the bed.

McLarnon and Causer also perform a ‘young love’ (or maybe ‘young lust’) duo. The two men’s encounter begins when they pop out of their doorways in bathrobes, and continues in a very physical, gymnastic display of muscularity and humour.

The Maid threads her way through the action as the constant among the shifting group of hotel guests. She finds odd things people drop or leave behind, accidentally sees people in vulnerable or compromising situations, fantasises about guests’ lives, and is harassed by guests. In this role, QUT student Tiana Pinnell did an outstanding job of filling in at short notice for the injured Alana Sargent*.

The publicity for Behind Closed Doors invited us to unleash our inner voyeur. I found that I was identifying with the characters instead – a tribute to the power of the performers to inspire our empathy.

It’s hard to write about the EDC dancers without gushing. They perform amazing physical feats which are at the same time evocative and expressive, and they transport us into other worlds.

20
May
17

Deal Or Ordeal

 

DEAL OR ORDEAL

Ms. Demeanours Theatre

Anywhere Theatre Festival

May 10 – 20 2017

Reviewed by Katy Cotter 

You know the Channel 7 show Deal or No Deal? What an afternoon delight full of bright wigs, gold cases and a host, it would seem, on copious amounts of speed. Just joking, Andrew O’Keefe is hilarious. But like many of those afternoon programs spending money that our government should be saving to pay back our national debt, the viewers know it’s all a bit of frivolous fun. You can sit back and relax, and trust nothing life-altering will happen.

The creative team behind Deal or Ordeal was very aware of what their consenting audience was to experience. They wanted to start a conversation about Sexual Harassment and Rape Culture in Australia. Ms. Demeanours Theatre explained, “With consent being reduced to a game, and victims being blamed and dismissed, we thought, why not take that concept to a new level?”

This show was a part of Anywhere Theatre Festival, and I arrived at a residence in Highgate Hill, to be seated in a garage set up like a TV studio. There was a shimmering gold curtain and bright lights, it was brilliant!

The audience was introduced to three hosts (Mikaela Hollands, Sophie Gliori and Maddi Romcke), all charming ladies that were loud and over-bearing in their cause to win us over. The games resulted in sharing shocking facts about sexual harassment and rape in Australia and involved audience participation, but only to those willing. Before we entered, we were given a card that said DEAL on one side and NO DEAL on the other. If getting up on stage was too terrifying a thought, then you’d show the NO DEAL sign and you were saved from being forced to do anything you didn’t want to do. The audience’s consent was cherished during the performance. 

The work runs a fine line of being annoyingly over-the-top and cringeworthy, as well as being confronting, honest and informative. This was an intentional choice to allow people to enjoy the “entertainment” side and immerse themselves in the “game,” yet remaining unsettled because of the horrible topic being discussed. There came gasps of horror at some statistics – this show packed a punch!

The ladies made sure to acknowledge their awareness that men are also victims of sexual harassment by female perpetrators, however; they chose to focus around their own personal experiences in the creative development of the show. The focus on men was tedious at times, though ultimately it was the right choice to go with. I did ponder afterwards, what it would be like hearing from the male perspective…? 

My favourite moment came at the end when the three hosts dropped character, removed the blue wigs, and the performers as themselves were revealed. They each stood before us and recited a poem about one of their most intimate experiences. I applaud them for their bravery and I will carry those stories with me. It put the whole show into perspective. A heaviness was left in the air, a weight each audience member now carried and were responsible for. We now had the power to make a change. I found myself reflecting on my own experiences and relating to the women in front of me. I left more informed and with a fire in my belly to speak out. 

Deal or Ordeal is an intelligent piece of theatre, clearly well researched, and each performer passionate about making their voice heard.

There is a stigma, a white noise, around sexual harassment and rape. This show urges its audience to break the silence and get talking. With open communication and education, we can start to move forward as a society. We have the power to stop the shaming and the abuse, and promote safe and consensual sexual practice.

08
May
17

The Play That Goes Wrong

The Play That Goes Wrong

Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Kenny Wax Lyrical & Stage Presence

In Association With David Atkins Enterprises & ABA

May 4 – 14 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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If you’ve ever seen, or been involved in your local amateur theatrical productions, you know this play.

