[2013155] Nosferatu

[2013155] Nosferatu

TR Warszawa and Teatr Narodowy @ Dunstan Playhouse

5:00pm, Sun 17 Mar 2013

And so it came to this: my final Festival show (of twenty-one) of 2013. The last Festival ticket that I bought this season, too – for some reason my interest in the work didn’t come until the first reviews were out. They mentioned the sombre mood of the piece, and that was enough to get me onboard.

But there’s sombre, and there’s torpor. And with little else onstage to attract – or distract – me, Nosferatu definitely exercised into the latter.

So let’s first focus on the positives: I wound up sitting next to new Festival Friend Helen (and her friend) in a freakish bit of Adelaideia. They were lovely to chat with. And our seats were pretty good, but it’s not like we were compelled to stick to our allocation: the Playhouse was probably only a quarter full. And the set was lovely – a wonderfully detailed house interior, dining and drawing room in one, with a few small sections used to indicate the outside world. The sound design was arrestingly moody. And the surtitles were spot-on, projected on surfaces within the set and remaining coherent and engaging.

As for the performance… “Inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula” claims the playbill, and I guess there’s hints of the themes we know and love in there. A clutch of brash youngsters bring their hedonism to a more serene (but still ostentatious) environment; beautiful girl gets nibbled and, after a period of near death, returns to life with a lascivious attitude. Everyone else slowly wanders around in a state of worry as tensions rise (mainly due to the brooding score).

But imagine that being delivered with blank faces and minimal movement… it’s an exercise in muscle minimalism. And, suffice to say, I found it terribly dull. I’ve had time to have had a good hard think about whether it was my typical malaise – after all, this was my hundred-and-fifty-fifth show in a month – or whether it was just genuinely slow, and my memory assures me that Nosferatu was, indeed, theatrical treacle.

[2013146] Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage

[2013146] Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage

BBB (Banana Bag & Bodice) @ The German Club

9:00pm, Fri 15 Mar 2013

The great thing about seeing a lot of shows solo is that you don’t face a lot of problems with general admission seating; as a result, I was able to leave a late-finishing Solaris, duck home for some coffee, and make it back to rapidly filling third floor of The German Club and still snag a beer and a great seat on a central table. Of course, as soon as I sat down my knees hit something under the table; I peeked beneath, but the obstruction was ensconced in the same material as the tablecloth. I shifted my orientation and paid it no further mind.

Performed as a “SongPlay” (as opposed to “musical”, perhaps?) by Brooklyn-based BBB, Beowulf kicks off with three academics contemplating the original Old English text; but suddenly, the play comes to life, with Beowulf appearing from within the audience, fighting the monster Grendel (and Grendel’s mother) to the death… all the while accompanied by a rollicking seven-piece band (including a horn section and extremely capable backing singers).

Beowulf, wonderfully played with comic gruffness by Jason Craig, gets the lion’s share of the modernised dialogue, and his songs are a treat: equal parts exposition and humorous interpretation, the lyrics are always confidently delivered. And whilst the band largely stays rooted to the stage, the performance roams the hall – the central table I was sitting at was the stage for one of the more intense fight scenes, and the object under the table (that I’d encountered earlier) turned out to be a bloodied stunt arm that was ripped from Grendel’s body.

I noticed that some reviews were very critical of Beowulf, attacking the dumbing-down of the subject matter and lack of (promised) audience participation. But for me, this was a bloody fantastic show: a rollicking rock-and-roll treatment of a classic story that feels utterly at home in a beer hall, performed with over-the-top cabaret sensibilities with tongue planted firmly in cheek. It could be argued that this was, perhaps, Fringe entertainment on a grand scale, but that’s just fine by me.

[2013145] Unsound Adelaide – Solaris

[2013145] Unsound Adelaide – Solaris

Ben Frost, Daníel Bjarnason, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra @ Adelaide Town Hall

7:30pm, Fri 15 Mar 2013

I loved the idea of Unsound Adelaide when it was announced; were it outside Festival season, I’d be going to as many of the Unsound performances as possible. But there’s too many other things to see and experience to limit oneself to one genre; hence, this production of Solaris was the only item on the Unsound programme that I managed to attend… and I chose it because of the promise of more ASO goodness, in conjunction with visual accompaniment by Brian Eno (and Nick Robertson).

Composed by Ben Frost and Daníel Bjarnason to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Stanisław Lem‘s novel, Solaris owes more to ambient electronica than traditional orchestral compositions… and that’s a good thing. Beginning with soft, persistent notes, the piece gradually builds up (and up and up) to yield moments of absolutely breathtaking power before simmering down again, only to build to another crescendo.

Besides the ASO’s usual goodness, Frost applied de-tuned guitar texture to the performance, with Bjarnason metronomically hitting sparse notes on a treated piano; unfortunately, the much vaunted “film manipulations” by Eno and Robertson felt a little self-indulgent and wanky, and were of no attraction whatsoever to me – a shame, really, because I love a good visualisation.

I found Solaris to be a richly rewarding piece to listen to: each movement gave the listener a little bit of a mountain to climb to overcome the held notes, but the view after the ascension was well worth it. But what I could not understand was the fact that people (not just one or two people, mind you, more like thirty or forty) were still taking their seats fifteen minutes after the scheduled start time of the (one hour long) performance. Who the hell does that?

