No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Brisbane Festival

Review: boy girl wall

Bursting on to the scene, far above my right shoulder, appears our narrator, Lucus Sibbard.  He is here to guide us through this story: in one apartment, lives a boy; next door, a girl;  between them, a wall.  Thom and Aletha battle on their lives alone: he, wishing he was an astronomer, wasting his days in an IT job where he doesn’t really know what his job is at all; she, a children’s book author working on that difficult second book, for which not a word has been written.  The wall, living between them for years, decides what needs to happen is Thom and Aletha must meet.  This isn’t a love story, we’re told.  But it is a story about love.

Lucas bounds up and down and across the stage, always talking to and referring to the audience (“Who goes to the theatre on a Thursday?” he asks his Thursday theatre audience): our presence as much an integral part of the production as the action itself.  Perhaps it’s even more so: we sneak a look into the lives of this pair in what seems to be the middle of their story. Lucus brings us in on a Tuesday (“Nothing happens on a Tuesday.”), leaves us with a kiss, and in 75 minutes the story is all over.  And joining us and Aletha and Thom on this crazy journey is the inanimate objects which play a part: the wall, the doors, the computer Dave, the powerbox, the days of the week.  Are days of the week inanimate objects?  They’re surely not animate objects, but then again, they’re hardly objects.  Inanimate inobjects?

Sarah Winter sits above the action, orchestrating a series of odd instruments composed by Neridah Waters, soundscaping with a delicate touch, a hint of whimsy, and an occasional burst of pop song.  The set (Jonathon Oxlade) is a chalkboard stage floor thrusting into the audience, chalkboard upon chalkboard building up in a wall above the stage.  Playing across the two dimensional stage and wall, lighting (Keith Clark) illuminates and hides created spaces.  From all this and a stick of chalk, Lucus builds his set.

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Review Brief: The Check Point Solo

The Check Point Solo starts in the silence of the Warehouse space at Metro Arts, the only accompaniment a soft hum of the lighting and footsteps falling in the corridor outside.  Rhiannon Newton begins to narrate her story, snatches of life through a year of travels.  As she begins to dance, we hear her feet slide and scuff along the floorboards, squeaks emitted as feet grip and are wrenched out of position.

As Newton jerks her body, moving each joint individually on its hinge, we hear the soft creaks and cracks of a worked dancers body, joints chip over each other, echo through the room.  The music comes in, Newton moving with the music, catching and bending with the beats.  Then, as if this jerkiness was nothing at all, Newton transitions into a smooth fluidity, breaks of the joints melt away as she flows through the space; a transition of grip to release showing us the variation in Newton’s skill just as the tension begins to wear.

I often found myself drifting through the narrative scenes, not completely aware of their location and connections.  Some choreography becomes repetitive, and while Newton and director/co-choreographer Jo Pollitt use the depth of the space well, there is little variation and elevation in the performer.  Short, coming in shy of half-an-hour, yet intensive on Newton, her breath heavy in the final scenes, The Check Point Solo is a gentle work for the audience.  Some unevenness in execution, it is the interesting dynamic of Newton’s jolting limbs which carries the show.

Brisbane Festival presents Under The Radar featuring The Check Point Solo, concept and direction by Jo Pollit.  Performer Rhiannon Newton, choreography Jo Pillit and Rhiannon Newton, photography by Rhiannoon Newton.  In The Warehouse, Metro Arts, Brisbane.  Season closed.

Review: What’s Wrong With Gregor Post?

Gregor Post’s (Benjamin Schostakowski) favourite place in Hallsop was the laundromat.  His best friend was Billy the Bulimic.  He dreamed of escaping.  One day, he finds a postcard from Alaska.  With the help of his narrator (Richard Doyle), Gregor will take us along on his amazing adventures, from Alaska, to Jerusalem, to Berlin, to the Amazon, all within an old study/bedroom.

The set (by Schostakowski) is seemingly simple, but detailed and transformative through Gregor’s imagination. Much of the joy of the work, created by Schorstakowski and Elizabeth Millington and directed by Millington, comes through the use of props and sets: when a sheet of fairy lights becomes the Alaskan night sky; a black desk fan becomes the propeller of an airplane; a section of the wall opens, the angle of the slats on a venetian blind is changed, and we are in a café in Paris.  It’s the near stupidity of these objects and the joy with which Schostakowski and Doyle expose these normally unproposed solutions where much humour comes from.  Much of the production makes little immediate sense to the audience, but it is the sense it makes to the exploring explorer of adventurous adventurer Gregor we latch on to.

Where What’s Wrong With Gregor Post? succeeds is in the awkwardness – both in Gregor’s physical ganglyness, and in his lack of social awareness.  The Gregor we are introduced to, while adult, acts as a young boy, whirled away on an adventure to see the world.  And indeed, the production carries us along on this vein of picture books and children’s’ movies where our young hero strikes out on his own, away from his hometown, and most importantly, away from his parents.