This was the ideal production to see at the end of a massive week of the Masters course, with a number of things due and a third of the ensemble at my house for half the week, due to various configurations of groups and scene partners, the stress compounded by very little sleep and a whole lot of the usual travel on Sunshine Coast roads that are just not coping with the rapidly increasing number of drivers. We’re based at The J, Noosa, because our USC campus has offered the creative arts courses without having the facilities to house them. We love The J but nevertheless, we’ve all submitted a heartfelt survey response…

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Originally staged in a North London pub, then on West End and Broadway, The Play That Goes Wrong is a production that literally brings the house down. A genius notion turned into an award-winning cookie cutter formula from young actors/writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, has given us everyman’s Fawlty Towers meets Noises Off. While Noises Off may be the slightly cleverer, more sophisticated show (we’ll see it soon), The Play That Goes Wrong is right on cue, and it’s on right now and it’s precisely the right thing to see if you’re in need of a good, laugh-out-loud evening of entertainment. And who isn’t craving a bit of light release?

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The simple genius of this play is that it’s a total parody of everything amateur, with a delicious premise packed full of pompous performers straight out of the community theatre green room/club room/somebody’s living room, which makes us laugh because it’s what we know to be true of any well meaning community theatre company. I wish more of the locals would get to see this production, and I wish the same locals would get to see our Queensland Theatre, La Boite and Noosa alive! productions. They may wish to charge slightly less then, for the productions they’ve convinced themselves are just as professional as anything on a professional stage. Really? Have you seen one lately? If you’re happy to hop up and have some fun with some friends, please just ask for a donation at the door and give us all a large glass of wine with our ticket. I’ve said as much for years. I may also have said that the alternative involves actually taking on board the feedback you ask for, and getting better at putting on shows. 

Anyway, the conceit is this: here we are, at a dreadful, over-directed community theatre production of The Murder at Haversham Manor, a tidy little 1920s murder mystery in the tradition of the Agatha Christie style whodunnits featuring Inspector Hercule Poirot. The poor company has suffered from budgetary challenges and the loss of company members, making it impossible to stage their productions as intended. Instead, they have produced variations on the classics, including The Lion and the Wardrobe, Chekhov’s Two Sisters and Lloyd Webber’s CAT.

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The set is a brilliant disaster (Designer Nigel Hook), magically falling apart on cue, and making it a stage manager’s dream and their worst nightmare (Company Stage Manager Anneke Harrison and Production Manager & Head Mechanist David Worthy). It’s absolutely the stage manager’s show, and given a greater chance to flesh out their stereotypical characters, it might be a more satisfying show for the actors too. They clearly relish the physical comedy, accomplishing astonishing feats of balance and the expert juggling of props, as doors refuse to close (and then refuse to open), books fall from shelves, shelves fall from walls, walls and floors fall… you get the idea.

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Original Director, Mark Bell, has taken the play-within-a-play formula to the extreme, even including in the first half of the printed souvenir program, the actual program for Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s show. This includes a heartfelt note from Director, Chris Bean, who also plays Inspector Carter (Nick Simpson-Deeks, the very model of an actor who thinks he’s nailed the English inspector character) and the full fictional bios of Cornley Polytechnic’s company members: Jonathan Harris who plays Charles Faversham (Darcy Brown), Robert Grove who plays Thomas Colleymoore (Luke Joslin, every bit the pompous Leading Man/Lord of the Manor/Master), Sandra Wilkinson who plays Florence Colleymore (Brooke Satchwell, in all her smokey vocal jubilant glory), Max Bennet who plays Cecil Faversham (James Marlowe), Dennis Tyde who plays Perkins (George Kemp, hilariously timid and pathetic), Annie Twilloil, stage manager & initially reluctant stand-in (Tammy Weller) and Trevor Watson, the Duran Duran loving lighting and sound operator who thought he was signing up to a house rave (Adam Dunn). We also get glimpses of Francine Cain, Jordan Prosser and Matthew Whitty behind the scenes. It’s a stellar Australian cast, directed by Sean Turner, to bring us every fine, funny detail of the disaster that community theatre so often turns out to be. It’s fast-paced basic slapstick; Sam says it’s “dinner theatre without the dinner”. (He is of the opinion it should have stayed in the pubs).