[2013135] The Kreutzer Sonata

[2013135] The Kreutzer Sonata

State Theatre Company of South Australia @ State Theatre Workshop

11:00am, Wed 13 Mar 2013

It had been widely reported that Barry Otto – originally engaged to perform Kreutzer – pulled out of the production (on doctor’s advice) after two performances. His replacement, Renato Musolino, is a well-known (and well-regarded) local actor… and also taught me the Stanislavski Method during a couple of terms of introductory adult acting. So, walking into this performance, there was a maelstrom of expectations: Of a troubled production rebooted mid-season. Of the teacher who I looked up to. Of a flagship piece of theatre in the Festival’s programme.

First impressions are of awe: Geoff Cobham’s set is gorgeous, a multi-level industrial construction with catwalks and static spaces aplenty. To the side, a caged area that later contained the piano and violin accompanists; at the base of the construction, a pool of dyed water that reminds me of 20:50, a piece I once saw in the Saatchi Gallery (but without the olfactory texture of the oil). Cobham’s lighting design also allows subtle images to be projected onto the background, and the ambient murkiness – combined with spot lighting – generates a lovely atmosphere.

When Musolino appears – atop an elevated platform – he is immediately convincing; his Pozdnyshev is a violent misogynist, bewildered by his wife’s carnal wanderings, and rage and confusion can be found in almost all his actions. It was a fantastic performance: he completely owns the work, and it’s almost impossible – in retrospect – to imagine Otto in the role. And that final – desperate, whispered – line: “Forgive me”… wow. I still get chills from the memory of it. Fucking brilliant.

The permanent presence of the script in Renato’s grasp was completely unremarkable – after all, Pozdnyshev essentially narrates the events that have led him here. Walking away from the performance, I almost couldn’t imagine it being any other way. In fact, The Kreutzer Sonata comes across as an incredibly polished production… it really is hard to believe that it came from such adversity.

There’s other notes around this rendition of Kreutzer that warrant a mention: Renato’s reflection on acquiring the role is a surprising read, for example. And the MKA team were in attendance for this largely grey-haired matinée – Tobias saw me on the way in, high-fiving me as he walked past (to the annoyance of my vexed octogenarian neighbour), and the Q&A session at the end of the performance offered the opportunity for MKA to challenge the feminism – or lack thereof – in Sue Smith’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s original novella.

But none of that can distract from the triumph of this production; in terms of theatre, Kreutzer was only challenged by Brink’s Thursday in the Festival lineup.

[2013134] Kamp

[2013134] Kamp

Hotel Modern @ Space Theatre

8:30pm, Tue 12 Mar 2013

During the Festival Launch, Kamp piqued my interest, and it implanted itself into my memory. Tiny puppets, a reproduction of Auschwitz, promise of emotional battering… opening night tickets were a must.

My Event Buddy and I scored unbelievable seats: front row, nearly centre. In front of us lay (what we assumed was) a scale layout of Auschwitz, and – lifeless in its pre-performance state – it manages to convey a sense of coldness. Of desolation. Of hopelessness. Rows of little buildings and guard towers. Fences of barbed wire spanning the set. But it’s all so small… I start wondering how a performance will arise from this miniature set. I start wondering how much will be left to the imagination; how much is assumed knowledge. How much are we expected to fill in for ourselves.

The house lights drop; a screen behind the miniature camp lights up with the projection of a camera, as the performers of Hotel Modern scuttle around the set. Some control pinhole cameras, tracing them along paths for a first-person perspective on proceedings; others meticulously place figurines (single people, or boards of hundreds) into the camp. And then, accompanied by a soundtrack that tracks the time, they show us a Day in Auschwitz.

Morning: trains arrive. Thin rows of bedraggled and scared inmates leave the trains for the holding yards; the guards loom over them with derision. Existing prisoners are put to work in other parts of the camp whilst the new inmates are marched to their huts; one mis-performs his menial task and is shot dead. The day progresses, and there’s a cold and distant brutality on display; as night falls, this is contrasted with the forced joviality in the officers’ hut as the uniformed characters drink the terror away.

But there’s one scene that sticks with me more than all others. Not the cowering person beaten to death by the guards; not the camera tour through the gas chambers, crammed with lifeless fallen bodies. No – the scene which had the camera moving amongst a cluster of terrified, quivering beings in the shower blocks, looking up just in time to see a hatch open and gas canisters drop in… and the screen instantly cutting to black.

That left me stunned. Properly broken. I didn’t even notice my Event Buddy quietly weeping beside me; but my own tears wouldn’t flow. They were too shocked to leave my body.

That feeling – that hopelessness in the face of such barbarism – is not something that can be enjoyed. There’s no way that anyone could ever say that they “enjoyed” Kamp. And, when the house lights came up, it felt absolutely wrong to even consider applauding the performance… but the performers from Hotel Modern understand that.

My father hit his teens in the final years of World War II. In his pre-teens, he – as a German schoolchild – was subjected to the Nazi propaganda used to shape support for Hitler’s dictatorship… and yes, he was in Hitler Youth. It’s difficult to talk to him about those years, because he still harbours a deep shame for not seeing through the propaganda; he still feels ashamed and mournful for the actions of his country during that time. And I mention this because, even with this man in my life, desperate to correct the terrible sins of the past, I’d still forgotten how truly horrifying these events in our history were… and I think that, above all else, legitimises – if not necessitates – the existence of Kamp.

