Piece For Person And Ghetto Blaster
Brisbane Powerhouse & Mobile States
Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio
February 25 – 27 2016
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Nothing happens if you always do things the same way…
– Marina Abromovich
Consider for a moment this moral conundrum. You’re a woman… (that’s not the moral conundrum)
You’re a woman and you’re in a foreign country…
Enter the eccentric, charming and mischievous world of creator Nicola Gunn as she navigates the complexities of trying to be a better person in this critically acclaimed new work.
Are you willing to take part in conflict in order to transform and change the future for the better?
An incident lasting all of ten minutes is told from three different points of view: a woman is out running and sees a man throwing stones at a sitting duck. What happens next leaves the woman coming to terms with the event and its consequences.
It dissects the excruciating realms of human behaviour in an attempt to navigate the moral and ethical complexities of becoming a better person.
As acclaimed writer and performer Nicola Gunn recreates scenarios on stage, she will attempt to dissect our motivations for conflict and ask the big question: why can’t we all just get along?
Again, I arrive late to Brisbane Powerhouse and the Turbine Studio downstairs. I’d raced over from QPAC (by raced I mean drove, through six o’clock city traffic, which is not nearly as bad as five o’clock city traffic), where I’d stayed to see Triumphs And Other Tribulations in the Cremorne, following an afternoon of production excerpts in the Concert Hall and The Stance outside in QPAC’s Cultural Forecourt for the Australian Performing Arts Market: APAM2016. It was a big day! And bigger – much, much bigger – for some than others. In retrospect I can say I wisely went home earlier on the evening of DAY1 rather than stay for opening night drinks. One of the delegates informed me that each year it was generally agreed everyone would try not to go too hard on the first night but each year it seems that this was generally forgotten. I proposed a leisure day on DAY2 in 2018 to break up the program and give everyone the opportunity to catch a Citycat or visit the galleries (or the shopping end of James Street) but was promptly reminded that everyone at APAM is working.
I find Ruth in the crowd outside the studio doors. Shimchong has already gone in (a couple of delegates have been locked out of the Visy and are now trying to gain access to “What is it in the studio?”), and Dave Sleswick, with his clipboard list of delegates, announces that Presenters have first right of refusal. It’s a marketplace after all, so we wait. We look around. No Presenters present! Luckily for us I’d actually registered to see the show and we were allowed to find seats…yes, that old chestnut. We walked past the entire seated audience, past Nicola Gunn, bright-eyed and beaming warmly at us from a corner of the performance space, and up the little steps to THE BACK ROW, BABY.
The house lights stay up. Gunn begins moving and speaking, speaking and moving, seemingly randomly, often quite rhythmically, and at times very violently, without any apparent correlation between the text and the physical activity she performs…at first. She scuttles and stretches and squats and shakes and shimmies. She steps from side to side, launches into considered commando rolls, purposeful kicks, deliberate backbends, peaceful asanas, and pulls herself along the floor as if she’s an early childhood teacher being a child being a caterpillar on the carpet (back when early childhood teachers were allowed ample time to teach such vital skills as being a caterpillar – I’m so grateful my child got in on the end of those days). Gunn completes entire sequences as she chatters away to us, about David Suchet, Hercule Poirot and Marina Abromovich, about skimming stones (the trick is to skim them at an angle of 20 degrees), the enduring brilliance of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter (it might be one of the greatest love stories of all time) and the man she saw throwing stones at a defenceless duck in Ghent, Belgium… A 10-minute morally challenging moment in life becomes an engaging, entertaining, deeply thought provoking 70-minute physical performance.
Every move and every breath is strictly choreographed (Jo LLoyd), although there’s nothing particularly strict about the way it comes across; it mostly feels almost completely improvised, at times untidy. There are even times when Gunn stops herself, incredulous, disbands whatever movement she was in the middle of and exclaims, “What the fuck am I doing?! Fuck it!” before beginning a new sequence and a new version of the story. These are gorgeous, natural, very funny rehearsal room type moments, which underscore Gunn’s musings about the nature of art and life, and our response to the little things. And the momentous things. The things that matter. Do you know what matters to you? The conversation is fascinating and the execution impressive. Gunn is rarely out of breath and ably manipulates the mood so that we’re laughing one minute and the next, contemplating the meaning of life and right and wrong. She’s intensely focused and yet easily distracted. Extremely disciplined and happily relaxed. She’s a walking, dancing, daring, dialoguing contradiction.
Gun’s show is a philosophical discussion with strangers in a daggy aerobics class. She brings life and perspective and guts and ridiculous fun to a simple, yet complex, moral dilemma.
The references to performance artist, Marina Abromovich, range from admiration to parody to a final, spectacular homage in a stunning coloured coat and head piece. It makes no sense; it’s the post script that never needed to make it onto the page.
An increasingly layered, synthesised soundscape by composer Kelly Ryall and intense lighting by Niklas Pajanti help to create the hectic atmosphere of a subterranean rave – there are lasers and haze and the electronica and the pulse and the voice, looped and looped upon itself again and again; it’s hypnotic. All of this though is the duck speaking…
It’s amusing (I’m more bemused) and it’s a stunning visual effect, but it doesn’t actually work as the conclusion to this show…or does it? Others ADORE it. Others RAVE about the rave element. Others love watching Abromovich sitting in a chair for eight hours a day too. It’s a real Abromovich moment. With Kate Bush and Lady GaGa looking on, nodding approvingly. Is it Gunn’s final statement (for now) on the state of the arts? Is it a protest? Is it a glorious effort to reinforce the fact that artists can make their art for…themselves? Is it something that seemed like fun so, “Why the fuck not?” Or is it simply that the duck is on acid and we’re along for the trip? It’s a great ride but suddenly we’re in an entirely different theme park.
I want to hear what happened to the duck! And to the woman! And to the man! But there is no neat ending to the narrative, just as there is no neat ending in life, and we are left to dream on what we’ve experienced. I walk out a little bit bewildered. Ruth and I compare notes. We are wondering why the show took the turn it did. One of the delegates bends down to feel the white dance floor… Is this a work of sheer brilliance or another example of too much time and money to create it? I don’t want to see work like this not being able to be created… With so little funding available for the arts in this country already, it seems sacrilege to even pose the question. But one wonders. And one continues to discuss it…