Our party of four split up and the boys sat so far back in QPAC’s Concert Hall that they missed a lot of the nuance in the facial expressions, making the indulgent set ups and in-jokes a little too much to believe. But in Row D Mel and I missed nothing and we loved every minute of it. Ideally, for the vast majority, the more intimate Cremorne Theatre would be the place to see this show.

Is The Play That Goes Wrong just well-funded fancy comedy for the lowest common denominator? Or brilliant, entertaining worthwhile art? Is it a million dollar show? (It’s making close to that each night just at QPAC)! It’s certainly fun and fast and very funny if you’re prepared to see it for what it is, and give yourself permission to simply enjoy it.

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07
May
17

Once In Royal David’s City

Once In Royal David’s City

Queensland Theatre & Black Swan State Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

April 22 – May 14 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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THE THEATRE IS THE THEATRE. THE CHARACTER IS THE CHARACTER. THE ACTOR IS AN ACTOR. THE STORY IS A STORY.

 

Great art is as multifaceted as life: sometimes perplexing, sometimes heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking. Sometimes, it is all of these things at once.

Sam Strong, Artistic Director, Queensland Theatre

 

Sam Strong’s directorial debut for Queensland Theatre is powerful, affecting, and lingering, leaving us with the essence of Michael Gow’s most recent work long after we leave the theatre, wondering, just as Professor Julius Sumner Miller did, “why is it so?” This great play hasn’t been touched since its Belvoir Street premiere (2014)…

Once In Royal David’s City is cleverly Brecht at its contemporary best. This seems an odd thing to say, because Brecht done properly is contemporary, challenging us to recognise the message in the story, and question what we see on stage, and go away and affect social change in our current contemporary context.

Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it.

Berthold Brecht

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In case you don’t know anything about Brechtian theatre though, the protagonist, a slightly disillusioned middle-aged director of theatre, Will Drummond (Jason Klarwein in his most compelling performance to date), will explain everything. You’ll also find Michael Beh’s notes in the program. It’s a style created by German director, Bertolt Brecht, so often misconstrued, and messed up in the process, making whatever tale is being told lifeless and meaningless on stage, when its purpose is to be anything but. BUT Strong’s stark and sincere production puts political theatre back on the agenda and reveals the machinations behind the boldest sort of theatrical storytelling. It’s very Brecht.

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Beautifully and simply lit by Matt Scott (the exposed lights rigged in plain sight are a work of art in themselves), an expansive stark white set by Stephen Curtis uses every inch of the stage, its depth a particular point of interest since the initial hospital scenes are staged there, as if to allow a slightly more comfortable distance between the audience and the awkward events and unbearable emotions of staying, while a loved one is lying there, quietly, patiently dying…

We will all lose – or will have already lost – a parent, and it’s something we don’t necessarily talk about. It’s one of those things we go through and we know others go through, and we send love and light and hugs and emojis in a comment thread on Facebook, and yet it remains a very personal, often very lonely experience. Once In Royal David’s City reminds us that no matter how compassionate we think we are, we can never know quite what another person feels or thinks at this time. At any time… Will is, understandably, in complete denial at first, witness to the excuses his father makes when he can no longer recognise or correctly form the words he needs, and when his mother makes excuses for him (he’s had a cold for so long!), and when she falls ill shortly after his father’s death (she’s always so tired! And her aching back!), and is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (spoiler alert!), which leads to her rapid demise during the Christmas holiday. Will is determined to make a difference in the world, and eventually, he resigns himself to teaching. His faltering confidence, after failing an actor in his company during a doomed production of The Importance of Being Earnest, a delightfully funny scene and a masterclass in posture and articulation, leads him home for a Christmas unlike any other.

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There is such beautiful attention to detail, in the nuanced performances and also, in the way Strong has pieced together the bits of story, the bits of these untidy lives and neat-as-a-pin seamless transitions, using curtains to separate the spaces on stage.

