[2010116] Death Conversation with Himalayan Cultural Eve

Death Conversation with Himalayan Cultural Eve

M. Art Theatre @ The Garage International

4:00pm, Sun 14 Mar 2010

Normally, I’m wary of productions associated with Shakti’s Garage International venue; that’s a little unfair, I know, but I’ve been to one-too-many shows where Shakti herself has featured in the production. And her style of eye-fluttering dance just doesn’t gel with me, so I figure it’s appropriate to just not take the risk.

But dance from Nepal? That just sounds too interesting to pass up. And, as I wander into the North Adelaide Community Centre, I’m thankful to see Shakti only handling tickets on the door.

Now – in conjunction with knowing nothing about dance, I know bugger all about Nepal. So as the performance begins (in front of a pretty good crowd of about thirty, on this sticky Sunday afternoon), I’m curious to see what the fundamentals of Nepali dance are. And the first piece had a solo female dancer, clad in robes of muted colour, dancing with a passionless, almost disinterested, facial expression. There’s a lot of emphasis on the hands, though; it became clear that hand movements were of grave importance. The piece livened up with some smooth spinning, but that managed to disorient her somewhat, and she bumped into a separator as she attempted to spin off the stage.

Oh dear, I thought. Not a great start.

The second piece was much more enjoyable; a mixed gender group, it’s all very bright and lively. This leads into the core of the performance, the Death Conversation play, which sees Pushpa in military custody and facing torture as he is interrogated. Different dances are sparked by his memories of happier times – of family, of his people – and by his observation of the world he lives in now, full of anger and mistrust and violence. In the end, he chooses to face Death, rather than let go of the happier times…

All this is, of course, a reflection of the People’s War – not something to be taken lightly. Which makes the lackadaisical stage production feel all the more disappointing; there’s people wandering backstage at random intervals, and the offstage narrator (who really should have been onstage) was hesitant and seemingly unprepared.

But on the plus side, the two principles – Subash Thapa’s pivotal Pushpa, and the dreamlike Shaman of Birendra Bahadur Hamal – were fantastic, each providing strength to their respective pieces (even if the Shaman did appear too keen to bang his drum). They, alone, were enough to carry this performance, which proved to be an interesting excursion into areas I’d not experienced before.

[2010115] The Sociable Plover

The Sociable Plover

Guy Masterson & Ronnie Toms @ Higher Ground – Theatre

9:30pm, Sat 13 Mar 2010

“It’s just started,” said whoever was on the door as I ran in… I’d forewarned them of the possibility of my lateness. Trying to soften my footfalls as I quickly crept around the walkways leading into the Theatre space, I took a seat in the front row at the back section. As I slump into the chair, amazed that I’ve made it in to the show with a vague semblance of punctuality, I almost drown in the tranquility of The Sociable Plover – Guy Masterson is sitting in a small bird-watching hut onstage, peering outwards through binoculars, gently nibbling at a sandwich. There’s soft sounds of birdlife in the background.

So… peaceful.

My heart slows down a little; my senses pick up. It suddenly hits me that I know nothing about The Sociable Plover (least of all the meaning behind the curious name), other than Guy had insisted that, of all the shows he was presenting at Higher Ground this year, this was the one I would like the most. And for awhile, I was puzzled by Guy’s comment; I know nothing about birdwatching (other than the fact that enthusiasts tend to exhibit a level of passionate OCD that I’m most certainly familiar with from my other hobby), so the quiet opening – though most certainly peaceful – took me a bit by surprise. Or anti-surprise, if you like.

It wasn’t until the sudden arrival of Ronnie Toms’ character Dave that things pick up; and then the conflict between the two, the mental manoeuvring, the jousting between the brawn and the brain begins. Neither character is particularly likeable – Dave is brash and uncouth and on the run, Masterson’s Roy is obsessively pedantic – but there’s traits in both that are immediately identifiable. It’s hard to pick a side here, and as they get to know each other fascinating little diversions occur. There’s a couple of twists, and the ending seems perfect.

It’s all wonderfully acted and – as with all the shows at Higher Ground this year – beautifully produced; the set is magnificent, full of wonderful detail. But the surprising thing was that The Sociable Plover is funny, as well as being dramatic; it really is a wonderful script, satisfying on many levels. Great stuff.

