No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Month: May, 2013

Review in Brief: h.g.

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A solo audio and sensory experience for one, to write anything about h.g. seems to be saying too much, so this will be brief. It’s an unusual work that makes you want to say nothing when you leave, to want to keep your mouth closed and your thoughts to yourself, just a quick smile to those still waiting to go in, not wanting to spoil a thing. I am normally one of many words; but I want to hold this show in and only share with you a few.

For the duration of the show you are alone, only you and the world created by Swiss company Trickster-p. As you stray through the half-dark structure, through headphones on your ears you hear sounds so subtle they mightn’t be real at all; your eyes wander over the miniature creations; you turn the corner and an amazing smell confronts your nostrils; your hands reach out and stealthily touch a piece of the set.

The work feels less like a telling, or retelling, of the Hansel and Gretel story, and more a story that sits parallel to the original, taking you along the emotional journey through the forest. This world is about creating those layers of feeling, not narration. And while h.g. is deliciously dark, the chill that it leaves you with is perhaps forebodingly refreshing. There is a curious balance in the joy of good art and the themes that it rests on, as I left ready to take the world on anew.

Come Out Festival 2013 in association with Adelaide Festival Centre and Arts Centre Melbourne present h.g. by Trickster-p. Concept and realization Cristina Galbiati & Ilija Luginbühl, artistic collaboration Simona Gonella, sound space technical production Area Drama RSI, audio recording , Lara Persia, Angelo Sanvido, editing and mix Lara Persia. Co-production Trickster-p / Cinema Teatro Chiasso / Teatro Pan Lugano / Teatro Sociale As.Li.Co. Como in collaboration with Radiotelevisione svizzera-Rete Due.

In the Adelaide Festival Centre Banquet Room until May 29. More information and tickets. 

Then Arts Centre Melbourne August 8 – 11. More information and tickets.

Review: The Migration Project

For the last six months, theatre maker Alirio Zavarce has been an Artist in Residence at William Light R-12 School and Woodville High School. This residency has cumulated in The Migration Project in the 2013 Come Out Festival.

Arriving at the Torrens Parade Ground, we are each passed a migration card. It asks for our name, our date of birth, our method of arrival. Then the questions get stranger: are you blonde? A real blonde? What is better – lamingtons or pavlova? Would you be prepared to eat a whole jar of Vegemite to prove how Australian you are? Are you secretly racist?

We fill these in while waiting in line, and at the end stands Alirio Zavarce, asking each of us “What makes you Australian?” We again line up, this time in five queues, as we wait for the rest of the audience to be processed.

We are directed into the next room, dropping our migration cards on a table on our way in. The room is filled with circles of chairs, and in each circle is a student from one of the two high schools. We small talk: where in the world have you been? What hobbies do you have? They tell us a bit about themselves, where they’re from, and how we’re all a part of this big wide world together.

We move again, this time into an end-on theatre set-up. The high school students take their places on the stage, and the performance truly begins. Introduced and lead by Zavarce, the students tell us their stories of how they came to Australia, or how their families came here. They write words to describe Australia on blackboards, they pull props to tell their stories out of suitcases. Intercut through this are videos of other students talking about the world they live in: what makes them Australian? How does racism make them feel?

The Migration Project feels of the same central philosophy of Zavarce’s lauded Sons & Mothers: Zavarce taking an instance in his life – there his relationship with his mother, here his migration to Australia – and using it to instigate a collaborative community work. Where Zavarce created a space for the men of Sons & Mothers to truly own the work, though, that same space doesn’t feel like it is offered to the young adults at the heart of The Migration Project. Their stories are slotted into the work, but the work is never of their stories. In the end, we are left with just a cursory glance.

The piece is quite nice: we see some students telling their stories, and they do a lovely job of this. But in the subject matter – and in the students – it feels like there is so much more potential.

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Review: Bindjareb Pinjarra

Bindjareb Pinjarra

In 1834 in Pinjarra south of Perth, white Mounted Police carried out a deliberate and well planned attack on the local Nyoongar people. Armed with guns and with no warning, the white men easily outmatched the Indigenous people. This was seen to have been necessary action for the protection and claiming of the land for the white settlers. Bindjareb Pinjarra brings this story, often not spoken about, or whitewashed to the point of being explained away as a minor battle, to the stage.

The work spins together three stories – of the white European generals who instigated the massacre, a young man in contemporary Perth coming up against racism before finding out about his familial connections to Pinjarra, and a slightly confused story about a white man Daniel and two indigenous men presumably set in the 1800s – mostly confused because I couldn’t tell if Daniel was supposed to be a child or mentally impaired.

