[20040093] Ivan Rebroff

Ivan Rebroff

Ivan Rebroff @ Festival Theatre

8:00pm, Mon 15 Mar 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Big singy guy sung a bit, and had a chat…

After a gorgeous instrumental opening by four supporting musicians (on the balalaika, “bass” balalaika, “pregnant” balalaika, and some 12 zillion button accordian type of thing), Ivan Rebroff strides onstage wrapped in a bear. Well, a hell of a lot of fur, anyway. The huge fur overcoat was dispensed with almost immediately, but a den of foxes stayed atop Rebroff’s head for the duration of the performance, whether he was roaming the stage or sitting imperiously in his throne.

With overcoat doffed, Rebroff reminded me of the Jolly Green Giant as he repeatedly sang a song & chatted amiably (in decent English) with the audience. The last song before the interval was a unique version of Waltzing Matilda (all the emphasis on the wrong words), then a costume change saw the musicians lead into the second act with a trio of delicate snippets from Nutcracker. Another series of songs/chats, and the performance was over – leaving the audience happy, but quizically looking at their watches.

Throughout, Rebroff constantly sipped (occasionally gulped) wine; and his vocal performance was not really what I was expecting. I reckon only the bottom half of his four-and-a-half octave range got a decent workout, with the closing songs expanding a bit, but losing out in terms of volume. Still, it was an entertaining enough show – and judging by the ticket prices & two capacity crowds, a tidy money-earner for the Festival.

[20040090] And on the Thousandth Night…

And on the Thousandth Night…

Forced Entertainment @ Royalty Theatre

6:00pm, Sat 13 Mar 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: An entertaining bit of theatrical stamina – but is it art?

Once upon a time…

Once upon a time there were seven performers from a UK-based ensemble (barefoot, and clad in simple red cloaks & cardboard crowns) that sat at the front of a stage and presented a cut-down version of one of their 24-hour performance pieces. The audience are free to some and go as they please during the 6-hour-long Thousandth Night, which poses no problems to the comprehension of the performance, because it is simply a collection of short stories preceded by the phrase “once upon a time…”.

As one of the performers sees fit to interject, or simply end the current thread, they would call out “Stop”, and start another story with “once upon a time”. (Much) more often than not, their “new” story would contain elements of the previous story – or mix elements of stories from several hours ago; and thus, a very long, winding, often absurd collection of unfinished stories.

As the performers tire, get hungry, or just get pissed off that their story was neutered in its prime, they take their chair and retire to the back of the stage, where they can eat, drink, sleep (!), or disappear to the wings to smoke or otherwise relieve themselves. And the duration of the show is very important – as the performance progresses, the behaviour of the players changes somewhat – story change-overs slow, threads become weightier and more considered, they become noticably irritated with each others interruptions and inclinations – time becomes as important an actor as the humans onstage.

As for subject matter? Movies, plays (we start with King Lear), books, nursery rhymes, fables, physics, the God of Love, axe cannibalism, sex mad kings/plumbers/gorillas/high schools/(etc), mirrors that reflect evil, nose pickers, politics, good/bad thieves, plagues… the list is almost endless. As the night wore on, individual stories would run longer (up to 5 minutes); as some players got their second/third winds (or just had something to say), the rapid-fire changeovers returned… “Once…” followed immediately by “STOP!”

Occasionally, the story would be morbid – a tragic death, a wife discovering her husband was collecting child pornography, a brother & sister becoming sexually intimate, the Twin Towers… and the audience would become deathly quiet, waiting on every word as if it possessed great weight. Unfortunately, when the story started verging on popular distaste, the inevitable “stop” would be heard, and the subject would be avoided. This was a great pity, IMHO, and at odds with the attitude of First Night.

To be honest, I took seven columns of notes during this performance – just tracking threads and the looks & performance of the actors during this piece. And, in the cold light of day on the morning after, I can’t figure out whether I could consider this art or not. Yes, it was certainly entertaining, occasionally confronting; and yes, it was always interesting, if only to watch the reaction of the players during a boring story – would they let their colleague uncomfortably meander? And the final story was beautiful: “Once upon a time there was a mouth that wouldn’t stop talking; ears that wouldn’t stop listening; eyes that wouldn’t stop watching; …”.

But was it art, or was it just adept storytelling?

[20040084] I Bought a Spade at Ikea to Dig My Own Grave

I Bought a Spade at Ikea to Dig My Own Grave

La Carniceria Teatro @ The Space

9:00pm, Thu 11 Mar 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Food-mangling anti-consumerism avant garde performance art theatre

Spanish company La Carniceria Teatro (“The Butchery of Theatre”) present a, quite frankly, messy statement on modern life with Ikea. Spanish dialouge is translated onto a screen behind the stage for the duration of the performance, and occasionally short video clips are also displayed there too.