[2013131] A Game of You

[2013131] A Game of You

Ontroerend Goed @ State Theatre Company Rehearsal Room

2:00pm, Tue 12 Mar 2013

After the incredible experiences of the previous Ontroerend Goed productions (The Smile Off Your Face and Internal), I again resolved to approach this production with absolutely no knowledge of its content. And that seems to be the approach of all the other punters in my session; as they gathered in the Playhouse foyer, we all start excitedly discussing the encounters of the previous sessions (lots of smiles and knowledgable nods when I explained my Internal experience), but everyone veered away from any kind of speculation about A Game Of You.

Slowly, one by one, we’re led downstairs to the Rehearsal Room. When I get down there, I note the reconfiguration of the space; it now feels very tight, and I’m led through curtained corridors and paths and deposited on a seat in a small room. There’s a mirror in front of me, some trinkets on a shelf beneath the mirror, an empty seat to my right. I hate mirrors – I try to not watch myself. Instead, I pick up a notebook off the shelf, flick through the pages; two-thirds of the way through the book, I feel compelled to write a message. I have no idea what I wrote: something pithy, I suspect.

Someone comes and sits next to me. One of the Ontroerend Goed actors, I guess. We chat – nervously at first, then I warm up and the conversation is lively. Eventually, a klaxon sounds, and he leads me out of the small room into another curtained corridor; he leaves, I wait a moment, and I’m soon joined by another performer.

Again, we start talking – frosty, then friendly – and, as he guides me through the maze of corridors and rooms, a new element is introduced: we’re looking at another audience member. Through one-way mirrors, or cameras and video screens, we see another Goed-ian and the person behind me in the queue. And I see her being asked the same questions I’d been asked in conversation, and I realised that the stilted starts of those conversations were me acclimatising to the framework of the performance…

…it’s a set-up. We are the performers; Ontroerend Goed are the stage managers.

But there’s something deliciously… well, gossipy about the conversation that I’m having with my Guide now. He starts asking me about the woman I see before me: Who is she? What’s her name? What does she do? Is she in a relationship? The questions gradually get a little more pointed, a little more awkward…

And I engage in that conversation freely; I enjoy the conjecture. And it never occurs to me that some other person in the “audience” is going to be judging me in the same way: the conversation just feels natural.

Another bell sounds: my Guide waits for me to finish my rambling answer, then points me in the direction of another room. I enter it, and there – behind a wall of monitors showing footage from every room that I’d just walked through – sat Aurélie, my “date” from Internal. She quietly beckons me to sit next to her, and then returns to watching the screens intently; I see other people guided through the experience. It’s a heady mix of voyeurism and intrigue – I felt like I’d analysed one person, and now I wanted to analyse them all. Suddenly Aurélie hands me a CD, and I’m led out of the room and upstairs to the foyer. The Game is over, and I’m left feeling… well, a little curious. A little bewildered. And, surprisingly, a little narcissistic… but I didn’t know why.

It only dawned on me, as I walked home, that there was probably someone else in the “audience” that had been asked all the same questions about me; I started wondering what they’d said. How they had imagined my life. Insecurity set in.

And then I started wondering what was on the CD.

Suddenly, I couldn’t get home quick enough. I dropped the CD in my computer: a single file. Audio.

It was someone else’s reading of me. [77.6MB]

And, despite the fact that a lot of what was postulated about me was way off the mark, I grinned from ear to ear whilst listening to it… multiple times.

I thought to myself “wow – this show just keeps on giving.” Even thirty minutes, an hour, two hours after the event, I’m still in those red rooms, watching and being watched; naked, prone, exposed, and loving it. And that’s a pretty amazing take-away from a performance.

[2013117] What the Body Does Not Remember

[2013117] What the Body Does Not Remember

Ultima Vez @ Dunstan Playhouse

8:30pm, Sat 9 Mar 2013

In what has widely been recognised as a very strong dance programme in the 2013 Festival, this was the piece (along with Sylvie) that had people talking excitedly at the launch. What the Body Does Not Remember, the debut piece by Ultima Vez (and choreographer/founder Wim Vandekeybus), is spoken of with reverent tones in contemporary dance circles… or so I am told.

But I was bloody excited to have the chance to see this alleged seminal piece; to be able to do so on my birthday was almost too good to be true…

…but it’s been a big day. It’s been a big day that began in the early hours of the morning, contained lots of heartfelt hugs, more-than-a-few celebratory beverages, not enough sleep, a Blind Date, lots of trekking around my beloved city, and plenty of joy. It’s been a long day… and this is the point where things started catching up to me.

There’s something about the inky blackness of the Playhouse that accentuates any doziness that I may be trying to ignore; as a result, as the dancers from Ultima Vez start their almost voodoo doll-esque puppetry (as a woman’s nails scraping over a desk are invisibly linked to two male dancers writhing on the floor), my eyelids are drooping. I hate that they are, and I’m secretly thankful when the performance gains more dancers, and becomes more vibrant: the bodies span the stage as they clasp each other and are swung around. These broad movements are enthralling… exciting.

