Theatre Group GUMBO @ Higher Ground (Art Base)
9:30pm, Wed 27 Feb 2008
So I’m writing up some shows in the bar at Holden Street last Sunday (before Mile High) when I overhear someone mention that they’d seen Mind Eater to the bar staff. I go over and ask him what he’d thought of it.
“Oh, it’s wonderful,” he said. “When you’ve worked in theatre as long as I have, you recognise all the different methods of blocking, and what they’re done is quite clever – they’ve boiled it down to the essence of musical theatre.”
“Ummmm… OK,” I say. “I saw GUMBO’s show last year [Sakura Sayer] and thought it was great… just wondered whether it was more of the same.”
“Oh? I don’t think they performed here last year.”
I point to the poster on the wall. “Oh yes. They were utter nutball Japanese loveliness.”
He snorts. “Well, I’ve had an interest in Japanese culture for years, and one of my friends is a lecturer in Japanese culture at UniSA. Mind Eater really draws on aspects of anime and magna [sic] in the production.”
And it’s now that I get really annoyed – on the inside, mind you – because I notice his media badge. He’s a reviewer – a journalist, he corrects me later – for one of Adelaide’s street papers. And he’s speaking very authoritatively.
So I’ll spell this out: EM – AY – EN – GEE – AY. Manga. Pronounced “mun-guh” or “man-guh”, with a short last “a”. Or “man-gay”, if you’re a dickhead teenage otaku wannabe trying to be funny.
Now – most people will probably think, “So what, Pete? So he said a word wrong. Big fucking deal. Get over it, you pedantic prick.”
To which I retort: yes. Yes, it is a big fucking deal. This man was trying to impress upon me the depth of his knowledge and, by getting that one little word wrong, by making it apparent that he’s talking complete bollocks on that one particular point, it calls into question everything that comes out of his mouth.
And this is the type of person who makes or breaks shows. The little blurbs created by these “journalists” can drive hordes towards performers or, just as easily, keep them away. And the stark realisation that they may be dribbling complete shit just hit home.
Let’s talk about Mind Eater then, shall we? :}
As mentioned above, I saw GUMBO’s Sakura Sayer last year. Loud and extravagant, it had an infectious charm that still brings a reflective smile to my face; thus, GUMBO’s new work was a shoe-in for this year.
Mind Eater is based on the quest of a Female to be happy; after being dumped by her boyfriend, she first chases happiness in a quest to find another man. She dies while attempting to starve herself thin, but is reincarnated a total of three times… each reincarnation see her chasing happiness via another route. The mysterious Mr Master also has his eye on the Female, and the male supporting cast acts as various Souls and comic relief.
Again, GUMBO presents in a very extravagant manner – wild gestures and exaggerated Japlish (including lots of G’Days, No Worries, and the occasional Crikey). What starts out as a rather simply staged show rapidly deteriorates into a deliciously delirious mess – when all three renditions of the Female are onstage at once, surrounded by the wacky-sign-brandishing Souls, with Mr Master prancing around, and the air filled with plush baby parts(!), it’s a treat for the eyes and a challenge for the brain.
There’s a bit of audience interaction – one audience member is called up to serve as food for the “first” Female, another acts as a wife for a bizarre game-show host. It’s all wonderfully good fun; costumes are gloriously oddball, props are brilliant (lots of food plushies), and there’s even a deeper message of positivity to the whole show.
In fact, the only real problem with Mind Eater was the venue. Tiny – 30 people, I reckon – and wodged in the basement beneath the Higher Ground café, it’s plagued by the cunning placement of supporting columns that, upon first impression, create a natural staging area. Later, it becomes apparent that all the columns are good for is destroying sight lines. The Art Base is small, cramped, poorly laid out, and just all-round shit.
But I don’t really want that rant – and the one opening this post – to rub off on the show. Mind Eater was another riotous, addictive gaggle of giggles, and worth every cent that you could donate to GUMBO. Here’s hoping that the rumours that they’ll be joining the Garden brigade next year are true; even though they had a packed house tonight, they deserve much bigger audiences than the Art Base can provide. Such enthusiasm and genius cannot go unrewarded.