No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Come Out Festival

Review: Random

Zindzi Okenyo. Photo by Sophia Calado.

Zindzi Okenyo. Photo by Sophia Calado.

debbie tucker green’s Random is a mammoth of a play for an actor to take on. It runs at under an hour, but asks a lot from its performer emotionally as she moves through the textually dense piece. Over the course of a day we follow a family – Mum, Dad, Brother and Sister – as they start their days, and then hear the news of a brutal, random knife attack on Brother.

Here director Nescha Jelk, making here State Theatre Company debut, also rests a lot on performer Zindzi Okenyo’s shoulders. In the first half of the play, Jelk places Okenyo in almost utter silence. Compounded by Ben Flett’s lighting that keeps Okenyo only lit from the waist up, Jelk is asking a lot of her audience, too, to train in and engage with the language of green’s text.

But lean in we do. green’s text brings a crammed, rhythmic poetry to everyday speech. This rhythm is intensified with the accents of the characters: the soft Jamaican lilt of Mum, the different tonal slangs of Brother and Sister. Some words are lost, particularly in the voice of Mum and at times it feels like the rhythm of the piece is more important to Jelk than the specific words.

In the first half, Okenyo fells most at home in the body of Sister – closest physically, but also the character she goes on to spend the most time in. Jelk gives Okenyo a breath between each character; transitions at first seem to be made too slowly, disrupting green’s internal rhythms. Lit by projections of blurred, muted colours as well as the rig, occasionally, too, transitions in the projection screens take away from the pace of green’s text. As the play develops, though, Jelk and Okenyo find the rhythms that speak through and they take over the performance.

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Thoughts: These are the People in your Neighbourhood

I first came across the work of Canadian performance company Mammalian Diving Reflex in 2010, when I walked into a Launceston hair salon to have my hair cut by an eleven-year-old boy. I was at Haircuts By Children, a work that sees primary-school aged children taught how to cut hair, and then gives them control over a salon for the day. They take bookings, sweep hair off the floor, and cut, colour, and even shave hair for a weekend. It’s slightly terrifying and mightily exhilarating. I’ve been excited by and following the company’s work ever since, and on Saturday I had the chance to see their work again.

With the Come Out Festival, Mammalian Diving Reflex has been working with students from Blair Athol North B-7 School on a tour of the shops in Kilburn for These are the People in Your Neighbourhood.

On arriving, we were each handed a small magazine sharing the title of the show, with articles and pictures about the people and places we were going to visit, all written by and drawn by the students. Along Prospect Road, we visited eight businesses, where each shop owner was interviewed by some of the kids and the floor was opened up to questions. There was fantastic generosity and good will from all of the people we visited: all excited to be sharing their lives with this community of students and the rest of the group that had come along for the journey. We were repeatedly invited to come back to the businesses, to say hello, to say “I saw you on These are the People in Your Neighbourhood.

The children all approached the presentation of the work with agency. Mammalian Diving Reflex created the artistic and physical frameworks for the performance to exist, but the performance itself feels to belong entirely to the children. While some may have looked to the ground while presenting, while some spoke softly even with a microphone, the show resolutely belonged to the children.

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Review in Brief: h.g.

hg

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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Play Me, I’m Yours

 

A short video I made with Brad Halstead and Shane McNeil during the 2011 Come Out Festival, using pianos placed around Adelaide with Play Me, I’m Yours.

 

2011: A year in reflection

In 2011, I saw straight plays, musicals, cabaret, modern dance, ballet, puppetry and an opera. I saw monologues and collections of monologues. I saw Shakespeare and Katz – but no Brecht. I saw new Australian work and old Australian work. I saw development readings in rehearsal rooms, independent productions in basements, immersive works on the street, and multi-million dollar musicals in 2000 seat theatres. I saw professional productions, amateur productions, and student productions. I saw 114 performances of 106 works.

