Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Upton

22
May
11

Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness

Reviewed by Sam Coward

La Boite and Sydney Theatre Company

The Roundhouse

Paul Bishop as Edward Gant. Image by Al Caeiro

“Boring the audience is the one true sin in theatre. We’ve been boring audiences for decades now…”Anthony Neilson (The Guardian 21st March 2007)

The most talked about show of the year opened last night at The Roundhouse…and was anything but boring. A colourful and enthusiastic full house enjoyed this most unique and unusual theatrical experience.

Brought to life by the collaborative geniuses of La Boite Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company, Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness lived up to the hype surrounding its Brisbane premiere. In this production, we find another example of a simple story told superbly, entertaining the ever-increasing appetite of the Brisbane theatre community.

First time main stage director, Sarah Goodes, has allowed her imagination to run wild and in her words, “everyone has been able to dive deep into their theatrical tool kit” to deliver this magical piece; the first-born for this joint venture between these two companies. Goodes has assembled an impressive team of creatives and has demanded a lot from the show’s production elements, which, without exception, surpass expectation.

Edward Gant explores the wondrous, grotesque, the beautiful and the bizarre; the scene is set as the vaudevillian freak show fills the room. Design and production elements, as you would expect from a production of this calibre, are brilliant. Renee Mulder (set design) has delivered a functional and gritty workplace, raw and open, yet magical and full of promise; the clever central rotunda serving as its main feature, with multiple traps and other hidden trickery adding to the carnival mystery. With exposed costume racks and gantry, we are informed that this is a travelling troupe; here only briefly to tell their tales, then tramp on with their small hands and cabbage cologne.

Lighting, by Damien Cooper, was a production element highlight, truly transforming locations and enhancing mood with precision and sensitive clarity. I loved the use of lead lights as footers and then as hand-helds for effect. On the same set and with light alone, we were taken to Nepal. Now, I am usually critical of these elements and often feel I am being asked a lot of, to go where the story leads, but in this instance I was swept up and away, utterly convinced.

Romance Was Born, responsible for the costuming and clearly settling into a relationship with STC that works like a charm, created a wardrobe that was, in a word, superb. Each character was clearly identifiable and the detail and degree of difficulty in some of the pieces was pure artwork. The pimple mask in particular. Special mention must also go to the stage manager (Sue Benfer) and hands involved in this production, as the many and complex effects and mechanics were seamless and most impressive.

Image by Al Caeiro

From the outset, we meet the troupe and are invited by Gant (Paul Bishop) to come along for the ride as they prepare to entertain us; we, the audience, are under no illusion that this is a troupe performing sequential stories in true vaudevillian style. As leader of the troupe, Bishop is outstanding. I was eager to see how he tackled this large contemporary character; I am happy to report it was with commitment and skill. Every subtlety and nuance clearly controlled but never contrived, his posturing and physicality embodying the snake oil merchant or travelling evangelist and portraying warmth towards his creation and his troupe. This was most noticeable when he was merely observing. There was a genuine quality about his performance that belied the show’s form, and yet like most things with this show, as head bending as that sounds, it worked.

Lindsay Farris. Image by Al Caeiro.

Lindsay Farris, playing Nicholas Ludd, brought a roguish masculinity to the stage. No sooner had this been nicely established, he proceeded to embody a more than believable gorgeous sister in the first of the two stories to be told as per the whim of the playwright, Neilson or by the director, Goodes; at this point, who can tell? Everything is spinning, up is down, left is right and pimples are full of cheese……wait, I’ll finish this later for reasons you will later learn. Farris provides the rebel factor and spars well with the experienced Bishop, we get to see the full gamut of performance in Farris; comedy, tragedy, real, absurd and even a black face Indian healer (yes, they use black face, yes it works, yes it fits the style and era that they are depicting and yes I and everyone else laughed and loved it. I thought I should make that clear before moving on). For me, some of the shows highest highs involved this exciting young actor and I will follow his career with great anticipation.