It’s a uniformly excellent cast, a terrific combination of some of our established and emerging talent; a meeting of minds and hearts and skill sets from across the companies. Joining Klarwein on stage are Penny Everingham (a beautifully transparent Jeannie), Steve Turner (Bill/Wally/Ensemble), Toni Scanlan (Gail/Ensemble), Adam Sollis (Boy/Ensemble), Kaye Stevenson (Molly/Ensemble), Adam Booth (Andrei/Doctor) and Emma Jackson (Jess/Ensemble). Each has an opportunity to shine, bringing beautifully developed fully alive characters to the story. Sollis is memorable as the boy, in a moment imbued with hope, human kindness and acceptance, and Jackson gives a very funny, very accurate depiction of a reality television star turned manufactured superstar in the Christmas Eve Carols By Candlelight lineup. Will’s disparaging remarks about the programming and the talent involved (or the lack thereof), delivered from the comfort of a green beanbag on the floor as he flicks from one channel to the next as he gradually gleans some understanding of the cancer his mum has developed, elicit sniggers, and groans of recognition and sympathy because GOW IS SO RIGHT ABOUT THAT. And so many other things. 

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The magical thing is this: it’s almost so familiar that it’s actually incredibly un-theatrical. And at the same time, it’s the most masterfully constructed and manipulated meta-theatrical work we’ve seen in several years. A must-see, Once In Royal David’s City is warm and funny, and real and alarming, and richly rewarding. It closes, appropriately, on Mother’s Day.

28
Apr
17

ENGLAND

 

ENGLAND

Nathan Booth, Matt Seery & Metro Arts

Metro Arts Gallery

April 19 – 29 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward / Meredith Walker

 

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LOOK.

The floor creaks comfortingly (or disturbingly perhaps, if it’s your first time here), and the walls are almost completely bare, except for selected works by up and coming Brisbane artists, their pieces, for me, neither relevant nor irrelevant to the play, which is about art and heart and perspective.

The ink on the concrete stairs has worn off in some places, barely reminding us of who lives here, and who lends support to the place. The lift is out of order. I never used it. But others need to…

I’m flying solo, as I often am in galleries, when I take myself off on an “artist’s date”, to gather myself and spend time in spaces dedicated to nourishing us, rather than robbing us of feeling, of seeing, of soul.

In a post-show Q and A session to his 2013 Brisbane Festival show I, Malvolio, Tim Crouch described his advocacy of asking new questions about the artform through increasing consciousness of the alert and alive relationship between audiences and theatre makers, united in a live situation. Those who saw Crouch’s An Oak Tree at the Bille Brown Studio in 2011 will expect no less from the experimental theatre maker, given that work’s failure to play by ‘the rules’ by including a guest actor, without script familiarity, being guided through the performance by stage directions fed through an earpiece.

This is the world of Tim Crouch and of his 2007 work ENGLAND, which rejects typical theatrical conventions and, instead, invites its audience to help create the work. Perhaps as a consequence, the provocative text has only ever been performed once before in Australia. But this only makes the Queensland premiere of the tricky work from Nathan Booth and Matt Seery, the Hamish and Andy of the Brisbane theatre scene, all the more impressive.

Certainly there are easier challenges in theatre than taking on a show like ENGLAND. The script allows for anything; lines are not allocated to performers and there are no stage directions or indications regarding set or lighting. Yet, in Seery’s directorial hands, the scatter becomes a sophisticated performance work that starts as a gallery tour before becoming so much more in its look at life and impending death.

The story is well suited to the intimate venue of Metro Arts’ Gallery and the staging is well managed to account for the limitations of the space, which sees the action move from Brisbane to London and from a clean-lined gallery to a shabby sitting room. It begins with two attendants who share a duologue in talk of a wealthy art-dealer boyfriend in need of a heart transplant and as guide of the audience through a contemporary art exhibition (the work of artists Amelia K Fulton, Brigid Holt, Dana Lawrie, Charlie Meyers and Damien Pasquale), with comment on the works’ amazing colours and how art should be for all. As the audience is urged to look at the lines and colours and even the wood of the floor, we are reminded of the beauty of life’s little details, even as description moves to what’s on the walls of a doctor’s surgery and then in the search for health at any cost. It is a work of two acts at either end of the stylistic spectrum and yet it works, more because of, rather than in spite of, its contrasting forms.

