AdlFringe Review: Book of Loco

by Jane

Tandanya’s theatre has been transformed. Out has gone the seating bank and in is – quite literally – thousands of cardboard boxes. Big ones, little ones, square ones, rectangular ones, all stacked on top of each other forming four walls reaching sky-high.

We take our seats, talking about the Fringe’s events so far, our days, our plans for the evenings. Then, we notice someone walking around the seats. Sitting down in empty chairs, looking around to take stock of who is in the audience, is a man in a black suit – hardly your typical Fringe attire.

This man is Alirio Zavarce, here to introduce us to his thoughts and his life, which he has titled The Book of Loco. Everyone is a little bit crazy, he hypothesizes. What we consider to be normal and what we consider to be loco is, maybe, just a result of the reality presented to us.

But how best to tell us this story?

The lights go down, and Zavarce stands in a spot light. He opens the story in an airport. He has just flown back to Australia with a re-enforced prop suitcase from a performance. The customs officials are suspicious of the suitcase and —-

Wait. Lights snap on. Maybe that’s not the best way to tell it. Does he need to give us some back-story? Do we know who he is? Do we care yet? What if he hasn’t explained the constructs of the world and our relationships with sanity? Perhaps he just needs to comb his hair, and then he can jump back into the show ….

Part biographical journey, Book of Loco traces its own creation, compounding factors of both the world and Zavarce’s world changing over the past decade or so – the World Trade Centre attacks, break-ups, deaths, moving to Adelaide – in which Zavarce found himself questioning, losing, and refinding versions of sanity. Going a bit loco. Something he hypothesizes we all go through.

Zavarce directed and helped develop the 2012 Fringe hit Sons & Mothers (having a return season in Adelaide this October), and as such many people attending The Book of Loco will not only be familiar with Zavarce’s work, but also parts of his relationship with his mother. This work teases out strands touched on in Sons & Mothers, patching together into a wider picture of Zavarce watching his life fall apart, and then being placed back together again. There is something beautiful in being able to revisit this relationship, now with an added dose of loco kept on the side.

Through the work, Zavarce and director Sasha Zahra constantly play with the constructs of theatre, and, perhaps even more interestingly, with the constructs of profanity. As Zavarce tries to tell us this story informed by the biggest wars and the smallest heartaches, his character constantly questions himself, his performance, and his story –  is this a monologue? does Zavarce need another performer? is it dramatic? or is it funny?

This striving for lightness in a story that could be overwhelmed by darkness brings an incredible humour to the work. Occasionally, the balancing between the light and the dark don’t quite work, as the serious moments start to bog down the work, and these moments could use some tightening. But then again, maybe that is the point – the release from the solemn all the greater.

Through the show, designer Jonathon Oxlade’s walls crash down; Zavarce piles boxes up,  and throws them around; he or tears holes through the walls and finds routes of escape. Chris More’s video design projects onto the boxes, bringing us worlds of destruction, of faces, of record players and lamps. Intelligently designed, these projections play perfectly into the edges of Oxlade’s boxes. David Gasden’s lights snap on and off and Zavarce tries to find the right way to tell his story; while Duncan Campbell’s sound design makes phones ring in boxes throughout the space, or sees an overly sentimental soundtrack play underneath a break-up phone call. Together, the four artists’ design work plays between the serious and the light that Zavarce and Zahra explore.

Throughout the work, what really holds the production together is Zavarce’s easy affability. As a performer, he is at home on stage, in talking to his audience, in desperately trying to convey to them the complexity of his life, his emotions, and of the world. The character Zavarce is somewhat less comfortable, as through the work he becomes more dishevelled, a seemingly endless supply of combs coming from his jacket pockets as he tries to make himself presentable. For the character, the task of sharing these stories is so huge, he couldn’t bare to get it wrong.

Zavarce and Zahra are extremely adept at playing with their audience, and what they leave us with is a sense of joy. Of the theatre, of Zavarce, of being a bit loco and, perhaps most unexpectedly, of being from Adelaide. Which, by now, Zavarce certainly is.

The Book of Loco, devised, written and performed by Alirio Zavarce. Directed by Sasha Zahra, set and costume design by Jonathon Oxlade, graphic and video design by Chris More, lighting design by David Gadsen, sound design by Duncan Campbell, artistic associate Bradley Williams. Presented in association with Loose Canon Art Services.  At Tandanya for the Adelaide Fringe until March 10. More information and tickets.