Bricks start getting tossed around… and I’m a little bit lost. It becomes a bit loud… and I’m back on board. And then there’s a sequence that catches my imagination, but not in a good way: the cast, decorated with (what appeared to be) the United Colours of Benetton, criss-cross the stage, stealing each others’ jackets. There’s humour to be found there, but the piece further evolves: it becomes seedy, an undercurrent of violence begins to emanate from the stage. It’s violence directed towards the female cast, and it’s all very… well, rapey.

And that leaves me feeling unsettled, disturbed… but also unsure of myself. I start wondering whether there’s an explanation for that violence, a context, a callback from earlier in the piece when my eyelids weighed more than the universe and my mind needed a break. Because there were parts of What the Body Does Not Remember that were genuinely engaging… and then there were bits that left me with an unpleasant taste in my mouth. And there was a big Benetton ad in the middle, too, so colour me confused.

[2013111] Van Dyke Parks

[2013111] Van Dyke Parks

Van Dyke Parks, Daniel Johns, Kimbra (with Adelaide Art Orchestra) @ Thebarton Theatre

8:00pm, Fri 8 Mar 2013

I’ll be (as always) dead honest – all I knew of Van Dyke Parks prior to this Festival performance was gleaned from his mention on John Safran’s Music Jamboree… and even then, I’d glossed over some of the more impressive points (like his work with The Beach Boys). But when his name appeared during the Festival launch, I immediately knew that I had to see his show, dangerous lack of knowledge be damned.

I arrived at Thebby almost an hour early – a result of surprisingly optimal public transport – and meandered about a bit before heading into the mostly-empty theatre. As I approached my aisle seat, the only other person within about five rows of me was sitting in the adjacent position; I apologised, tried to assuage her that I was not, in fact, trying to creep her out, and sat down.

And that’s how I met Helen, who became a treasured Festival Friend over the following week-and-a-bit as we kept bumping into each other at Festival shows.

Helen and I chat and compare notes about other shows as the theatre fills up. I was surprised that the average age of the crowd was much younger than I’d expected; that’s when I learnt about Parks’ Special Guests for the evening, Daniel Johns and Kimbra (I really should pay more attention sometimes). I surmised that a large chunk of the crowd were here for them, rather than Parks.

So there was a fair wodge of applause when Kimbra took to the stage, with a further escalation when Johns joined her; the construction of their opening tune is lush, and when Van Dyke Parks joined them onstage, there’s a round of appreciative applause… for this is the man who assembled this talent.

But from there, it was a pretty steady decline in terms of my appreciation. Parks seemed to want to wallow in a sense of Americana, and between songs would wander into explanatory diatribes that – in trying to explain the relevance of his songs to Australians – bordered on the patronising. Johns and Kimbra drifted on- and off-stage as needed during Parks’ works, providing vocal (and occasionally musical) backing, and the Adelaide Art Orchestra were sterling throughout: a thankless task for them, since there were often long periods where they were required to remain stationary whilst Parks dribbled on or performed his tunes solo on the piano.

But the most memorable part of the performance, for me, had little to do with the performers. At the start of the second set, Parks appeared and urged the audience to watch the show through their eyes, not their cameras; not only was the recording of the show not allowed, he explained, but the performers deserved your full attention… and on this (and, quite possibly, only this) we agreed. But as Daniel Johns took to the stage and – with Kimbra’s intermittent help – performed a sizeable chunk of Silverchair material, a chap just across the aisle from me started recording the show. Eyes darting for signs of security, he’d hold his phone close to his chest, peeking at it awkwardly every minute or so to check the framing of his shot.

After a couple of songs, I decided to to be a busybody. I ducked across the aisle and whispered in his ear “Come on, mate, you’ve been asked not to record – put it away.” He glanced towards me, startled, but I was already slinking back to my seat; a few minutes later and a security guard was by his side. But, having performed what I thought was my moral duty, I was only left to observe the further descent into crapulence that was the Van Dyke Parks experience.

To be fair, though, there were a couple of standout performances: some of Johns’ Silverchair work came across really well (to massive cheers from the audience), and Parks performed an Allen Toussaint number and a rendition of A Night in the Tropics (written in 1857) that were genuinely great. Unfortunately, the latter also demonstrated some of the confusion inherent in the presentation. “The best is yet to come,” Parks had said, in explaining to us that music is always getting better; but he then proudly announces that Tropics is over a hundred years old… surely that implies that he’s choosing less good songs to perform? It certainly felt like it.

And the closing bracket? Awful. “Put on your sailin’ shoes,” Parks nasally droned over a plinky plonk piano piece, while the AAO sat uncomfortably – criminally – onstage, before a butchered couple of notes from Waltzing Matilda were dropped in.

Performance over, Helen and I looked at each other in sheer disbelief. And, as we left the theatre, the chap with the camera who I’d verbally prodded tapped me on the shoulder.

“Hey, man, sorry about that before,” he said.

“Well, you were recording when you’d been explicitly asked not to.”

“Nah… I wasn’t recording it for me. I was recording it for my Dad. He’s in hospital with cancer. It’s all OK… I’m not going to upload it or anything. I just didn’t want you to think I was doing anything wrong.”

“Sorry, mate, but you were recording. You shouldn’t have been. The artist even asked you not to. In my books, that’s wrong. But what I think doesn’t matter.”

I turned and walked away; in my wake, I heard a feeble “Fuck you.”

I felt righteous. That seems unbelievably petty, but that’s how it really felt.