Opening with a list of common societal grievances, confronting the audience with a controversial list of Top 40 All-Time Motherfuckers (Lennon & Ghandi?), and closing with performer Juan Loriente shaving using a wreath-decorated mirror, Ikea was a bleak and absurd rant that, almost inexplicably, used the mangling of food at almost every turn. Cornflakes and milk served with a huge knife? Drowning a boy in gravy?

Creator Rodrigo Garcia’s anti-Argentinian (why?) message is given a good airing, too. There’s a disturbing role-reversal paedophile scene, a movie that literally gave societal icons the finger (especially death), and a great “masking tape logo” scene.

Sure, there was a general overwhelming feeling of anti-consumerism, but was there any finer point to it all? Was the spewing of unfrozen lasagna a comment on the gluttony that pervades our society? Why were exactly six bottles of sauce and mustard emptied onto hotdogs held by a near-naked man? Was Christmas really that bad that they had to explode both a tree and a turkey? Was there any significant social comment behind shoving food up their own arses?

In short, was there any more subtle meaning to this? More questions were asked than answered in Ikea, though this may not have been the intention of La Carniceria Teatro.

[20040080] First Night

First Night

Forced Entertainment @ Royalty Theatre

8:00pm, Wed 10 Mar 2004

Score: 9

Short Review: Brutal

Brutal. There’s no other word for this piece from UK-based Forced Entertainment. A lot of the audience around me tended to use words such as “boring” and “shit”, but I’ve never experienced anything so confronting, so harsh… so brutal.

Initially, it seemed like First Night may be a comedy – eight characters appear onstage with forced grins and heavy makeup, bidding welcome. Slowly, the grins wear off, only to return suddenly. A breast appears. Characters drift offstage, returning wearing blindfolds. They start trying to read the audience’s minds.

And this is where it gets nasty, where the true confrontational nature of the performance is shown. The performers start pointing at various people in the audience and telling them how they’ll die. Initial prognostications have an amusing quality about them, the audience giggling; then one of the characters points at a woman and says, quietly, “a lump in your breast”. The room goes cold; she continues, pointing to other members in the stalls: “cancer… of the bowel. A car accident. Drowning.” Every so often, there’s a nervous (or stress-relieving) titter from a pocket of the crowd – but it is soon muted.

This goes on for about 15 minutes. 15 minutes of introspection. Tough.

Later pieces continue to focus on the morbid, whilst the characters demand that we do not think about it. “Don’t think about war, don’t think about death, don’t think about the death of your parents, don’t think about the death of your children.” Most of the performance is going on inside your own head; Forced Entertainment are just directing.

Indeed, the lightest moment of the performance was the performance of the Balloon Bimbo (inexplicably joined onstage by a blindfolded man with a saw) – her seedy languidity seemed both surreal and superior. But, for the most part, this performance felt like the cast were pointing their finger at you and laughing. Sad, pitiful laughter perhaps, but the joke was on you – you were the performer. Occasionally, the performers would have some fun at each other’s expense – the various levels of boredom during the “mystery?/illusion” sketch were quite amusing – but all the while, the dialog is still depressingly morbid.

Of course, not everyone likes to have the words “You’re shit, and you know you are” sung to them for a couple of minutes, and so this performance may not appeal to everyone. Or anyone. Except me. Challenging? – hell yes.

[20040077] Blood on the Floor

Blood on the Floor

Absolute Ensemble / Adelaide Symphony Orchestra @ Adelaide Town Hall

8:00pm, Tue 9 Mar 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Punchy

It’s easy to tell the members of the ASO and the Absolute Ensemble apart – the former turn up to work in their standard black presentation garb, the latter wear whatever they feel like… which creates an interesting dress aesthetic onstage.

Not that it detracts from the music, oh no. Blood on the Floor is a moody, punchy piece of music – the Prologue was a particularly brutal, stabbing introduction, Shout was exploded into an aggressive piece, and Sweet & Decay was everything it claimed to be. The closing piece, Dispelling the Fears, was ominous; and throughout, Absolute’s Kristjan Jarvi conducted with aplomb.

The problem I had with Blood on the Floor is that the string section was inactive for about half the performance – indeed, Needles seemed to be more oriented towards a jazz/funk fusion band than an orchestra. ASO equals strings to me, so this was a bit of a bummer. Still, the oomph provided by the decorative ends to each piece were compensation enough.