Give the site-specific nature of the work, audience members should aim to arrive early to wander around the gallery until the work begins with performers Barbara Lowing and Steven Tandy take place to part the crowd and take command of the space. A two-hander from Lowing and Tandy is weighted with expectation; each brings a wealth of experience to the show and, accordingly, in their hands, the dialogue flows easily without overwhelming the delicate nature of the production.

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LOOK.

I end up sitting rather than standing, so tired, in the darker end of the space beyond a wall, waiting for the play to begin (are they late to start? It feels like they are late to start), and with a number of other guests, I’m asked to move back to the central, well-lit space, which is where we’ll start, standing for perhaps 25 minutes. I suddenly regret the decision to bring a tote that I must hold with both hands, rather than a little Miss London clutch. My wrap, in case it’s cold, for the record, does not fit into the clutch, so…..

Steven Tandy and Barb Lowing, all in black except for Lowing’s statement floral scarf, enter the space with the authority of tour guides or gallery owners. They are the same person. But we don’t know this right away; the realisation drops in later as we process the strategically shared narrative. It’s a lovely surprise, quite unexpected, because who else but our Tom Holloway can write like this, with lines left unsaid and many more overlapping and repeated? LOOK. We have a sense that some theatrical cleverness is at work, but without any pretentiousness or actual theatricality whatsoever, writer (and actor) Tim Crouch simply delivers the story. The actors simply deliver the story. It’s rare that high expectations are met.

They’re more than competent, assured enough to trust and let the text do its work (other actors say they do this, but rarely do they let things be and actually do this), and directed by Matt Seery (his Directing Mentor, La Boite’s Todd MacDonald), which lets us experience, moment to moment, at the core of the work, at its heart, sensitivity, beauty, patience and grace. And then there are the political layers; layer upon layer upon layer…what IS beneath the niqab, anyway? Only the eyes… LOOK.

This is a wake-up call for some, and palliative care for the not-knowing-they’re-already-dead set.

These actors are no less than iconic in our industry, both adored, genuinely respected; their performances in ENGLAND are testament to their ability and sensitivity as performers. These characters – this character, which they share in the first act – is someone gravely ill, waiting to die…waiting to live. Waiting to live, given a new chance to do so, given a new heart… An Islamic heart, which has become available through diabolical means, and accepted with basic, innocent gratitude. 

Lowing is a tour-de-force on any stage and Tandy gives a finely balanced performance in counterpoint to the vulnerability and strength of her presence. Indeed, it is testament to the craft of both the artists that they are at most captivating when seated in a conversation of sorts for second half of show, when travel is made to an unnamed country to thank the widow of a heart donor with a gift of a valuable painting. The ambient sound design and intricately composed score, are similarly memorable in their frame of the story’s essential emotions.

 

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In Act 2 the narrator offers the gift of a valuable work of art to the widow of the man whose heart she/he has within her, and a translator reduces the conversation to its essence. It’s absolutely fascinating to watch Tandy ponder, mentally processing what he must say aloud to make the conversation between the two women possible, plausible, relatable, reasonable. It’s heartbreaking to tumble into Lowing’s abyss of ignorance and misconception and wistfulness and wonderment, and frustration and anger and guilt and pity and……. for some reason, I’m thinking about My Name is Lucy Barton, another extraordinary piece of writing, and then, with fireworks, a display that’s fierce and frightening and shocking, before I can think any more about anything at all, the play is suddenly finished. But nobody moves. Nobody applauds. Nobody can move. And then, finally, after several deep breaths, there is applause. And we can go. And I do, because it’s a slightly earlier night than usual and, we are done. But not. This piece will stay beneath my skin for a bit, like ink. A reminder. Art permeates life. And love. And life.

ENGLAND is a wonderful show of little details and big thematic ideas about, for example, the effect of art and what constitutes its meaning. Much like last week’s Australian Stella Prize annual literary award winner, The Museum of Modern Love, it captures art’s ability to ‘wake you up, break your heart and make you fearless’.