In chronological order, these are the six shows which, as I stand in December and reflect on a year which was, stand out with their shoulders above the rest. The heaviest on my brain; the lightest on my heart. Many which made this list had what is ultimately for me, an undefinable quality about them. Two I penned responses rather than reviews. Two I didn’t review at all. Each one made me question how and why I write, made me question my skills to put words to art: for that I am grateful.  I don’t think I always rose to the occasion of writing about them, but I grew in the attempt.

A Comedy – Brown Council, presented by Vitalstatistix

Four women. Four hours of performance a night. Countless bananas, tomatoes and cream pies. A Comedy was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Did I “get it”?  I don’t know. I don’t care.  I sat for four hours (and then an extra fifth) participating in one of the most demanding, hilarious, debaucherous, bizarre, and unknown nights of theatre I suspect I will ever have. Among other things: I threw a cream pie, got covered in a cream pie in retaliation, threw money and peanuts for the dancing monkeys, and was ventriloquist for the voice of a tampon. Bananas and I still have issues.

Hans Christian, You Must Be An Angel – Teatret Gruppe 38, presented by the Come Out Festival

A work I couldn’t write about – and not just because during the Come Out Festival I saw fifteen shows in six days.  I tried many times and never found the right words.  A transformative work, part participatory theatre, part art installation, this show made me feel like I was eight: smelling the thermos of coffee of a couple’s love, touching the plate of ice of a snowman’s melting heart, seeing the Emperor’s New Clothes.  We were invited to the dinner table of Hans Christian and his stories, distilled down to an essence and shown in miniature.  It was made of the magic of stories, of a light hand, of asking an audience to open their eyes and look – and we did.

Thick Skinned Things – Stella Denn Haag, presented by the Come Out Festival

In what is very possibly the first time in the history of the theatre, the curtain is going up early.
I find out as I make my way down North Terrace, a leisurely stroll interrupted from a panicked call from my friend Chloe “Are you nearly here?  It’s starting early.  We’re trying to wait for you…”
I kick off my shoes, and I run.
I run down North Terrace, I run down the stairs in to the train station, I dodge commuters, I run into the Dunstan Playhouse foyer.
An usher beckons me “Are you Jane?  They’re waiting for you.”
We run upstairs to the second usher, “I’m sorry; it’s just began, I can’t let you in.”
“Are you sure?  It’s not supposed to start for five minutes; can I stand in the back?”
“Well…”
A pause.
It’s a long pause.
“If you’re quiet.  And you take off your shoes.  And you don’t take your bag in.  There is a bench that goes around the side.  If you are quiet and sit where no-one can see you; you can go in.”
And so, slightly out of breath and slightly sweaty, I leave my shoes and my bag and I creep into the dark.
There, under a naked globe, is a woman telling us of her story.  A story locked behind closed doors, a woman scared of the outside word, a woman hurt by the people who live there, a woman who is in love with the man next door and his perfect garbage bags.  A woman who is lost when he is gone, a woman who can’t live in the world any more, and instead becomes a mole, burying herself in a labyrinth of tunnels in the dirt.  It’s nothing more than a monologue. Words, told with a slightly veiled accent, told with very little movement and very little light, and an undeniable emotional wallop.

The Seagull – Belvoir

2011 was a year of Chekhov: to Sydney for The Seagull, to the cinema for the National Theatre’s The Cherry Orchard, and to the Dunstan Playhouse for The Three Sisters.  But what The Seagull gave me was an understanding, an infatuation, a fascination, and a connection to this text which has been produced for over one-hundred-years.  When the lights rose at the end of act one I thought their must have been a mistake: we’d only just sat down, the play had only just begun!  But no, over an hour had passed without me batting an eye.  The Seagull felt rawly honest, remarkably natural, and above all, more than any other play I have seen from its era, it felt right.