It’s most compelling, though, when the cast speak directly to the audience: of the white performers who weren’t taught about Indigenous history; of the Aboriginal performer who was told by his mother he could just tell people he was Greek; and an extract from A Short History of Western Australia – a book I sincerely hope has been pulled from school library bookshelves.

The company promotes the work as being “a comedy about a massacre” – and it is an interesting technique to tell a horrific story. The company does an admirable job of keeping the work connecting to the young audience through humour, while also carefully detailing the massacre, but too often the humour feels as if it is sitting apart from the work. It sits on top of the rest of the story; this uneven layer of humour to defuse the audience rarely feels integrated with the narrative.

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Review: The Moon’s a Balloon

TheMoonsABalloon

The propensity for children to believe in magic is marvelous. They watch theatre with a sense of wonderment, not trying to figure out the trickery or catch the misdirection, but content with a belief that what they’re watching is real. To create a sense of wonder and mysticism in The Moon’s a Balloon, though, Patch Theatre Company uses something better than magic: they use science.

In its most compelling scene, dancer Rob Griffin moves around a solitary balloon, with just enough helium that it lightly skims on the top of the ground. Griffin deftly moves his body around the balloon, and his manipulation of the air surrounding it causes the balloon to move and appear sentient, creating a enchanting duet.

With dancer Katrina Lazaroff, the pair play with balloons that have been weighted and would sit in the palm of your hand, and balloons that extend meters in diameter and softly repel against the ground before falling back to earth. They run with helium balloons, their strings pulled taught to appear solid. Strings are dislodged and balloons fly up into the rafters; weighted balloons fall back down to earth.

Firmly embedded in dance theatre, this textless physical work feels like significant new territory for the company, while still feeling very much of the repertoire. The work was collaboratively created by the dancers and the rest of the creative team, and Lazaroff has previously created dance work for children in Skip also being featured in this year’s Come Out Festival – and it’s exciting to see this audience for the form being engaged in Adelaide.

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Review: Muff

Serena Moorghen, Brad Williams and Claire Glenn. Photo by Olivia Zanchetta.

Serena Moorghen, Brad Williams and Claire Glenn. Photo by Olivia Zanchetta.

Muff, the latest production from independent Adelaide theatre company five.point.one, is heavy, hard hitting theatre that leaves its audience with no easy to digest emotions. Written by Van Badham and directed here by Alison Howard, the work explores women, sex and relationships; a horrific, random rape of a young woman and the threads from this event that continue to wrap and bind their way into lives years after the physical injuries have healed.

Eve (Claire Glenn) has moved back to London from China, a country she moved to in order to reclaim herself, and has moved into the spare room in the flat of her ex-boyfriend, Tom (Brad Williams). There, she has to negotiate how to return home and meeting Tom’s new girlfriend Manpreet (Serena Moorghen), while Tom must come to grips with a relationship that fell apart after Eve was raped.

Myf Cadwallader’s set casts a sterility over the proceedings: furnishings of white against walls of opaque white plastic and steel frames, in corners lie discarded limbs of mannequins  The walls are repositioned to create different spaces: opening up one half of the stage or the other for the bedroom or lounge, or closing off the space to create the bathroom seen only in shadows. The cast move these walls slowly and calmly. Despite the tension in the work, Howard paces the actors to a steady and slow beat. In this environment, her direction frequently casts a clinical eye over the proceedings. These people, it feels, are there to be watched, their pasts and presents there to be analysed, but empathy or connection is a step too far.

Through this clinical lens, Badham’s text brings up interesting questions in relationships and sex: Eve and Manpreet discuss, or rather argue over, radically different views of the sexualisation of women: on pornography, of waxing, of violence and sexual games. Badham’s characters experience violence that is real, and a game of violence that exists invited and within boundaries in a relationship. These different strands compliment and fight against each other, creating a world that is messy and complex, representing the multiplicities of people and the way they each see the world.

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Review: Opal Vapour

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Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal performs Opal Vapour entirely on top of a rectangular plinth. Through playing with the layer of sand this is reveled to be a lightbox, glowing in tones of blue, purple and red. Through projection and lighting (lighting image and design by Paula van Beck) our eyes are drawn through the work to different images: to the physicality of Tyas Tunggal’s performance, to Ria Soemarjo’s deft fingers are work on the viola or a drum, to a shadowed projection lifting the image of Tyas Tunggal from above.

The work has a unique choreographic vocabulary, a meeting of contemporary dance and traditional practices, primarily from Indonesia. Throughout the work, Tyas Tunggal plays with a duality of images. Paired with the soft flow as the wrists circle and the fingers glide over unseen surfaces is a face held taut. Her eyes look out beyond the performance; out into some nether space that we can’t view. She often appears to be unavoidably responding to an external stimulus, not entirely in control of her own body.