But back to the performance: it strikes me as hilarious that some recounts I’ve read of this performance have lauded it so unequivocally. They’ve all spoken with deep knowledge of the work presented.

But, to this uninitiated n00b whose knowledge of all three performers was extremely limited, this show was a complete and utter dud.

I spent a good two-thirds of the show laughing at the show. The insertion of Waltzing Matilda was ridiculous – a completely jaw-dropping “really? really?” moment that would raise a cynical eyebrow had Justin Bieber attempted it, but is apparently regarded by some breathless commentators as the greatest thing to ever happen to bilateral relations.

And that’s just bullshit.

There were two good things that came out of this show: the Adelaide Art Orchestra’s performance was exemplary throughout, and Helen has proved to be a cracking friend. As for Van Dyke Parks and friends? Let us never speak of them again.

[2013103] Internal

[2013103] Internal

Ontroerend Goed @ State Theatre Company Rehearsal Room

2:00pm, Thu 7 Mar 2013

I’m super early for my Internal session, and I’m excited: I know absolutely nothing about the work, and the Festival staff I chat to beforehand are giving little away… and the few snippets they do reveal intrigue me no end. “I hope everyone turns up,” one of them says; “there must be five in the audience, and yesterday there were no-shows.”

But they clam up with details thereafter, so we chat about the periphery of managing theatre-goers: about the presumed entitlement of latecomers, about people taking photos in the audience, and about how the ushers (almost always thanklessly) shut them down (including hanging around to ensure the photos/movies have been deleted).

Luckily, all five of the audience have turned up: two women, a younger couple (in their thirties?), and myself. We go downstairs, wind our way through the corridors until we reach a space with five white crosses on the floor. “Stand on them,” we’re told by our accompaniment, “and face the curtain.” We do so, giggling: the proximity of the crosses to the curtain has our noses almost touching the cloth. I’m at the far left.

The curtain lifts, and there’s five other people a foot away from us. Directly across from us. Staring at us. The eye contact is hard to break, to look down the line at the performers. After a few (tense, almost uncomfortable) moments, the performers start changing positions one-at-a-time; the tall bearded man I was originally facing is replaced by an even taller, unspeakably gorgeous woman. We look into each other’s eyes, but She’s so tall that I can’t see Her through my glasses – more over them.

She ever-so-gently slides her hand into the small of my back and guides me away from the rest of the group; on the other side of the rehearsal space are five small booths, dimly lit within but fronted by translucent black curtains. She guides me into the middle of these booths, and gestures for me to sit at the small table within; She sits opposite, Her every movement elegant and considered. Refined. We look into each others eyes, and I feel compelled to quietly say “Hello”; She just smiles back.

On the table is a small lamp, a bottle of Cointreau, and two small glasses; She pours two measures of the drink (a personal favourite), pushes one glass towards me. I pick it up, we clink glasses in a silent toast, we drink. I’m starting to hear burbles of conversation from the other booths; I feel like we should be talking, that I’m missing a cue for this interaction. “It’s much smoother on ice,” I say to Her, motioning to the drink; She just looks back at me, faint smile and those deep brown eyes.

I’m gulping, She’s sipping considerately; I finish the drink, put my glass down, then return my gaze to Her. “I’m feeling a bit lost,” I say, “Should I be… doing… something?”

She smiles, and very quietly – but firmly – says “There’s no need to talk.” Her eyes soften; She reaches for my hand and starts slowly squeezing it with Hers, running Her thumb over the back of my hand.

We stare at each other a moment, and something in her eyes changes; something flashes into my mind: we’re breaking up. This can’t work. But then She uses Her other hand to flatten mine out, and explores its shape with Her fingertips; the hand then moves up. She lightly touches my face, my hair, my neck; I’m a sucker for neck contact, so I find myself craning to allow her all the access to my neck She wants. She grabs both my hands, and we stare – deeply? – into each others eyes for a moment, before She lifts my right hand to Her face.

I trace Her jawline, Her ear, gently touch Her hair; it feels somehow wrong to be doing this, but there’s an intimacy within the space that is really blurring the lines between the performance I want to give, and the performance I think I should give. But, with our eyes still locked together, I trace Her jaw line one more time and return my hand on top of Hers; She smiles softly, encourages me from my seat, and we leave the booth.

There’s now a circle of chairs in the middle of the room, and She seats me in one of the chairs that faces all the booths; I see all the other “couples” talking, giggling; it all looks completely foreign to the experience I just had, silent and potent and tactile and a little bit uncomfortable. I feel a little jealous of them in their chatty enclaves. One by one the other couples come out and sit down; once all ten of us are seated, the performers go around the circle introducing their “dates”. I’m last in the cycle, and I realise my “date” wouldn’t know my name; Her turn comes to speak, and She smokily looks at me: “I don’t need to know his name.”

Around the circle again, the actors talk about the other’s positives: “We touched each other… in a dark place,” She says. The words look smutty on the screen as I type this, but She had imbued them with a tenderness.

Around the circle again, negatives this time: “There is nothing bad to say about him.”

Once more around… how do the performers rate their dates out of ten? Would we see them again? There’s a few scores, cheeky giggles at the discrepancies. One couple kiss; the male audient’s partner squealed in horror. One couple is shy, and they take turns whispering their thoughts to us with their opposite out of earshot; then comes my date.