The Book of Everything – Kim Carpenter’s Theatre of Image / Belvoir, presented by Windmill Theatre Company

The third work made for young audiences on this list.  Theatre which captures the heart is a glorious thing.  This show was a burst of magic for me and my co-reviewer date Aria.  We sat transfixed in the world of the pages of Thomas’s diary from Amsterdam in 1951; we were transported.  We laughed, we yelled, we shielded our eyes, we were a plague of frogs, we wiped away tears, and then the two of us wrote.  I left feeling strengthened, re-invigorated, loved, and hopeful.

boy girl wall – The Escapists, presented by La Boite Theatre Company

In many ways an ode to theatre and to those who go to theatre.  A story about love, but not a love story.  A story about our characters, but also our narrator, and our audience. At one point, Lucus Stibbard quipped a small joke and I was the only person in the audience to let out a small laugh. He turned to me, caught my eye, and smiled the briefest of smiles: a flittering acknowledgement of a tiny moment shared.  I don’t remember the joke: perhaps it wasn’t one at all and my laughter was completely out of context or unexpected. But  boy girl wall is about these moments in life which are unexpected. Life can be shit: you don’t need your boss, you don’t need your writers block, you don’t need magpies, you certainly don’t need Mondays.  But in between these moments, you can smile, and laugh, and fall in love.  And that’s precisely what I did in that theatre.

Thanks to you all. I’ll see you in a theatre in 2012.


A Catch Up and Newsey Pieces

  • Having been almost completely obliterated by the Festival season, I was one of those lucky people who found work getting more intense post-Fringe than during it, hence the overall lack of posts bar some catching up re-posts from other sources.  Outside of work work, I spent five days working for the Come Out Festival as a delegate host, which was one of the most inspiring and satisfying art experiences I have had perhaps ever.  To spend five days surrounded by artists and programmers and administrators, seeing theatre for children with children, is incredibly gratifying.  I saw some truly incredible work (and, yes, a few terrible pieces), including two works which completely changed my outlook on everything: Hans Christian, You Must Be An Angel a theatre installation unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, by Teatret Gruppe 38 from Denmark which was filled with more magic and joy than can possibly be explained:And Thick Skinned Things by Dutch group Stella Den Haag, a curious monologue about a woman who “belongs to the legion of the uncomfortable.”  Nora lives alone, struggling with everything, even her garbage bags, until she finds comfort in the way the man next door lays down his garbage bags:

    Can you find comfort
    in the way a person puts his garbage outside
    I would wonder desperately
    Can this be?

    Until one day, he is gone, and all that Nora can do is run into the forest, and dig herself a labyrinth: “I am a mole. I speak softly.”  It was in this play by Hans van den Boom, about sadness and loneliness and isolation, under a masterful performance by Erna van den Berg that I actually found an incredible peace and calmness and started to repair myself from the extreme tiredness of the season.

  • ActNow Theatre has a new Artistic Director in the form of director/writer/actor/administrator/friend Sarah Dunn, and with the help of publicist Sophie Bruhn, they are starting to conquer social media.  I did my Arts Admin Traineeship with Sarah, and I am greatly looking forward to raking her over the critical hot coals seeing what she comes up with. They will be revealing their new logo and officially welcoming Sarah to the fold May 13.
  • Edwin Kemp Atrill, the former AD for ActNow, will be stepping over to the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild taking their inaugural Artistic Director Grant, which is a brilliant initiative for emerging directors in this city.  2011 has already been programmed for the company, so we will possibly have to wait until next year to see what stamp Edwin puts on the company.
  • In May, Adelaide’s independent theatre companies are starting to emerge from the post fringe drought.  This week, five.point.one opens The Eisteddfod by Lally Katz.  Katz is one of the most produced playwrights on Australia’s main-stages this year, with world premieres playing at Malthouse, Melbourne Theatre Company, and Belvoir Street, and if you are interested in Australian playwrights and/or female playwrights you should be making an effort to see this show. Coming up later in the month, Accidental Productions will be presenting a new work by Adelaide playwright Alex Vicory-Howe, Molly’s Shoes from the 20th, and also from May 20 Tutti are presenting One directed by Daisy Brown, who you may remember from my rave of Ruby Bruise.
  • And for something a little different from what I usually write about: to catch some Adelaide theatre actors on the big screen, and see why my job became more crazed post-Fringe, the Mercury Cinema will be screening the best South Australian films of the last year on May 6 – 8, with the South Australian Screen Awards announced May 13.