The creators of the exhibition/performance/gallery tour that is ENGLAND have crafted something very special from its most arbitrary of guidelines. At once beautiful, powerful and devastating, it is an affecting and rewarding theatrical interaction, layered with meaning for contemplation and conversation about the difference between looking and seeing and the need for art in all its manifestations to enrich, sustain and lift us out of life’s hardships. 

This is a provocative piece for galleries…and for humans. It comes boldly, exquisitely from a team of creative hearts to yours.

24
Apr
17

Jarrod Duffy Is Not Dead

Jarrod Duffy is Not Dead

Applespiel

Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre

April 20 – 29 2017

 

Reviewed by Meredith Walker

 

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Have you ever had someone in your life at one time, who you lost contact with?

Someone you cared about.

How many years has it been since you’ve seen them?

Do you know where they are now?

If you did, what would you do?

Have you ever had someone who just…vanished?

 

It’s Wollongong, 2010 and two weeks before performing in an honours show, Jarrod Duffy, friend and member of the performance collective, Applespiel, doesn’t show up for a rehearsal. He’s disappeared, leaving behind the furniture at his house and no answers from phone calls, emails and Facebook searches.

Jarrod Duffy Is Not Dead is the story of that disappearance and Applespiel’s hunt to find their missing friend. It is important to know this essential premise before attending the show, because of the poignancy it brings to the photographs that are shared on-screen at its beginning as audience members sit in thought of the memories that lie behind the images and the emotions evoked by their recollection. Those most affected, however, are those who lost a friend, the members of Applespiel who begin the podcast section of the show with overlay of dialogue about Duffy’s character.

 

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This initial section is particularly engaging in its authentic recreation of an episodic series, utlitising the genre’s features and respecting its usual structure. As it progresses from recollection of ‘good times’ antics, last conversations, speculative concerns for his safety and possible hints to the idea of leaving, to memories of the initial days after his first disappearance, it becomes clear that ‘memory is shitty’, allowing the audience to share in Duffy’s friends’ frustrations at initially dismissing his disappearance with stories of his flakiness and of how over time, blurred memories create amalgamated stories and even more uncertainly. But things are not all as they seem, as the audience realises in a second half that sees standup, song and appearance of the titular Duffy c/o cardboard cut-outs and then some.

 

As essentially a show of two halves, Jarrod Duffy is Not Dead is an ambitious work of anthropological storytelling that shows how sometimes you need to tell a story to have others ‘get it’. The resulting exploration of truth is both complex and compelling as we are posed questions about the meaning of ‘normal’, when a story exists and the need for narrative closure.

 

There is audience manipulation around original premise with its mention of figures of long term missing persons and the notion of bystander apathy, but deliberately so. As such, the show represents the fundamental nature of Metro Arts’ programming and championing of contemporary arts practice. As a part theatre, part live podcast show, Jarrod Duffy is Not Dead is far from a typical theatre experience. But that is its appeal. Its blend of live action and digital imagery is sure to give audiences much to talk about in terms of its artform as much as its message, provoked by its evocative final question of ‘do you get it?’

 

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14
Apr
17

Model Citizens

 

Model Citizens

QPAC & Circus Oz

QPAC Playhouse

April 12 – 15 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

Melbourne’s Circus Oz, under new Artistic Director, Rob Tannion, returns to QPAC after an absence of some years (you might remember Steampowered  in 2011) with a wink, tongue in cheek and two thumbs up, in Model Citizens, a boldly conceptualised, powerfully political look at what it means to be a resident in our lucky country.

 

In a beautifully designed (Michael Baxter), dramatically lit (Sian James-Holland) model-kit playground of oversized ordinary objects, this newly assembled troupe surpasses expectations, bringing their entertaining physical feats and cheeky Aussie humour to the Playhouse stage for a strictly limited season. It’s a shame it hasn’t enjoyed a longer run right through our school holidays.