In another scene, above the stage we see only her the shadow against a background of blue. In this space she seems to be floating weightless in water, her limbs only responding to the flow of the liquid: her body calm and relinquished into the quiet control of the sea. Look down at Tyas Tunggal as she lies on the block and performs these movements, though, you see the physical precision that this imagery demands. Her limbs, far from being weightless, are tense: muscles held in rigidity as she tightly controls their movement. We are simultaneously given images of the tranquil and the tense, a manufactured image and the effort gone in to create it.

Ria Soemarjo’s voice is haunting, it plays against the bowed and plucked strings of the viola in a way that doesn’t quite feel real: the music feels foreign but grounded in something innately comfortable. Perhaps it is the blending of the familiar viola, or the melding of this vocal style with English lyrics.

Over the course of the work the wooden floor of the Waterside Workers Hall is blanketed in a fine layer of sand. As Tyas Tunggal kicks and throws the sand off her platform with force, the small particles only go on to quietly fall back to earth in a soft cover.

From the audience, the work in many ways feels meditative. With only two performers, it is easy for your mind to wander and mine frequently did. But the work remains there open for you to come back in and seamlessly join back in. Tyas Tunggal’s choreography powerful and enticing, she swirls your mind up into worlds and images, before dropping you back to earth.

Opal Vapour has come to Adelaide through Performing Lines’ Mobile States tour, a national touring program that allows independent practitioners to be seen in capital cities and regional centres. These productions were previously shown in Adelaide at the Adelaide Festival Centre, but when they dropped the presentation arm of their inSPACE program not only did we lose a performance space for local practitioners, we also lost the tours of these works from interstate. Vitalstatistix has now taken over the program, and it isn’t without some oddities. A Table of Knowledge is being presented with Vitals and Country Arts SA’s arrangement with Performing Lines’ Road Work,  in Noarlunga but not in Port Adelaide (that’s twice as far away from the city, in the opposite direction); Jack Charles vs The Crown is also being presented in Noarlunga by Country Arts SA and Road Work, but not by Vitals in Port Adelaide.

This aside, however, it’s good to see this work back in Adelaide, and primarily being presented in a space that is much more flexible and responsive to the work that the AFC could be. Opal Vapour could have been swallowed by the Space Theatre. It’s critically important for Adelaide’s artists that these works are coming to our city: to both expand the types of performance they are seeing, but to build audiences that are also understanding of national trends and practitioners. Opal Vapour is only a drop in the hat of the national landscape; let’s all hope it leads to more.

Vitalstatistix and Mobile States presents Opal Vapour, directed, choreographed and performed by Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal. Live and recorded music composition / music performance Ria Soemardjo, light and image design / operation Paula van Beck, production manager / sound operator Amy Bagshaw. At Waterside Workers Hall until May 12. More information and tickets.

Then Perth, Hobart, Cairns, Mackay, Brisbane, Canberra and Blacktown. More information.

Review: Hedda Gabler

Kate Cheel and Alison Bell, photo by Shane Reid.

Kate Cheel and Alison Bell, photo by Shane Reid.

The house lights drop. The music rises, thumping through the auditorium. Half-light on stage. Hedda Gabler (Alison Bell) stands in the doorway. Stressed. Out of place. She moves the couch. It’s in the wrong place. Sits. Rubs her eyes. Stressed. Blackout.

Considered one of the greatest female roles of the repertoire, Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler comes roaring into the 21st Century in this contemporary adaptation by Joanna Murray-Smith, directed by Geordie Brookman. The dialogue is contemporary, formalities and the maid have been dispensed with, the characters wield iPhones, yet this faithful adaptation leaves the structure and major beats of Ibsen’s text intact.

While the characters keep their Norwegian names and the location is never explicitly stated, the spirit of Murray-Smith’s text is that of Australia, perhaps almost chiefly for Hedda’s relationship with guns. Murray-Smith’s Hedda is an anomaly in this society for owning guns at all, not simply for being a woman who owns them. Here, inherited and never registered, “you should have turned then in”, says Brack (Terence Crawford), a reference to Australia’s 1996 gun reforms. Indeed, because of this, it’s almost impossible to see this work having the same relevancy in contemporary America.

Perhaps one of the dangers in adapting Hedda Gabler to a contemporary context is the way that women’s place in society has changed in 120 years. Ibsen’s women, his Hedda and his Nora in particular, were revolutionary in their portraits of middle-class women unhappy with their lives, questioning society, and, ultimately, taking control of their own destinies – in radically different fashions. It would be all too easy for a contemporary Hedda to not ring true: while women are still under many pressures and societal expectations, today’s women are, on the whole, more activated both inside and outside the home. Yet, Murray-Smith’s adaptation brings with it startling relevancy, none more so in the ever-prevailing expectation and tension on women to become mothers: here, this conversation feels shocking but in no way false.

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