Bryan Probets, playing Jack Dearlove, provides the show’s funny bone, with a character instantly identifiable and akin to the dad in Strictly Ballroom. Probets’ physical humor, timing and pathos give a sense of the most comfortable stage professional I have seen. His loyalty to Gant and his own broken existence are displayed with pathetic perfection.

Emily Tomlins, as Madame Poulet, beguiled us as loyal player and aloof devotee of Gant. I saw Emily in last year’s Sydney Fringe Festival, in A Tiny Chorus and saw many of the traits from that character carry into her Madame Poulet. The consummate storyteller, Tomlins has the rare ability of being able to convey several emotions simultaneously; perhaps it’s the kind of multi tasking that is magnified by being the only female in this ensemble. Her characters: the ugly sister, the jam roll junkie love interest of Sgt Jack and (believe it or not) a teddy bear, Tomlins brings a truth to her work and an endearing quality that allows you to feel everything she does.

The characters traverse their inbuilt production landscape of the Carnival with the workman like commitment you would expect of a troupe in this era and form, the show rolls on from the first story to the next and is halted abruptly by Gant, who wishes not to pursue its telling and leaves the performance within and without at a stand still. Some poetic impro from Ludd attempts to stabilise the show but he is suddenly lost for words and Gant reappears as the Phantom of the Dry: another device of Gant’s trickery. As Ludd trudges on, we meet the teddy bear, now…stop…wait a minute…where this came from I have no idea and I am not a hundred percent sure that it worked as intended. Yes, the micro story of the life of a young boy’s bear was beautiful but what it was doing here in the play I can’t explain. Either it didn’t quite come off or it could simply be another example of Neilson’s mind intercourse at work. In any event it did lead us to the ultimate falling out between Gant and Ludd. Ludd decides he can no longer be party to such whimsical nonsense and chooses to go off in search of a greater truth, upon which all is revealed and the stories told are closer to home than you would have believed…or else missed altogether if it were not for one last, clever line.

The opening night audience was very vocal in their appreciation. In fact, the laughter came thick and fast and from my seat, often seemed unwarranted. For me this show was more beautiful than it was funny. Like any good Vaudeville, it had its share of innuendo, vomit, bum and gross jokes but the simmering undertones resonated louder for me than the giggle material. Perhaps that’s the genius of the writer: to concoct a script that can speak to several layers of each audience. The twist of form from Vaudeville to realism to clowning and beyond gives this show a sense of radical freedom and a true sense of creation.

All told, it is a very slick, sensational piece of theatre: bold, challenging, cheese-filled pimples and all. Perhaps Gant himself best sums up what was witnessed in The Roundhouse last night: “In a world where death is at our shoulder every hour, even the smallest act of creativity is a marvellous, courageous thing.”

Be sure to catch this marvellous, courageous thing before the caravan heads south to Sydney.

Emily Tomlins. Image by Al Caeiro.

P.S. Pimples aren’t filled with cheese; they’re filled with pearls. Everyone knows that.

27
Mar
10

World Theatre Day

Happy World Theatre Day!

How are you celebrating?

What does theatre mean to you?

Of course, you might know that it is also Earth Hour tonight! We are deferring our candlelit conversation until after the show, which is – very artfully – dimly lit anyway, so we are doing our bit to conserve energy even as we perform.

We previewed La Ronde on Wednesday and opened on Thursday. Today, on World Theatre Day, the Sunshine Coast Daily has given us not one, not two but three stories! (That’s right! That is unheard of! And on Mooloolaba Triathlon Weekend!) It also seems that word of mouth continues to spread like wildfire. Thanks to the awesome power of social media marketing, this thing went viral a few weeks ago. Bookings have been strong and if you don’t want to miss out, you’ll make sure you see La Ronde in Noosa before April 3rd or in Mooloolaba on the 9th, 10th, 16th or 17th of April.