She turns to face me. She flicks her hair back behind Her shoulders, reaches behind her neck; one woman on the other side of the circle gasps “oh my god” as she sees my date undo her dress. The dress is folded down, revealing Her (glorious, it must be said) bare breasts; “Is this what you wanted to see?” She said.

Confusion; I can’t look straight at them. I can’t.

But I’m honest, always honest. “Not really,” I say. The words come out quiet, nervous, probably unconvincing. Strangely enough (and, in retrospect, bucking the stereotype) all I wanted to do is look into those brown eyes again.

The dress is back on, and She takes my hand, gets me to stand; soft music starts playing, and She puts one hand on my shoulder and takes my hand in the other. I grab her waist, and we start dancing – I think I hear quiet giggles and gasps from the other four audience members, but I can’t really tell as we dance slowly and I want to pull Her in closer to me but I don’t know what my role is and She’s so tall that if I hugged her I’d be burying my face in those breasts that had recently been exposed to me and sweet jesus this feels good. Warm, comforting. I realise that the others are being encouraged to dance too; soon they’re all up, we’re all dancing. She leans down and whispers to me – “I’d like to send you something. Can I have your address?” “Sure,” I say, half intoxicated by the emotions of the experience, and I scrawl out my address without even considering what the result may be.

Eventually, the audience – the guests – are encouraged to return to the white crosses, and we face each other one last time. Three kisses on the cheek. “Goodbye.” “…Thank you.”

And the curtain drops.

We look at each other in disbelief for a moment, before the laughter begins.

As we were guided up the stairs, one of the staff members asked who my date had been; I stammered in my attempt to describe the experience. “Oh, you got the silent booth,” she grinned, and it took all the self-control I had not to blurt the secrets of Internal out in front of the next group waiting for this… almost unbelievable experience.

And then, a week later, some mail arrived.

[2013101] Murder

[2013101] Murder

Erth @ Queen’s Theatre

9:00pm, Wed 6 Mar 2013

I’m not a massive Nick Cave fan, though that’s not because I dislike his work; I just haven’t been exposed to much of his music (and none of his writings). But what I have heard – stuff like The Mercy Seat and Red Right Hand – has left me with the impression that the man is capable of dark, brooding creations like no other. So when Murder was announced, insisting that it was dark-themed puppetry inspired by Cave’s Murder Ballads, I was sold; as with clowns, I’ve always imagined puppets to have a twisted existence hiding behind their public personae.

Led by a human narrator who was seeking human intimacy – but prone to violent outbursts – scenes from his imagination (or memory?) were played out with puppets. Erth’s puppets are dirty, seedy, almost grotesque characters who engage in dirty, seedy, and violent acts… because Murder is very much about Death. And Sex. And, curiously, Sex And Death, with one scene in particular turning from a vivid piece of puppet pornography into something far more vicious.

The puppetry itself was excellent, with the characters given real emotion and weight by their black-clad handlers – sometimes a simple, considered turn-of-the-head can speak volumes, and the arching of backs during the sex scene was delicious. And the selection of Cave’s music to propel the piece proved to be superb, with only occasional use of song lyrics as literal narrative devices.

The only mis-step in the production was (what felt like) a protracted video game sequence, where the sole (human) actor Graeme Rhodes engaged in cold, violent shooting with a series of projected enemies. As a gamer, this felt like a horribly hackneyed reference to the violence that can be found within the medium… the intent was good, but the implementation heavy-handed.

But the rest of the performance is spot-on, from the contrast between human and puppet actors (including a nice moment when Rhodes himself is controlled by the puppeteers), to the twist in the tale of the hitch-hiker, to the more subtly handled observances of society’s acceptance of (and obsession with) violence and murder. It was an incredibly imaginative and beautifully realised production that, whilst still a little clunky in places, was immensely satisfying to watch.

[2013100] Children / A Few Minutes of Lock

[2013100] Children / A Few Minutes of Lock

Louise Lecavalier @ Space Theatre

7:15pm, Wed 6 Mar 2013

And so show One Hundred for the season rolled around, and I was thrilled that it happened to be a Festival dance piece; as I am prone to saying, I know nothing about dance, but I love to watch it anyway… and with a curated dance piece, there’s always the assurance that someone thinks it’s pretty good, even if I miss the point.

The opening piece, Nigel Charnock’s Children, was completely lost on me… it seemed to be using the physical performance to create an impenetrable series of metaphors for something – perhaps the titular children? – but I was unable to fathom its message or intent. The movements were likewise confusing: at times Louise Lecavalier and Patrick Lamothe would be scuttling around on hands and knees, whereas other moments clearly have a more classical influence. With a mish-mash of musical backing and searing interludes (accompanied by short strobe bursts), and a simple black staging, it was really difficult to get into this piece at all.

A Few Minutes of Lock (a series of short pieces choreographed by Édouard Lock) was much more approachable, however… maybe due to the bite-sized nature of the performances. Lecavalier was joined by Keir Knight (and, later, Lamothe again) for a much more dynamic, physical display that was immediately engaging and thoroughly entertaining.

And then came the encore – a brief snippet where the dancers engaged each other with hand-slaps before the interactivity twisted their bodies into a human knot. A fleeting moment, maybe, but a wonderful highlight.