[2010113] Vital Organs Collective

Vital Organs Collective

Vital Organs Collective @ The Birdcage

5:30pm, Sat 13 Mar 2010

A fun – but useless – fact: Vital Organs Collective were responsible for the sixth-to-last show I saw in 2009, and the fifth-to-last show of 2010. I loved Pie Charts & Panties, so when I saw Vital Organs Collective’s name in the 2010 Guide, I had pencilled them in straight away (for my birthday, no less).

Alas, Thirsty Events (where Le Rox used to be – showing my age, there) seemed to disappear without a trace; but Vital Organs managed to scrounge together some times over at The Birdcage, including this early-evening show… their last before returning home to Melbourne.

And it’s somewhat similar in structure to their previous outing: a series of six short pieces, separated by some short, occasionally physical vignettes, allowing performers to catch their breath and prepare for the next longer piece. The performances themselves are a wonderful hybrid of dance and circus-style skills; a curious balance of elegance and brute strength. And that works remarkably well, with the option to either gape at the lifts and holds, or remain mesmerised by the synched twirls and kicks.

With the six performers (three women and three men, two of whom constituted the group-within-a-group of The Lost Rung) were clad in black, with splashes of red on the female ankles and male waists. Creative choreography and great music really helped amp up the excitement throughout the performance, and the last two pieces – Cubic and Velocipede – were a whirlwind of rolls and flung limbs.

Sure, there were a few issues – some of the interludes staggered along, rather than smoothly transitioned, and sometimes the planned bouncing and leaping seemed a little too much for the performer’s limbs to be actually able to manage – but the Vital Organs Collective managed to bring physical and exciting dance to the table. On the strength of that alone, they’ll remain on The Shortlist for years to come.

[2010112] My Name Is Rachel Corrie

My Name Is Rachel Corrie

Daniel Clarke & Hannah Norris @ AC Arts – X Space

2:00pm, Sat 13 Mar 2010

To say that this show had garnered the lion’s share of the word-of-mouth buzz around town would be an understatement; just about every theatre-goer, Fringe-centric or not, would drop Rachel Corrie into conversation. The disconcerting thing for me, who scheduled this last-Saturday-of-the-Fringe matinee in early, was that the general tone accompanying those mentions was very variable. Some people would bring it up with the glistening eyes of the true believer; others would tilt their heads forward just a little, and look at you through the guarded corners of their eyes – like they were participating in The Great Betrayal.

So I was a little apprehensive walking into the X Space. I took a seat at the top of the stairs, right next to the chap operating a video camera; it was a great view of the stage, littered with cardboard boxes, and the crowd – a reasonable group of forty or fifty for a lazy Saturday matinée.

As soon as the performance starts, you can acknowledge the production values are first-rate; Hannah Norris is polished as the titular Rachel Corrie, and her performance was extremely accomplished. Daniel Clarke’s direction, too, is stunning; Norris’ blocking is divine, and her constant rearrangement of the cardboard boxes to provide just-in-time projection surfaces for stars, videos, or trigger words was brilliantly arranged. The projections themselves were wonderfully done, too, along with the lighting in general.

The big problem, though, is the content.

The forty-five minutes that constituted the “background” of Rachel Corrie (stories of her parents, her friends, her schooling, all attempting to underline the “artistic sensibilities” of the woman) were tedious, fragmented, and… well, horrible to watch. And it’s not until she builds the cardboard boxes into a giant wall, which subsequently tumbles down (accompanying her arrival in Gaza) that it becomes mildly interesting. There’s still constant references back to her parents that ruin the pacing, and one flashback (to Todd?) is inexplicable in its inclusion. There seems to be a deliberate over-emphasis on portraying Corrie as a naïve, well-intentioned innocent; and there’s masses of cheap, emotive monologue that verges on the preachy – and I hate being preached to.

Note that I’m not railing against the message – just the way it’s been embedded into this stodge. Because, technical excellence notwithstanding, My Name Is Rachel Corrie annoyed me from the get-go; I was clock-watching after thirty minutes, and thereafter begging for it to end.

[2010111] Eddie Ifft: Things I Shouldn’t Have Said

Eddie Ifft: Things I Shouldn’t Have Said

Eddie Ifft @ Mercury Cinema

9:30pm, Fri 12 Mar 2010

Over the past couple of years I’ve managed to catch Eddie Ifft in ensemble shows three times; and each time, his crude humour and uncompromising attack has left me impressed. So when the opportunity to see him perform a full hour set came along, I jumped at the chance.

