23 August 2009

The Ballad of Backbone Joe

ARTS HOUSE IN AUGUST
The Ballad of Backbone Joe
The Suitcase Royale
15 August 2006
North Melbourne Town Hall


As the season of The Ballad of Backbone Joe sold out, I’m thrilled to know that more and more of Melbourne are lining up for the fabulous madness and unexpected beauty of The Suitcase Royale.

With the beliefs of anarchists and the souls of poets, this Melbourne-based trio (Joseph O’Farrell, Miles O’Neil and Glen Walton) recycle junk, pop culture and their love of old film to tell stories like no one else could dream of.

Ballad is homage to film noir, but imagine the Marx Brothers staring instead of Humphrey Bogart. Detective Von Trapp from Sandringham is given a letter by woman with legs “just like cigarettes ... long, thin and white” and heads to a small town to deliver it to her husband, boxer Backbone Joe, who has no memory of the night he last saw his wife.

The gorgeous stage world is created from cardboard, ropes and venetian blinds from a hard rubbish collection, but looks like a forgotten black and white film that was delicately hand coloured frame by frame with shades of sepia and traces of red. A suitcase is transformed into the best car ever put on a stage, a cardboard skeleton almost steals the show and all is accompanied by live music – also played by the three performers.

Much of Suitcase’s appeal is that they love performing as much as we love watching them. They happily break out of character and improvise, without compromising the poignancy or tension of their story. It will be interesting to see if this can be maintained as they move into bigger theatres, are given their own telly show and become ridiculously famous.

The original music from The Ballad of Backbone Joe is on The Suitcase Royale’s debut CD, which is being launched on 10 September at the East Brunswick Club.


This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Traces

Traces
Les 7 Doigts De La Main / The 7 Fingers

Arts Projects Australia
19 August 2009
Comedy Theatre




Wow! High energy, high risk and guaranteed to leave you gasping, Traces is sure to leave its indelible mark on everyone who sees it.

Circus company Les 7 doigts de la main was formed in 2002 by seven graduates of Montreal’s National Circus School. In a city where internationally renowned companies like Cirque √Čloize and Cirque du Soleil are based, this young company was determined to “create a circus of an entirely different flavour” and bring circus to a human scale.

Creators of contemporary circus look to express tricks uniquely through character and story or take them to a new level of skill. Traces has original routines that use contemporary dance, skateboards and basket balls, but stands apart by intimately presenting their performers, rather than characters.

This company is the second cast, but the show is designed to adapt, and through use of music, stories and direct audience interaction, it doesn’t take long to know Antoine, Antoine, Genevieve, Philip and Raphael like friends. Without the distraction of character, costume and effect to hide the performer’s human flaws - or giving them time off stage to recover - their circus skills are also more exposed.

And, for all it’s enticing narrative and unique street feel, Traces soars with its skill. From the addictive opening choreography to the final jaw-dropping Chinese hoop routine, there’s no hiding the astonishing, heart-stopping acrobatic strength and skill of these performers. Each are genuinely engaging personalities, but you can’t take your eyes off them when they show us their super-human side.

Like professional sport, physical risk is part of circus with margins of error measured in millimetres. Even with years of training and months of rehearsal, risk is an integral part of Traces and one of the reasons we enjoy watching it so much. If this cast of 20-somethings don’t inspire you to join the circus, they will at least inspire you to take some risks to perfect the skills and abilities that will leave your traces in your world.


This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Shamelessly Glitzy Work

ARTS HOUSE IN AUGUST
Shamelessly Glitzy Work
post
14 August 2009


With sequined curtains, buckets of confetti, lasers and lumpy goop, post’s Shamelessly Glitzy Work is shameless in its glitz and fearless in its attitude.

Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and Natalie Rose formed post in 2004, after meeting at Pact Youth Theatre’s imPACT ensemble in Sydney, and haven’t stopped creating since. Their first full length work (Gifted and Talented) won awards at the 2007 Melbourne and Adelaide Fringes and Shamelessly Glitzy Work received Australia Council funding to be developed at a Performance Space residency as their second full length piece.

Post by nature, they start with a touch of ironic postmodernism and post structuralism, but they refuse to define their own genre, which blends installation, dance, monologue and magic. Expect their next work with be postpost.

Shamelessly Glitzy Work sets out to explore lies from mass marketing to drunken declarations, with content ranging from painfully accurate to slightly obvious. The manic aerobics class that morphs into a wet t-shirt competition is unforgettable, and so good that it leaves their discussion of bogans, barinas and puking feeling a bit too familiar. But their originality and engaging performances more than compensates for any glitches in the glitz.

