No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Emma Beech

Kumuwuki Review: I Met

Emma Beech in the Australian Bureau of Worthiness’ I Met Viborg

I’ve now seen the Australian Bureau of WorthinessI Met in four incarnations: Renmark, Port Adelaide’s Port Road, Viborg in Denmark, and now Goolwa.

I never wrote about the work properly; although I was intending to after Viborg time got away from me; I only just briefly mentioned Port Road; and had an even briefer pass at Renmark. Now, I see that as a unique blessing: if I am going to write about this work I need to write about its changing incarnations, its constant rediscovery of itself and exploration of its own form and possibilities.

Being able to see the work four times before sitting down to write about it is perhaps the most unique privilege and what we search for in looking at the role “embedded critic”: in following the creation – or recreation – of the I Met model, I now, hopefully, get to give more than a cursory review of one show, and instead get to write about what the Bureau have created as a model. A unique show model, perhaps, takes a unique writing model.

The Australian Bureau of Worthiness is the creation of artists Emma Beech and Tessa Leong, and often operated with James Dodd. It’s model is simple: go into a community and discover who they are and what is important to them through the use of a simple question: What makes your day worth it?

No justification or further exploration is given for the question: some answer with the small – seeing someone’s smile, the sound of a packet of biscuits being opened, some offer up answers of the deeply philosophical – the ways they intend to change the world, some can’t offer up an answer at all – nothing.

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Review: Me and My Shadow

The Space Theatre is filled with the din of excited children. The Saturday morning outside is showing Adelaide’s first strains of winter: dreary, making the world in great need of a blanket and a cup of tea. But inside, children yell, bang their seats, pose for a photograph on their mother’s iphone, try and dissect what they can see on the stage: look, I can see a shadow! They hold none of the trepidation of the blustery Saturday morning.

In front of me, a mother shows her children how you would make your hands into a shadow for a dog: the thumb an upright ear, the index finger hooked to make an eye, the middle and ring fingers the snout, the little finger moving up and down for the mouth: yap yap yap.

The house-lights dim and turn off. There are a few startled cries from the very young; a few excited yelps from the older kids who know what’s happening: it’s about to begin.

The Girl (Emma Beech) sits in a pool of light, concentrating absolutely on her scissors and butcher’s paper. Snip here, cut there, off goes the off-cuts into a paper bag. Open up the sheet and reveal the line of paper girls.

It’s bedtime, but she and her paper dolls are not quite ready for bed. How could you ever be ready for bed when there is a world of things to discover, create, and play with? Out comes the torch, shining a spot light around the space; then it is a car, and then a rocket ship.

The pool of light moves so it’s shining on the Girl, and she starts to make shadows with her hands. She makes a dog, and the children in front of me turn to their mother excitedly – they just learnt how to do that!

The Girl’s body is then encased in light, behind her a shadow: a new play thing. With paper bags and a shadow for a friend, what more could a girl need?

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In Brief: I Met (Port Road) The Other Day; A Little Horseplay

The Australian Bureau of Worthiness has been tasked with traveling around Australia and asking people what makes your day worth it?  In this presentation at the end of a residency at Port Adelaide, Emma Beech walks us through her explorations in the Port.

Beech exudes honesty and care in her presentation for the Bureau, and in this she sits on an intriguing line between presenter and performer.  The parts of the show which is Beech herself and the parts which are a character are blurred in this line which almost becomes frustrating: how can you comment on a performance when you’re never quite sure were it starts and it ends?

As just an occasional visitor to the Port, at times I felt disconnected from the piece: when it a work is so responsive to a place, how much do you need to understand the place to understand the work?

Yet there is a simple beauty to hearing what makes people’s day “worth it” and how people interpret just what “worth it” means.  Some stories were twinged with sadness and pain, but by focusing on the good they all brought joy.  I was reminded about this video work as I watched, and the gift that is given when you ask someone to reflect on something good.

A clown, an opera signer, and a little horse: this is A Little Horseplay.  A seemingly only tangentially related set of sketches and scenes, A Little Horseplay is so beguilingly delightful I think I sat there the whole of the presentation mouth agape, smitten.

Stephen Sheehan is a remarkably honest performer: he tells these extended jokes – a set up, a punch line, paragraphs of exposition in between – which you feel on paper would come off at best flat, and at worst terribly unfunny, yet with Sheehan’s calm honesty they are hilarious.  It would be deadpan except the knowing, inclusive glint in his eye, and it is through his quietness that the audience becomes uproarious.

Although to say Sheehan was the star would be an outright lie.  Understudy horse, Mouse, stole the show.  I think everyone just needs to throw the mantra “never work with children and animals” out the window, and insist all productions be performed with the aid of a horse.  The mash of comedy, opera and a horse, of course, almost sounds as if it couldn’t work, but the humour and the drama of just having a horse on the stage transcends any confusion in genre.  Being Mouse’s first performance we weren’t privy to the whole in-development work, Sheehan had to stop and explain the end – but in the context, this worked.  Being told what a horse should do is almost as fascinating as if it were to all go to plan: and is that the fantastical thing about live theatre, anyway?