And, unsurprisingly, there wasn’t much difference between short-form Eddie Ifft and long-form Eddie Ifft.

And that’s just fine by me. He’s still got a very casual manner on stage, which nicely contrasts with some of the depravity that comes forth from his mouth; challenges and apologetic shrugs are issued equally to the audience. Besides the almost-expected bad-taste (but guiltily funny) forays into rape and kiddy-fiddling, the other choice takeaways from his set this evening involved the Sex Offender app for the iPhone, his drunk airline pilot bit, and a story about his dog and a condom. And his segment on names in strip-clubs is priceless.

So – Eddie Ifft. Crude, confrontational, friendly, bloody funny. That may sound a little contradictory, but it’s not.

Afterwards, Eddie hung out in the foyer of the Mercury, selling his CD. Knowing full well that this is the big revenue maker for many artists, I snaffled one; I mentioned the first time I’d seen Ifft (where some woman in the audience had heckled him with a serious political question), hoping he’d smile with recognition at the incident. Instead, all I saw were crazed get-this-guy-away-from-me eyes.

[2010110] Andrew O’Neill: Occult Comedian

Andrew O’Neill: Occult Comedian

Andrew O’Neill @ Mercury Cinema

8:15pm, Fri 12 Mar 2010

Striding into the Mercury Cinema and prowling from side-to-side at seat level (no elevated joke-telling from this chap), Andrew O’Neill whips the crowd into a left-side / right-side chanting competition, before turning on us – “that’s how racism starts.” Sure, it’s a gag I’d seen him use before, but it’s still bloody funny – and was remarkably effective at getting the small-ish crowd (maybe thirty peeps?) on-side.

With a fetching skirt and his usual lipstick (though stressing that he was still a raging heterosexual), O’Neill also did his “stuff that gets shouted at him as a tranny” bit – again, familiar… but again, still brilliant. And them he got into the core of his show – the “occult” bit. O’Neill contends that all comedy is occult – after all, it’s an attempt to change reality with words alone. And that may be a bit of a stretch, but you know what? It was still an entertaining premise that he satisfyingly fleshed out.

One really brilliant sidetrack that O’Neill went on involved heavy metal. He professed his love of the genre, and went to great lengths describing the various definitions and sub-genres of metal… his passion was immediately evident, and the humour that he brought to the subject was fantastic. This was pretty much what I’d expected from Steve Hughes, so to get it from the guy with the skirt and the pretty glasses instead was chuckle-worthy in itself.

Look – nothing I write here can possibly describe this gig sufficiently. All I can say is that Andrew O’Neill projected real character onstage; he wasn’t just some guy telling jokes, he was a real person who you’d happily shout a beer and chat with at the pub. He just happens to wear makeup and a skirt and be fucking funny.

[2010109] Faceless : Dead & Desirable

Faceless : Dead & Desirable

Unreasonable Films @ Experimental Art Foundation

7:00pm, Fri 12 Mar 2010

I’ve been to see some stuff in the EAF before; in most Festival years (including this one!) there’s usually a part of an art exhibition in there. But when I walked into the bookshop that cunningly lies between the entrance and the gallery, I discovered a couple of dozen chairs set up in the bookshop itself; a woman took my ticket and gestured me towards the seats.

I park my arse and look forward; there’s a medium-sized TV screen flickering static, and a masked chap standing beside it holding a laptop, the empty black screen facing us. Only his eyes are visible, and they point forward dispassionately.

After a minute or so I feel decidedly creeped out, and I begin to lament my early arrival.

I begin to read the text on the sheet of paper I was handed on entry; it’s a rambling treatise on the lack of private spaces in this age of social networks, written by Fiona Sprott. It manages to be both academic in tone and alarmist, all whilst raising some interesting points… but by the time I’ve finished reading it, another half-dozen people have trickled in, and the overhead lights are suddenly switched off, leaving us illuminated by the flickering static on the TV screen.

The performance proper begins. The TV plays a series of scenes that are almost voyeuristic in nature, broken up by more static; the laptop begins to display pointed messages in bold fonts. There’s unsettling electronic music in the background, and the masked laptop holder continues standing there… unmoving, failing to break the forward stare. The laptop-displayed text is, of course, the meat of the performance; first- and third-person accounts of cyber-assault, with some recollections having horrific physical outcomes – stalkings, rape, murder.