As with Guillem, Lecavalier’s movements onstage completely belie her age; though clearly less of a balletic frame than the former, Louise was capable of astonishing speed and power, yet still manages to exude a lightness, a soft touch; were it not for the overly dense opening piece, this performance would have been super-satisfying. Instead, I was left to dwell on the thirty minutes of sheer gold, and hope that the other forty minutes were meaningful to one more knowledgable in dance.

[2013098] One Man, Two Guvnors

[2013098] One Man, Two Guvnors

National Theatre Great Britain @ Her Majesty’s Theatre

2:00pm, Wed 6 Mar 2013

Let it never be said that I didn’t absolutely love the first half of One Man, Two Guvnors – it was a masterful display of laugh-a-second slapstick comedy. But the problem is that this reworking of commedia dell’arte exemplum Servant of Two Masters is, at its heart, a deceitful production that takes advantage of the audience’s goodwill… and whilst there were many, many, many audience members who loved this presentation, it managed to rub me completely the wrong way.

Presented almost in a vaudevillian style, with skiffle band The Craze performing live during set changes, One Man, Two Guvnors really milks laughs through outlandish delivery, “mistakes” that remind me of Sound and Fury‘s stock trade, and plenty of fourth-wall-breaking asides to the audience. And whilst the early dalliances with the audience felt gloriously spontaneous – I’m thinking of the hummus sandwich incident, here – I started to get a little annoyed with the constant references back to the crowd: lead performer Owain Arthur’s fits of laughter at audience “responses” didn’t quite sell me – they felt loud, hammy… fake.

But the end of the first Act was a highlight for me, because it’s where everything went so right – and so seriously wrong – for the show. After “encouraging” the impeccably dressed audience member Caroline Patterson onstage, she was banished to a part of the stage where she could see nothing… and was, initially, ignored. The rest of the cast then engaged in a slapstick masterclass within a restaurant setting, with aged and infirm waiter Alfie providing guffaws of physical humour, before Patterson’s presence was exposed and she was messily caught in the crossfire of a food-fight.

Dress ruined, you could see the shock on her face as she was led into the wings at the closing of the Act.

I went to the interval thinking that they’d genuinely crossed the line. I retrospectively felt ashamed at myself for laughing so heartily at the performance; the considerable goodwill that the performance had earned was forgotten, and instead the production started the second act from within a deep, dark hole in my mind… and it was unable to claw its way out. By the end of the show, I was still feeling incredibly negative towards the show; seeing “Caroline Patterson” in the curtain call, bowing and singing the closing number, felt like a slap in the face. You’ve been cheated, my cheeks throbbed. And I don’t like that.

Talking to other people who had seen – and loved – the show confirmed that the hummus sandwich gag, as well as Ms Patterson, were indeed plants. And yes, I had some hearty laughs, and was thoroughly entertained for stretches… but that dishonesty cheapens the ordeal in retrospect, and leaves me incredibly disappointed.

[2013092] Thursday

[2013092] Thursday

Brink Productions & English Touring Theatre @ Norwood Concert Hall

11:00am, Tue 5 Mar 2013

The story of Gill Hicks is both tragic and inspiring: the Adelaide-born woman was the last living survivor rescued from the 7/7 bombings in London, with both her legs being amputated below the knee (and even then, she was not expected to survive her injuries). Bryony Lavery’s script is based on Hicks’ life both before and after the event; in fact, the bombing itself is almost downplayed. Far from being an blunt treatise on terrorism, Thursday is a very human story.

A contemplative opening sees us introduced to a plethora of characters and their morning routines: love and frustration and anger, all mired in domesticity. But the play twists sharply after a terrorist attack, and the characters’ lives become entwined within the confines of a hospital; motions and emotions blur, with relief and anguish and anger all on display. Rose – the character inspired by Hicks – quickly becomes central to the lives of others, as her common thread allows access to doctors and nurses and victims and the bereaved.

There’s no doubting that Thursday packs a powerful punch: Lavery’s script is chock full of believable interactions between believable characters, and even when Rose is left alone onstage there’s an ongoing battle with herself. Performances are universally wonderful (with most performers in multiple roles), and the set is a creative gem: two or three scenettes can occur simultaneously, providing the audience with everyday minutia… and, later, a barrage of grief and panic.

But the thing that I most remember now is the aural atmosphere; music was sparse and effective, but the moment of the bombing itself – rather than being a monstrous cacophony of light and sound, as one might expect – was almost muted: one moment there’s the mild discomfort of packed commuters on a train, then a blackout preceded the revelation of a pile of bodies. But that absence of sound sticks with me still, and remains a remarkable decision amongst Chris Drummond’s sterling direction.

I loved (or, rather, was left feeling like I’d seen something special in) Thursday – unsurprising, really, since Brink really knows how to connect with me. That this production couples such a powerful story (full of sensitivity and humanity both familiar and foreign) with superb performances (Kate Mulvany’s central role is absolutely wonderful) is a real work of art.

[2013090] Kronos Quartet

[2013090] Kronos Quartet

Kronos Quartet + Bryce Dessner & Zephyr Quartet + JG Thirwell @ Thebarton Theatre

7:00pm, Mon 4 Mar 2013

As mentioned before, Kronos Quartet were most certainly the reason I bought this ticket early; but I’m rapidly (rabidly?) becoming a Zephyr Quartet fanboy, and the opportunity to see JG Thirwell (the man behind industrial stalwart Foetus, and responsible for one of my favourite Nine Inch Nails remixes) was also a pretty big drawcard… needless to say I was pretty excited heading into Thebby.