Interestingly, there is a lot of talk amongst the local artists at the moment about reciprocal networking and about supporting each other in this crazy industry. If networking is NOT reciprocal, how is it WORKING? Ah ha! I hear you! I know! It’s really hard to get to everything. There is so much good stuff happening and we are all busy doing our own thing. It’s incredibly frustrating. I hate missing anything. I am guilt-ridden. However, I am frequently impressed by the Facebook messages, status updates, comments, links, blogs and tweets, referring to ticket sales and the friends who are able to move heaven and Earth to make it to a show before closing night in order to show their support for their peers (and enjoy a great show)! So much for the poor, sleepy little country cousin Brisvegas and it’s even poorer, sleepier, half-cousin-twice-removed Sunshine Coast. It seems everybody I know is getting busy making theatre! KEEP MAKING IT, KEEP TALKING ABOUT IT, KEEP SUPPORTING IT AND PROMOTING IT. We will all get to as much as we possibly can. Promise.

Dame Judi Dench says, in her message for World Theatre Day 2010, that “theatre comes about through team work.” And so does the continuation of the growth and support of the industry, at any level. Well, we knew that. It’s just hard (because we may be time poor, energy poor and quite simply POOR) to commit to booking tix and just doing it. I know that “Break a leg” posted on your Facebook wall sometimes means disappointment because you realise THAT friend/fan/influential industry type is unable to attend your show…but it IS a show of support and it’s the least we can do in lieu of attendance sometimes.

The response from La Ronde attendees has, thus far, been overwhelmingly positive (*collective sigh of relief is heard across South-East Queensland*) Already, audiences have told us that they didn’t really know what to expect so in a way there were no surprises. And yet they were surprised and challenged to not only feel comfortable joining us for the journey, no matter what we threw at them but to consider the context and the truth in which each story was told. Actually, most audience members, at least for the film makers, have been unsure about how they really feel at the end of the show. It seems that some can’t just sum it up. Although we can safely assume that not everybody is ready for their close up upon leaving the theatre, we have seen many audience members stumble out of the theatre, completely lost for words and not even sure whether or not they are ready for a drink! Now, there’s no interval, remember; how can they NOT be ready for a drink?! The most common comment, along with those below, has been, “Oh. Um. I have to think about it. I have to see it again…”

Audience comments for camera and from the conversations with the cast have included:

That was fantastic!

I loved it but I hated that scene (everybody describes a different scene)…

I shuddered and I loved it.

The girls gave me shivers. So beautiful. So sad. Something made me remember…

This is the best show I’ve seen on this stage.

This is the best show I’ve seen on the Sunshine Coast.

That is how they do theatre in Europe.

Very European.

Delightful.

Original.

Intriguing.

Frightening, challenging, stunning theatre. I’ll be back to see it again.

I’ve booked again for next week. I want my friend to see this show.

Beautiful.

Sexy.

Brave.

So. I’m thrilled to be a part of this very clever production and I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing on World Theatre Day than performing and then live-tweeting the backstage antics and dressing room fun (last night it was stealing Easter eggs from under the stage manager’s nose).

What does theatre mean to me then? All of this and more! It may not be as eloquent as I intend it to be but you’re reading it in every post. That we can stage something that makes people uncertain about how they feel, especially about very specific controversial subjects, that we can explore the vastly different approaches to the way in which we present these taboo topics, that we can challenge our audiences to question and consider their own social mores and private habits and they enjoy it and that the process by which we have reached this point continues, allowing us to keep growing and nurturing each other as artists and showing other artists that anything is possible, is something to be realised every day. I’m proud to celebrate today (and tonight, in candlelight at a dear friend’s place, after the worker lights have come up, the white pancake has come off and the audience has left after the empties have been collected by our dedicated and beautifully presented Front of House staff) but I do believe we get more joy from a thing that is celebrated and shared every day. Luckily for me, just like these entertainment industry power couples who are leading the way, I get to share it all long after we leave the theatre…

Of course, there are different challenges associated with that but we’ll save it for another post, shall we?

Theatre means there are some challenges, some discoveries and some joy every day. How lucky are we?!

Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton

Lisa and David Campbell

Sam and Xanthe Coward