Now, a lot of the ideas thrown around by Faceless aren’t exactly new; if you’ve been socially interactive on the Internet at all, you’ve probably been subject to some of the behaviour discussed… or know someone who has. But the cold, clinical manner of the delivery – the anonymous staring man, the crisp clean lettering of the laptop, the pale blue light of the incessant TV static – gives the message an almost otherworldly feel… as I mentioned before, it feels voyeuristic, especially combined with the TV images awash with static. The physical ramifications mentioned thus feel like a distant inevitability; and that, when you realise you’re thinking it, is shocking.

Performances like this are why I love the Fringe. Faceless takes a serious topic and presents it in an unusual way – giving the audience the chance to make of it what they will. I approached the subject matter with a know-it-all’s disdain, and was seriously slapped by the delivery of Faceless – and I love it for being able to do that. This was a deeply profound performance.

[2010108] Carl-Einar Häckner is Big In Sweden

Carl-Einar Häckner is Big In Sweden

Carl-Einar Häckner @ Le Cascadeur

11:45pm, Thu 11 Mar 2010

As we file into Le Cascadeur, it’s obvious the stage is just littered with shit. Bits of paper, tatty boxes, cheap plastic toys, crusty tables… there’s junk everywhere.

And then this blonde Swedish chap strides onstage, accidentally headbutts his microphone, and stammers something vaguely apologetic in broken English. He cracks a few weak jokes about Ikea, attempts a lame magic trick with a banana (which he just winds up eating), snorts softly at his own jokes, and headbutts the microphone again.

We’re laughing, though. Oh god, are we laughing.

Häckner picks up a guitar and starts strumming a song for us; the instrument shatters after a few strums and he looks at us forlornly, before breaking into a big goofy grin. A few more lame jokes, a bit of singing, leveraging the accent for comedy value; a bit more chuckling into the mike. It’s all so silly, and we can’t stop laughing.

But suddenly, all the magic comes good. There’s an awesome ace-of-spades card trick that appears from nowhere that catches us off-guard; it’s a great trick, and amongst all the laughter it’s a real surprise. And then there’s a rabbit-in-the-hat trick that goes awfully wrong – the rabbits are burnt to a crisp – and I’m completely sold; gasping from laughter, I’m barely capable of comprehending the tricks that he appears to accidentally be pulling off.

In fact, the flattest part of the entire performance was when Häckner continually queried Irene with “do you see yourself?”, upon which she refused to be drawn… but even that was still amusing.

In short – Carl-Einar Häckner was a revelation. Equal parts silly humour, ridiculous props, and gob-smacking magic, his show was a magnificent mess that managed to entertain far beyond expectations.

[2010107] Bird in the Gilded Cage

Bird in the Gilded Cage

Pieta Farrell @ The Birdcage

10:00pm, Thu 11 Mar 2010

Look, I’ll be dead honest here. I’m typing this on the first day of February, 2011, around 326 days after seeing this performance. And, aside from a handful of notes about this performance, I cannot remember a thing about it.

Now – normally this is not the case. Usually, my notes act as prompts for more memories to come forth; I start expanding on one note, and the memories come flooding back, allowing me to revisit the performance in question and write some more. I like doing things like that (though usually in a more timely manner); it’s like I get to experience bits of the show twice.

Not this time, though. Let’s see what we can manage, though.

Pieta Farrell – Madam P in the performer’s circle – reminds me of Moira Finucane’s Victoriana (from 2006’s The Burlesque Hour); white-faced, almost ghostly, and dressed like a stiff widow. She’s accompanied by a violinist (who, I do recall, was pretty bloody good), along with a few loops and pedals to dirty up the musical backdrop. There’s a very burlesque semi-strip and dance, a lot of clambering and somersaulting and swinging around a suspended birdcage, and a coin-operated boy.

See all that? That was basically my notes thrown together.

But there is another little note that sparked a recollection: there was a lull in proceedings, presumably whilst a costume change was taking place. The violinist strikes up a tune; in the absence of anyone else, we focus on her. The lull carries on, the music is mesmerising… when suddenly, a character comes screaming into the space, jolting the audience like we’d been slapped.

But that’s it; that’s all I’ve got.

Look, I’m sorry this isn’t more detailed; it’s not because Bird in the Gilded Cage was a bad show, by any means (otherwise I would’ve remembered it clearly. I’m masochistic like that). But nothing stuck, and my notes didn’t spark like they usually do. Sorry.