The show also touches on the relief and excitement of being with “people who get it”. If you love sitting amongst a crowd of others who “get” that theatre can reach beyond the obvious and should be brave enough to experiment whatever the result, keep an eye on post, as I we haven’t seen the best of them yet.


This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

15 August 2009

Spectacular

ARTS HOUSE IN AUGUST
Spectacular
Forced Entertainment

7 August 2009
North Melbourne Town Hall



“We want to make work that some people love; not work that everyone will like,” explained Claire Marshall at a Q & A after Forced Entertainment’s second Melbourne performance of Spectacular.

Forced Entertainment (from Sheffield in the UK) were last in here for the 2005 Melbourne International Arts Festival with the bloody magnificent Bloody Mess. Seemingly anarchic and over indulgent, some loved it for its absurdity, passion and composed chaos, while others didn’t like it at all. I sit in the love camp.

Spectacular caused similar polarised and confused reactions. The show welcomes the audience and lets them be comfortable with their arty joke; then take the same joke further; and then forces it even further. It drove some to distraction, let others have a nap and let the rest of us enjoy the over indulgent meta-joke.

Spectacular isn’t as speccy as Bloody Mess. On a bare stage with some tied back curtains, Death (Robin Arthur) enters and tells us that normally there’s a warm up comedian, a band and some plants. He is quite a cheery fellow, wears the crappiest tracky, skivvy and balaclava skeleton costume ever made and appreciates the irony that his belly distorts the costume’s skeletal effect. Over the next 75 minutes he chats about what the show should have been, shares his thoughts about the relationships between audiences and performers, including those difficult moments when they don’t connect, and critiques the performance of Marshall, who is dying on the stage.

Marshall dies in a way teenage actors die in Shakespearean tragedies – totally over the top, attention seeking and based on every film they’ve seen – but she gets to do it for over an hour. It’s like the last scenes of Hamlet or Reservoir Dogs without any dialogue.

Director Tim Etchells says Spectacular is about the “strange game of playing dead... that can’t ever be convincingly represented.” We always know the performer is still alive, but we always know that they aren’t in love with the other actor and that the pantomime horse is really a couple of people who weren’t good enough for a main role.

Spectacular could be a lot more liked if they cut back the death scenes, put in a new character and delivered some of those promised dancing girls – but then those of us who love them wouldn’t like them at all. Surely, it’s better to have some people who love you and totally get you, than a whole lot of people who think you’re OK.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Once and for all we’re gonna tell you who we are so shut up and listen

ARTS HOUSE IN AUGUST
Once and for all we’re gonna tell you who we are so shut up and listen
Ontroerend Goed, Kopergietery and Richard Jordan Productions

7 August 2009
Meat Market



When I was a teenager in Adelaide I performed in pantomimes and bad school plays. In Belgium’s city of Ghent young performers are given an enviable creative freedom and respect that is taking their performances all over the world.

Ontroerend Goed’s Once and for all we’re gonna tell you who we are so shut up and listen is immediately similar to Victoria’s That Night Follows Day (MIAF 2005, directed by Forced Entertainment’s Tim Etchells). Both open with a line of chairs across the stage, are performed by children and teenagers and were created by Ghent-based companies.

Victoria and Etchells confront adults by exposing what children think about adult control and love, while Ontroerend Goed present teenagers without questioning the adult relationship with them.

A young man looks at the audience and says, “By looking at us you have to start feeling old”, but even if we are distanced from the cast by age, it’s comforting to see that teenagers are the same as we were and we can giggle about their fear of turning into adults like us! It’s also comforting to know that we are unlikey to live through such an angsty, hormonal and angry time again.

Director Alexander Devriendt says he “wanted to create something for the teenager inside everyone”. It’s not just their love of swearing and wearing shiny leggings that remind us of our own teenage years, but their the fearlessness and destructive power, which they don’t really understand.

Devriendt spent two months meeting weekly with his cast before any performance took shape. By creating a space where they were free to do whatever they liked, the cast of 14- to 18-year-olds created the content and Devriendt designed a repetitive structure that gives them the freedom and safety to show us their world without judgement.

The desire to shock is inherent in being a teen (and possibly in being a performer), so there is a degree of sexuality, violence and drug taking on the stage that actively tries to confront the audience, but I suspect they are showing us what we fear they are, rather than what they really are. As we know their fear about all adulthood being ‘boring’ and ‘the same’ isn’t true for everyone, adult fears that teens are behaving without thought of consequence also isn’t universally true.