This is not so much a new direction for Circus Oz – they’ve always been politically and socially cheeky and funny, and had the band on stage and performed all the tricks – but more a refinement of the mischievous, clever form, which takes the most entertaining and exciting elements from circus, cabaret, dance and theatre, and combines them to create a refreshingly different circus style. The real difference here is Tannion’s uncanny ability to fuse concept, design elements and content, making Model Citizens a more polished show than we’ve seen previously, and without having an actual narrative, is just about as seamless as circus gets.

In an Arts Review interview last year, Tannion noted, “Having a broader pool of artists to draw from will open the possibility for numerous and concurrent collaborations for shows and acts that may evolve into intimate smaller shows, site specific performances or develop into our Big Top productions … This will continue to challenge our preconceptions of the creative process and expectations of what our audiences will see and experience on stage.”

Tannion’s dance and choreographic background comes through in both the fast-paced super busy sequences, with the performers running and leaping and balancing and tumbling all over the place, and in moments of relative stillness, such as the opening sequence when we find ourselves grinning at ironically stereotypical frozen statues that come alive and eerily, like mannequins or Stepford Wives, peer at the emcee Mitch Jones AKA Captain Ruin, and run away from him, playing a sort of hide-and-seek-milling-and-seething ensemble game. Just to note, in case you’ve also gone back to school and ended up studying composition this year, Tannion’s direction is the best application of the Viewpoints I’ve seen in a while (only Natalie Weir’s work with EDC regularly does anything remotely similar). It’s an interesting, discerning use of triangular floor space, and giant everyday objects, including a peg, a cotton reel and a safety pin.

The giant safety pin serves as our Chinese Poles (actually opening and shutting with the weight and agility of the performers, a brilliant realisation of design and purpose) and an enormous pair of Bridget Jones’ knickers provides a unique take on a classic aerial act, with silks dropping from overhead on a peg. A balancing act on a house of oversized credit cards has us considering our economic situation when, proudly and precariously teetering at the top, Luke Ha is offered yet another card i.e. more credit, which, to the delight of the audience, he adamantly refuses.

Jones as Captain Ruin, heavily inked and sporting a pink punk mohawk, a gold tooth and a tutu, sings and roller-skates and gets himself out of a straitjacket in record time, which we’ve seen a good friend do too, sure, but not whilst hanging upside down by his ankles! Jones is irreverent and enigmatic, irresistible, driving the show and stitching many of its pieces together.

The most surprisingly erotically charged knife throwing act ever sees the bewitching Freya Edney ducking and weaving, then blindfolding Jones to finish the act. Her hoop act astounds and then, upping the anti, a giant roue cyr (cyr wheel) is manipulated by another performer while the ensemble members roll bowling balls around him.

A series of silly puns throughout the show have us groaning in a good way, and the original songs elicit raised eyebrows, some dropped jaws, wide eyes, and lots of raucous laughter. A small herd of sheep causes hysterics in the audience at the beginning of Act 2 as a sheep dog rounds them up and puts them into their pen, which also holds a Webber barbecue and Captain Ruin. In an undeniably Amanda Palmeresque performance style, Edney plays ukulele and sings straight-faced about how tolerant and accepting we are of others, “but not in my backyard.” The undercurrent of pseudo-political correctness and self righteousness is, unfortunately, easily recognisable and appeals to the collective sense of humour on opening night. Jeremy Hopkins and MD Ania Reynolds add heightened energy and sass on stage as well as strong musicianship skills.

Historically, Circus Oz has found it difficult to resist having a go at the world’s most famous circus since Barnum & Bailey, Cirque du Soleil, and refreshingly this time, rises above the seemingly typical Australian need to take a swing in their direction. This time no reference or comparison is made. Circus Oz has grown up and gotten confident, claiming their space in the contemporary Australian circus arena.

Model Citizens boasts a beautiful sense of childlike playfulness and innocence without forsaking any of the sheer thrill we expect from circus, and on the other hand, offers a wizened, wry look at the way we see ourselves. It’s perfect whole family fun at an affordable price, right here in our own backyard.

 

Model Citizens features the many and varied talents of Freya Edney, Jake Silvestro, Jarred Dewey, Jeremy Hopkins, Lachlan Sukroo, Luke Ha, Mitch Jones, Olivia Porter, Rose Chalker-McGann & Steph Mouat.