[2010105] Austen Found – The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen

Austen Found – The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen

ConArtists @ Higher Ground – Studio

6:15pm, Thu 11 Mar 2010

It’s kind of tricky to find Higher Ground’s Studio; head over to AC Arts, meet someone at one of the not-exactly-signposted elevators, and you’re escorted up the lift, around several corners, down a bunch of corridors. Bloody hell, that labyrinth’ll thin the crowds out, I thought.

Wrong. The room was packed. Sixty, seventy people, maybe? More? Whatever – I’m stunned. I haven’t heard a lot of buzz around this show, so I’m genuinely amazed to see this many people here… and they were keen. Bubbling with anticipation. Mostly older women, too, though I realise I risk a massive kick in the bollocks for saying such a thing.

ConArtists comprised of four women, all clad in their Austen-ish best, including the delightful Penny Ashton, who acted as an emcee for the show, directing the other three women and the audience, as appropriate. First port of call: the democratically selected name of our lost-Austen, which our selected as “Pride and Perfection”. Then came the derivation of our Austen-name (I was Harry Tobybottom). And then came the performance of Pride and Perfection itself, with the four women filling the principle roles of Felicity, Amiable, Countenance, and Dozy (and their male interests, ably played with a simple costume change).

Now – what I didn’t realise was that Austen Found would be almost entirely ad-libbed.

And you know what? It was pretty bloody funny. In fact, the only thing that felt rehearsed was the YMCA signage during the inevitable ballroom dance sequence.

The ad-libbed songs, in particular, were absolutely brilliant – but I don’t want to take away from any other aspect of the performance. Because these ladies were bloody quick on their feet, knew their subject matter inside out, and had a real feel for what makes Austen Austen… and also what makes us laugh.

Was Austen Found the comedic highlight of the Fringe? Oh no. But it was a romping guffaw or twenty, all wrapped up with charm and grace.

[2010104] On Ego

On Ego

Michael Hill and TheimaGen @ Hartley Playhouse

1:00pm, Thu 11 Mar 2010

After dashing through the unfamiliar Magill Campus to find the Hartley Playhouse, I arrive just as the house lights have been dropped and stumble my way to a seat. I realise, in the inky blackness of the theatre, that I have no idea what this show is about, other than I picked it because its title just screamed “pretentious”.

The set is… unique. The generic room in the centre of the stage is fronted by a thin screen; largely translucent to the audience, but capable of displaying a projection and creating an almost holographic effect. Other images and movies are shone onto the floor and walls of the room; this is very much a technology-assisted performance.

Initially, On Ego feels like a lecture; a man appears amidst a series of projections and talks about the premise of the self, of the ego. “This is Richard,” he announces, lifting a brain out of a bucket – then dropping it back in with a existential plop. One of the projections changes to a live video feed of the head of neurologist Alex (Michael Hill); we can see him through a window in the set, and there’s a slight delay in the video feed – it’s slightly unnerving as a result.

And so we are introduced to the “bundle” theory of consciousness, whereby the arrangement of neurons themselves constitute experience. Thus, the idea of teleportation poses no problem; the issue of reconstituting the “soul” becomes irrelevant. And, with that fascinating and relatively level-headed and passive view of scientific basis established, we move on to the more… theatrical part of the performance.

Alex and Derek are colleagues working in the field of neurology and teleportation; Alex is married to Alice, Derek’s daughter. Alice is, unfortunately, suffering from an inoperable brain tumour, which affects her memories – she will often forget words, or unknowingly substitute inappropriate words. Her condition worsens over the course of the play, to the point where she no longer recognises her husband…

…and there’s the twist. During one of their teleportation experiments, Derek fails to vapourise the “original” Alex, hence leading to a continuity problem – one consciousness now has two realities. Each of the Alexes believe they are the “real” one – after all, how can they tell themselves apart? – and Alice deteriorates to the point where she can no longer recognise Alex… but is that because it was the “wrong” Alex?

On Ego is certainly an intriguing proposition. With a clever approach to the idea of self, as well as its mix of perfunctory theory and emotional structure (the piece is regarded by the authors as a “theatre essay”), this should have been engaging from start to finish… indeed, when Alice starts disassociating items, some little emotional chord in me was struck – I’m terrified by that sort of stuff. The problem, for me, comes later in the performance; when Alice’s decline accelerates, and the dual-Alex near-farce is played out, the story somehow loses its intellectual and emotional impact. The final act is horrible, a real drain, and leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Which is a shame, really, because the ideas initially expressed are really interesting, and the physical elements of the piece (set, projections, acting) are fantastic. It just loses its connection with me in the final third.