The cast of 13 relish the freedom the stage gives them to experiment and be what they dream of and they present performance maturity, stage knowledge and a freshness that is irresistible to watch. Just don’t let the attention-seeking teenagers know that we see them not seeking attention, sharing a space and letting adults understand what they are thinking and saying.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Playground, A New World Order

ARTS HOUSE IN AUGUST
Playground, A New World Order
Panther
14 August 2009
Meat Market


Each performance of Playground, A New World Order is only 20 minutes long and only 20 people can enjoy the experience at a time – and it may be the most fun you can have at the theatre.

How often do you get to play in the ‘theatre’? How often do we get to play in our everyday life? I mean really play – games and stuff in a real playground made of giant wooden spools, log bridges, old tyres, ropes and lots of tan bark. Playground, A New World Order doesn’t just evoke childhood, it physically takes you back to a time when balancing and climbing were a part of daily living, running and chasing are your favourite things and strangers are instantly best friends who you are eager to share your biggest secrets with.

When was the last time you spoke with, touched and competed with 19 new people? This isn’t a passive, let the artists do their stuff performance. Within minutes of entering the space, strangers are helping each other keep their balance or jump to the ground. No one feels left out or doesn’t want to join in.

Melbourne-based collaboration Panther (Madeleine Hodge and Sarah Rodigari) create games about heroes and journeys, while making us think about our strengths, weaknesses and even how we would like to die, and playing chasing games where words, wit and quick thinking can help you win, as much as your ability to climb or hide.

Panther say that in the playground children “are the heroes and this (the playground) is their world”. For a short time, Madeleine and Sarah let us remember a time when our worlds were small, we had the confidence to overcome any problem, we be-friended people just because they were there and always felt like a hero.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

10 August 2009

Knives in Hens

Knives in Hens
5 August 2009
Malthouse Theatre
Beckett Theatre, CUB Malthouse



Anyone who knows David Harrower’s remarkable Blackbird, will be eager to see his Olivier Award winning Knives in Hens, written in 1995. This co-production by Malthouse Theatre and the State Theatre of South Australia is almost mesmerising, but gets lost in its interpretation

Anna Cordingley’s design strikes before a word is spoken, as she continues to prove her stunning visual aesthetic. We are at the end of huge drain in a world coloured by rust and moss and mud. The circles and water give lighting genius Paul Jackson a canvas that rarely disappoints our eyes – but this beautiful, beautiful design works against the text. I loved how Cordingley’s recent design for Happy Days created an incongruous gap between the text and the design, but here its dissonance is confusing and frustrating.

The huge concrete pipe with the rural-looking costumes and straightforward language of the text immediately establishes a post-now, post-apocalyptic world, as it’s a society that has created giant drains big enough for an industrial city and probably destroyed itself. Suggesting an unknown future, as an audience who know how to read stage language, we search for clues about this world - that aren’t there. In the program, Cordingley says, “The opportunities in the drain pipe offered up for Paul’s lighting and Geordie’s (Brookman – director) physical blocking were instantly compelling.” Which they are, but how does this help to tell the story and share this text?

Harrower’s text is full of metaphors and his magnificent words summon vivid visions of a rural landscape and its struggling people. As productions all over the world have proven, the dense text never restricts the creators in their interpretation, but nothing else in this production is congruous with the giant drain, so the text and the stage worlds never become one.

For all the wonderful things about Knives in Hens, it is a confusing experience. Kate Box, Robert Menzies and Dan Spielman’s performances are individually perfect, but they don’t acknowledge the world they are living in, be it moving through the water the same as they move on solid ground, letting us believe that they can see a village at the other end of the pipe or creating a relationship subtext between the characters.

This could be because Brookman’s direction is felt too much on the stage, from ‘compelling’ blocking that doesn’t always sit with the text to performance levels that restrict the performers. They start so intensely that importance becomes meaningless because they have nowhere to go. There’s a constant tension and we feel and hear a lot of powerful emotion, but it lacks light and shade, and is so relentless that there isn’t enough room for the text to speak.

This production feels like it is trying so hard to bring an originality and a theatrical intelligence to the script, that it forgets to trust the script and forgets to tell the story to the audience. As it runs, it may forget about trying to be so clever and relax enough to let the story free. And, if they can make that drain a vital part of the telling, it may still be seen as one of the best designs of the year.
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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