Gregor Post plays with this genre through the tired narrator, building the commentary with metaphor after metaphor, nonsense building upon nonsense.  When this production hits these moments with just the right balance of Gregor’s innocence, black comedy, and the utter bizarrely of the situation, it is frequently hilarious.

Where the production falls down, however, is when the balance in humour is lost.  A casual racism exists through the production, initially used as a means to reveal Gregor’s naivety and immaturity: he builds his life view upon heightened situations, a narrow perspective informed through snatches of life, built upon misunderstood conversations.  Through this, initially we can laugh at Gregor, his narrator, and the “extreme extremists” who at one point Gregor must battle.

As the production moves forward, however, this innocence wanes.  The creators have found many laughs in talks of oily rags, in dancing monkeys, in ridiculous nonsense metaphors, so I couldn’t understand why they continued to return to the racist images.  This culminates in a scene uninfluenced and uncommented on by the scenes preceding or following where guest appearance Lachlan Rohdes appears as a Nazi youth singing “Tomorrow Belongs To Me.”  During this performance, a lot of the good will of the audience was lost, becoming much less involved in the production.  While moments were still funny, they were tainted by the scene that went before.

I think it is the lack of commentary that made the racist comments appear so animus that made them unforgiven in the production.  They were shown as is, with no suggestion there was anything off about them.  It’s not that these ideas were supported by the production: I just have no idea what they were trying to do at all.

There is a point where black comedy loses the essence which makes it okay to laugh, and for me What’s Wrong With Gregor Post? crossed that line.  Before this happened though, I laughed a lot.  I hope it has a chance to redress the balance, because many parts of Gregor Post are delightful.

Brisbane Festival presents Under The Radar featuring What’s Wrong With Gregor Post?, created by Elizabeth Millington and Benjamin Schostakowski. Directed by Elizabeth Millington, technical coordintaion by Lauren Makin, set design by Benjamin Schostakowski.  With Benjamin Schostakowski, Richard Doyle, Lachlan Rhodes and the voice of Kimmir Mizuno.

Review: I Feel Awful

The “late” Michael Gow, in his final commission as outgoing Artistic Director of Queensland Theatre Company invited the Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm to devise a new work.   Into the Billie Brown studio the men of Black Lung have transported their offices, and with the help of a crew of young Brisbane artists, their new “interns”, they have proceeded to explore how theatre is made.

With mixed success over seventy minutes the play rollicks along exploring and exploiting theatrical conventions, disintegrating boundaries and repositioning itself and its genre, until it ultimately finds itself in the most traditional realm of theatre: naturalism.

I have a lot of respect for the theatre conventions they didn’t obey.  There was no call to “please turn off you mobile phones”, and, most interestingly, there was no curtain call.  After the show segued from the process of theatre into the naturalistic fall out between Black Lung and the interns, there was no need for the work to go back to theatrical convention.  It sustained a naturalism about the final scenes because that is where it allowed the production to end, instead of asking for acceptance or recognition from the audience.  The final notes became more about the audience than the cast.

Which was good, because at that point I didn’t feel much like applauding.

Perhaps what is highlighted in a piece of theatre about creating theatre – even if the fact is not explicitly mentioned – is the act of repetition. Theatre runs in seasons, the most rigid of productions attempting to run the same night after night.  Even those shows with only one performance are a culmination of repetition through rehearsal.  For I Feel Awful this only served to highlight the seeming exploitation of the young “interns”, and in particular the female actors, whose most defining traits as characters is the lust thrown on to them by the men.

Unlike some of the male interns, none of the female interns instigate their own actions: they don’t attempt to get the men of Black Lung to read their film scripts; they don’t get to freeze time.  The most independent action any of the women take is to ask when they can return to presenting scenes from the texts of the late Gow.  Scenes the men of Black Lung have taken out of context and played with gender casting to create every situation the intro to a lesbian porno.  This joke once is one thing, if it was a series of heightened situations in some absurdity showing an interface between writer and director.  The same joke repeated again and again celebrates an inherent misogyny in the production, and becomes gross.

The best that can be said for the misogyny is ultimately, it is the Black Lung men which come off the worst.  They are judged harshly by their interns, they are not celebrated in the eyes of the audience.  And yet this leads me to ask: what were they attempting to do with these characters they built around themselves?  I have not seen their work before, and so with this being my only knowledge of the company I would be very hesitant to see their work again.

To explore misogyny is one thing.  To explore it from the male perspective is another.  To continually, night after night, performance after performance, place the young women of the cast in a never-ending position of being lusted over, with hardly any other qualities, is uncomfortable.  To do this for no defined reason is completely questionable.

And so, when the stage was left empty, when the cast had left, the stage lights were up, and we weren’t asked to submit to ritualistic applause, I was pleased.