[2010103] 52 Pick Up

52 Pick Up

theater simple @ The Odeon Theatre

10:00am, Thu 11 Mar 2010

How many times have I seen 52 Pick Up now? Nine, maybe ten times? And how many duds have there been? None.

And, because I’m feeling a bit lazy, here’s a cut’n’paste from my 2006 musings

For the uninitiated, a deck of 52 playing cards is shuffled and thrown into the air at the start of the performance. Each card contains a scene from The Relationship; the random order in which they’re picked up can affect the mood of the piece. For example, too many of the “heavy” (or sad) cards at the top of the performance can send the audience on a thoughtful trip; start frivolous, and it becomes a comedic performance.

This performance definitely fell on the light-hearted side of the fence; there were triplets (or quads!) of related cards in reverse chronological order – the sweater, the astrology – that created a genuine sense of mirth. The penultimate card was First Meeting; the last card was Sex.

Andrew and Llysa are still fantastic as the two strangers / friends / lovers / warriors, and all the little flourishes that make 52 Pick Up such a joy to (re-)watch are still there. If anything, Andrew’s performance was a reminder that we just don’t see him on stage enough anymore; he really is a great actor, with brilliant comedic timing. Unfortunately, it was only a small-ish crowd that turned up for this performance, but there were a lot of familiar faces in that crowd… it’s like a joyous little cult ;)

But apart from that, there’s really not much else to report. After all, I’ve seen it all before, but in a different order… and I’ll continue to see it again. In a different order.

[2010102] The Hamlet Apocalypse

The Hamlet Apocalypse

The Danger Ensemble @ Arcade Lane – Regent Two

9:30pm,Wed 10 Mar 2010

The Hamlet Apocalypse was high on my list of things-to-see long before I discovered that Anniene was directing; after a brief chat with her about the style of the show, it was quickly slotted into The Schedule.

So we queue, and wait, and then ascend the stairs and are led into the gutted shell of one of the old Regent Theatres, raucous industrial music bouncing off the walls. We sit, and there’s bright spotlights in our faces. It’s hot, and hard to see.

Suddenly, the music stops and the lights shut off; in the silent darkness, all that can be seen are the red hangovers of the spotlights in my eyes. There’s a flicker, and a buzz, as some cold harsh fluoro lighting comes on, and we see the cast standing above the door we walked through… they’d been there all along, hidden behind the bright lights.

Cool. Massive props for a clever start.

“Ten” – the countdown starts in unison. The cast are playing out Hamlet in the knowledge that the world is coming to an end. It’s a heavily abridged version, of course, and as the apocalypse looms nearer – the countdown more frayed – the cast become edgy, dropping out of character to reflect on their own insignificance, to plead with each other, prior to their inevitable demise. Their personal distress feeds back into the play, as the cast – and their characters – turn on each other, devolving into a painful and desperate cross-pollenation of “real” and “imaginary”.

It’s loud, it’s angry, it’s confusing, it’s painful… and it’s beautiful.

There’s so much to like about this production; from a visual perspective, it’s almost like it was tailor-made to appeal to me. The sparse set and careful side lighting allow for massive sharp shadows to be projected on the rough side walls of the former cinema; if there’s one thing I love, it’s shadowplay, and The Hamlet Apocalypse delivers that in spades. And when the powder is dropped onto the ghost of Hamlet’s father… the harsh lighting picks up the powder, and the billowing around the stage is simply stunning.

It would be easy to say that The Hamlet Apocalypse fits in with this year’s apparent theme of meta-theatre… but, upon reflection, I think it’s more than that. It’s almost anti-theatre: a play-within-a-play, a space-with-a-found-space, taking the notion of all that’s obvious about the base material and forming something almost contrasting, rather than complementary, to the sources.

Blimey, that sounds like a load of wank. But you know what? I don’t care – The Hamlet Apocalypse was exciting theatre, genuinely fresh and bold. I loved it.

[2010100] Rhinoceros


Urban Myth Theatre of Youth @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

1:00pm, Wed 10 Mar 2010

Now – regular readers (yeah, right – like I’ve got any of those) would have gathered that I’m not usually keen to see shows featuring young casts… but I’ll always give shows by Urban Myth a bash, because they’ve got a pretty good strike rate. And I reckon that’s because they focus on intelligent, established plays, and deliver them with production values that treat the audience with respect.