My neighbours, on the other hand, were most certainly not thrilled to be there… nor were they pleased that the average age of the audience tended towards the mid-thirties. It’s fair to say that they had a traditionalist approach to string quartets that they’d formed many decades ago; faces frozen in a perpetual scowl, any attempt to make conversation was instantly scotched with a glare. I note that their mood lightened briefly when Festival Director David Sefton walked towards us; the scowl returned when he and I chatted for a minute or so. He was a row closer to the stage than I; “take my seat after the interval,” he offered, “I’ve got to go back into town to see Sylvie.”

“Come on, man,” I retorted, “it’s pretty easy to schedule all this stuff.” He laughed, shook my hand, and took his seat; the Mayor and Mayoress of FunTown next to me huffed audibly.

The lights dropped, and Zephyr Quartet took to the stage with JG Thirwell. And, without mincing words, their performance was absolutely the kind of thing I live for: ominous notes, unsettling chords, a brooding sense of uncertain terror in every moment, it was like listening to an Edgar Allan Poe poem in musical form. With Thirwell supporting the Quartet on keys and percussion, the pace and tension of some of their pieces (in particular, their third work) was utterly invigorating.

Again, let me be quite clear: Zephyr + Thirwell was awesome, and stoked the Zephyr fanboy flames ever-higher.

My grumpy neighbours left during the subsequent interval, never to return: this was not Their Kind Of Quartet (but they are, most certainly, my kind of quartet). A quick chat with Sefton – “that was fucking awesome” sounds like something I’d say – and I availed myself of the opportunity to steal his seat, inching closer to Kronos.

Despite my mild disappointment I experienced after their previous performance, the first piece that Kronos performed won me over: engaging and thoughtful, it was a beautiful introduction. The second piece was a quirky number, seeing the quartet adopt a number of other instruments – an electric zither, a portable record player – and I was starting to grin madly.

But then I detected some noise in the background – was that a backing track? I listened harder, and couldn’t shake the idea that they were performing atop a pre-recorded backdrop – instantly, a good chunk of the mystery and magic disappeared. I was still enjoying myself, but the second-guessing of what was “real” and what was pre-recorded lessened the thrill noticeably.

JG Thirwell’s composition Eremikophobia (a fear of sand or deserts) was a drawn out monster, with a seemingly endless denouement that felt perfectly weighted – proper hold-your-breath-waiting-for-the-last-note-to-fade stuff. Finally, Bryce Dessner joined Kronos onstage; that piece threatened to dissolve into polyrhythmic art rock-wank, but was luckily saved by the rock power of Dessner’s guitar.

As I headed back into the city, I couldn’t help but think the scheduling of that performance was all wrong: as much as I enjoyed the musical content of Kronos’ set, it was tarnished by the backing track second-guessing… and the fact that Zephyr’s set blew them off the stage. Imagine walking into the warm evening having just been unsettled by those notes – the very thought gives me goosebumps.

[2013087] Dirtday!

[2013087] Dirtday!

Laurie Anderson @ Dunstan Playhouse

7:30pm, Sun 3 Mar 2013

There’s no point trying to hide the fact that I was disappointed by Laurie Anderson’s first paid offering this Festival, so I scooted into the Playhouse a little… well, wary. Hoping for the best, naturally, but preparing to ward off another snooze.

As per usual, I start chatting to my neighbours, a Tasmanian couple in Adelaide for the weekend; we compare notes and, as I raved animatedly about Skeleton, I discover that they (claim to) know Larissa McGowan personally. They’re thrilled to hear my ham-fisted and completely inadequate description of how amazing it was; they promised to pass on the compliments, before explaining the some of the finer points of Laurie Anderson’s body of work to me.

The stage is littered with candles, an armchair, various microphones, a keyboard, Anderson’s violin; there’s something about the candles that screams “these are precisely placed to appear nonchalant”, but I can’t figure out why they appear that way, nor why they should appear that way. The ambience is contemplative, but with a casual vibe; meditative and mysterious. And when Anderson walks onstage (I dwelt for ages on that verb – it wasn’t as focussed as a stride, nor lazy as an amble), it’s to rapturous applause – and I realised that I still didn’t know quite what to expect.

What followed was an odd mélange of spoken-word and music, of private and political; Anderson flits from story to poem to song, skirting across instruments and soundscapes and vocal manipulations, the steady rhythm of her voice just about the only constant in her delivery. Religion, politics, painting, art; feminism, the underprivileged, the loss of identity in modernity. It’s all in there, it’s all colourful, and it should be a mish-mash of grey as a result…

…but somehow every element of the performance comes together to form a cohesive whole. And the thing that makes it work for me is Anderson’s spoken delivery: it’s wonderfully measured, and she demonstrates a superb sense of timing, especially when it comes to injecting humour or sadness into the proceedings; no more so than when she spoke of her dog. What seemed like an eccentric excursion into the piano-playing of Lolabelle turned into a deeply touching tale of loss… a real rollercoaster of a sojourn.

I found Dirtday! to be an absolutely enthralling performance. Without settling on a single form of delivery, or even a single theme, Anderson somehow manages to conjure a sense of cohesion in the work that I still can’t quite figure out; that I can still be dwelling on her methods (and her message) some nine months on seems appropriate… and satisfying.