And this is made all the more disappointing because much of the show was strong.  Particularly when it was exploring and exploiting the rules of theatre.  Talking about theatrical styles, but never a lecture, weaving a narrative into this explanation.  The opening interaction between Gareth and “Gareth” – a prerecorded character within the TV, timed to appear in spontaneous interaction, highlights the rehearsal process.  Falling flats reveal props and a band.

Even as I write this I am making much more of a note of the exposition of these factors than the production ever did.  Occasionally yelling out “That’s Naturalism!”, primarily the piece works as an ever heightening farce, destruction of boundaries taken place with glee, as debris piles about the stage the audience is taken along for the ride, but no stopping to reflect on what is happening.

In this, I Feel Awful holds no punches.  It’s get with the production or get lost. The manipulation of theatre is all the more interesting because of where this is being performed.  This isn’t in the back of a claimed venue in the Fringe.  This is on at a state theatre company, the last commission by an outgoing Artistic Director.  And that is exciting. The legitimacy that gives to an experimental work is exciting.

And while it breaks the rules of what theatre “should” be at a mainstage company, Black Lung still respects the audience and that dialogue an audience wants to receive.  The audience which is going to see this work is probably regular theatre goers, local theatre goers, people who aren’t afraid to see work which takes risks.

I Feel Awful has strengths in its energy, its exciting ideas of the manipulation that theatre is, and the ideas of what it can be.  And yet, for all that was strong, and for Black Lung’s respect of the bonds of theatre with an audience, I still cannot shake my dislike of the inherent misogyny brandished across the work. It is sad what dominated the production is the uncomfortableness of misogyny, buying into these traditional power structures, and the “joke” of repetitious leering.  Because what theatrical culture are we in where repeated sexual harassment is played for laughs?

Queensland Theatre Company presents Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm’s I Feel Awful, written, directed and designed by Thomas M Wright.  Design consultant Simone Romaniuk, lighting designer Gavin Ruben.  The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm: Liam Barton, Gareth Davies, Aaron Orzech, Vacadenjo Wharton-Thomas and Thomas M Wright; with Courtney Ammenhauser, Fin Gilfedder, Will Horan, Tiarnee Kim, Mary Neary, Essie O’Shaughnessy, Charlie Schache, Nathan Sibthorpe and Stephanie Tandy.  At the Billie Brown Studio.  Season closed.

Images by Stephen Henry

Review: Mortal Engine

Photo by Julieta Cervantes

On an impossible rake, the dancers’ bodies writhe, their hips seemingly disconnected from their upper body as their spine twists, bending over and out of itself. Bent over, arms creeping out, fingers and hands make awkward spirals as they separate from the body; energy pulses through their legs, flicking and whisking over the air: the uneven distribution of power between lower and upper body has a reptilian quality, dinosaurs have taken the stage.

Mortal Engine is a curious beast, more about the technology than the dancers.  This isn’t to detract from the dancers’ powers, yet I was struck at curtain call how little I recognised any of the performers from the piece I had just seen.  Not only are the dancers curled on themselves and each other, they are often encased by shadow – the bright white surrounding their mass highlighting the crush of a dancer’s body, rather than the individual peculiars.

Innately responding to the dancers’ positions, the lights and shadows bend and play around the dancers: a new dancer itself, a whole new character.  The human dancers are the lead, but the projector builds the image, creates the work on their form.

As pairs dance together they meld into one body: one leg here, one arm there, a head bending over this, limbs no longer belong to an individual, but to a mass of the dance.  Within the projections, within light and dark, spots scuttling across the stage, fluorescent tubes cycling in synchronicity, movement of the dancers is appreciated in the response of the projection, rather than a single entity.

The sound design reverberates through the theatre, the echo of shaking fittings becoming almost as much a part of the soundscape as the booming pulse itself.  Here, too, the sound isn’t content to just be sound pre-designed to which the dancers to keep time.  Here, the sound keeps time to the dancers, intimately playing with the dancers’ bodies and with the projection, building up a work so strong in structure but powerful in spontaneity, in constantly deferral to other elements.

At times, the dancers leave the stage and we are left with lasers and music, playing out their own dance.  This isn’t frustrating, as you perhaps would expect of a dance show with no dancers, rather it highlights the light and sound is as much as an intimate and discrete beast as any of the dancers themselves.

Mortal Engine plays with the physical limits of its dancers, in our understanding of the capabilities of technology. It is a constant play, interface between video, laser, music and dancer.  Constantly building and stripping away on itself, it is simply incredible.

Brisbane Festival 2011 and Queesland Performing Arts Centre present Mortal Engine by Chunky Move.  Director and choreographer Gideon Obarzanek, interactive system designer Frieder Weiss, laser and sound artist Robin Fox, composer Ben Frost, costume designer Paula Levis, lighting designer Damien Cooper, set designers Richard Dinnen and Gideon Obarzanek.  With Kristy Ayre, Sara Black, Amber Haines, Anthony Hamilton, Rennie McDougall and Marnie Palomares.