I’ve used that “respect” line a bit lately. It seems to be my new thing.

Anyway, as seems to be the norm with weekday matinees at Holden Street, this session was choc-a-bloc with a couple of school groups; incessant chatter and rustling and schlurping of Chupa Chups seemed to be the order of the day. Luckily, within twenty minutes the lollies have all been sucked or crunched into oblivion, so we were able to watch the bulk of Rhinoceros in peace.

Rhinoceros is, of course, an interpretation of Ionesco’s play; I say “of course” with my tongue planted firmly in cheek, because I knew nothing of the work… or of Ionesco. But that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Learning. And so, when the inhabitants of a provincial French Town start transforming into the titular creatures due to an outbreak of the seemingly infectious rhinoceritis, I was bemused.

Written in the late 50’s, Ionesco was commenting on the upsurge of Communism and Fascism prior to World War II; as such, it touches on the denial that precedes the conformity. As more and more of the townsfolk join the rhinoceritis movement, the arguments of the learned become twisted and skewed; in the end, the sole person clinging to humanity is Berenger (ably played by Poppy Mee), who is far from the heroic central figure we would expect.

The young cast does a pretty good job (albeit a bit blunt and shouty), though Patrick Zoerner’s Jean is a standout – his coughing and stamping as he transforms into a rhino is bloody brilliant. Corey McMahon’s direction feels a little blocky, but does the job; the pacing noticeably picks up over the duration of the play, which leads to an exciting conclusion (but makes me think that some of Ionesco’s content may have been hacked out towards the end).

Wikipedia reckons that Rhinoceros belongs to the The Theatre of the Absurd; and, having heard the word “rhinoceros” about three hundred times in an hour, I’m not going to argue with that. The word has since taken on an absurd life of its own in my mind.

[2010099] Bully


Richard Fry @ Higher Ground – Art Base

9:30pm, Tue 9 Mar 2010

After rushing from This Is A Play to Weights to Scaramouche Jones, it was great to have a couple of minutes’ respite before the next show; a few birthday hugs and handshakes from some of the Higher Ground regulars, a nice glass of red, and it’s all smiles and happiness. I’m feeling – unsurprisingly – a little weary, a little spent, so I get an espresso shot from the bar; as soon as it was in my hand, the ticket call came for Bully. Backpack on my shoulder, glass of red in one hand, coffee in the other, Irene and I descend to the Art Base, giggling. We take our seats in the front row, a bit of juggled drink-holding allows me to drop the backpack; still giggling, with a drink in each hand, I look forward to sipping from each in the next few minutes.

The house lights drop; the stage lights come up. And we’re sitting there staring at Richard Fry: stocky, bearded, but – most hauntingly – prone and helpless. He’s weeping uncontrollably; the lights catch the tears as they roll down his cheek. And it’s dead silent at first – we dare not breathe – but soon the sound of strangulated sobbing seeps out. It’s painful to watch, but impossible to look away…

I can’t remember the transition, but Richard Fry somehow gets from that astonishing start into the bulk of his monologue. And it’s about twenty minutes in, amidst the gruff rhymes that form Fry’s delivery, that I remember the two drinks in my hand… because his (character’s) story of growing up in an abusive household, discovering his sexuality, and the violence (both social and domestic) that he encountered as a gay man was utterly engrossing.

Fry is absolutely fantastic: there’s something very rough and raw about his delivery, and it works perfectly with the irregular and occasionally awkward rhymes of his dialogue. His physical presence onstage is wonderful, too: one moment he can look timid and vulnerable, a doormat in his abusive relationship; the next, his rage is barely restrained, as the blunt responses befitting his upbringing clamber for release. The performance comes full circle, of course, leading us back to the reason for the tears, and as we madly applaud him at the end of the show (to the somewhat conflicted strains of Bucks Fizz), there was no denying the brutal power and simple honesty of the performance.

Irene and I managed to have a drink and chat with Fry later that evening; a nicer, more unassuming chap you’ll never meet. Of course, I had to ask if Bully was auto-biographical in any way; he laughed, pointed out he’d never been in prison, and slyly picked our brains for a critique of his performance. And I love meeting people like that; these gentle giants of theatre are fantastic to talk to, and I want nothing more for them to succeed at their craft.

Because when it comes off, as it did with Bully, the results are astounding.