[20040075] Absolute Zappa

Absolute Zappa

Absolute Ensemble @ Adelaide Town Hall

9:00pm, Mon 8 Mar 2004

Score: 8

Short Review: Blusteringly gutsy

The Absolute Ensemble, based in New York City and led by Kristjan Jarvi, presented two hours of interpretations of Frank Zappa tunes. The audience was an eclectic mix – classic Arts patrons, old-school Zappa deadheads, and Zappa aficionados.

Jarvi conducts like an excitable loon – he grins manically at his ensemble, drifts off to chat with them during solos, and is the personification of the mad young conductor stereotype. The wonderful thing was watching the musicians get into the music – there was almost more head-bobbing Zappa-digging onstage than there was in the audience. Most of the songs covered were arranged by Charles Coleman and the Ensemble’s Gene Pritsker, who wielded a guitar onstage.

If anything, the problem with this show is that it started too well – “Filthy Habits” was an astonishingly good opener, thumping the audience right in the third eye, and was almost impossible to better. “G-Spot Tornado” challenged it, with a surging, dynamic orchestration; likewise, “Packard Goose” had a stupendous crescendo; “Teenage Prostitute” raced along brilliantly; and “Muffin Man” was a great closer. Bowing to audience demand, Absolute encored “Dirty Love”, complete with a rap by Pritsker.

The only other issue was that the string section of the ensemble sounded a little overwhelmed early on; still, the arrangements of the chosen songs were fantastic: closing your eyes and trying to disassemble the collusion in your mind was magical. A truly unique experience.

[20040071] The Big, Big Top Show

The Big, Big Top Show

Circus Oz @ Rundle Park

12:00pm, Sun 7 Mar 2004

Score: 9

Short Review: Spectacular!

A fiery opening introduces Circus Oz to the crowd, and it’s immediately apparent just how polished this performance is. From the RoofWalk, to the juggling, to the presentation of something as simple as the contortion act – it all oozes class, the kind of polish that requires oodles of training in a professional company.

And Circus Oz are true to their name – not only do they perform the classic stunts that we’ve come to expect of a circus company, but they insert an element of Australiana in there too – witness the cockatoo trapeze act. The elements of balance (especially on the bikes) and clownery were there too, all wonderfully performed with the same care as the rest of the show.

Sure, there were slip-ups; there was the odd lull in proceedings; some of the acts may have superior renditions elsewhere in the Fringe; and the Humanitarian Cannon act, whilst noble, may be a trifle too political for a circus. But as a whole, Circus Oz provided a spectacular, family-friendly show.

[20040066] 12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men

Guy Masterton / Assembly Theatre @ Scott Theatre

3:00pm, Sat 6 Mar 2004

Score: 9

Short Review: Compelling theatre

It appeared to be an open-and-shut case: a 16 year old boy on trial for the murder of his father. One eyewitness caught him in the act; another places him at the scene. Psychologists taint the boy as “the murdering type”. An easy day at the office for the jury, surely.

Yet Juror 08 – wonderfully played by Owen O’Neill – is unconvinced by the evidence, though not exactly sure why. To the protestations of the other jurors, he refuses to commit to a guilty verdict – he just wants to discuss the case a little more before effectively sentencing a boy to death. So begins the to-ing and fro-ing of this jury room battle, as evidence is called into question, egos are inflamed, and twelve men – each with their own perceptions and prejudices – struggle to converge to a consensus.

This was a masterfully portrayed piece of theatre; even with nowt but a table, twelve chairs, and a water cooler for props, the script crackles along at an electric pace. The timing of the twelve men is impeccable, the tense dialogue occassionally punctuated by spots of humour, as the twelve men form alliances, battle preconceived notions, and generally… get very angry.

Except for Juror 08, of course – the “weakling” who stood alone at the beginning. Strangely enough, it’s the biggest bully of the jury – Stephen Frost’s Juror 03 – who stands alone at the end. A morality tale, perhaps? Who cares, it was grand theatre, even if the direction of the plot was usually telegraphed well in advance. In fact, the only negative of the performance from my point of view was Ian Coppinger’s overly Rick Moranis-like Juror 02. But that’s just me being a big fusspot – this is well worth seeing, and certainly another big tick for the Festival.

[20040053] The Overcoat

The Overcoat

CanStage @ Festival Theatre

7:30pm, Tue 2 Mar 2004

Score: 10

Short Review: (almost) Flawless

Wow. It’s rare that I can see such a large-scale, lavish production, and get totally immersed in the experience. The Overcoat, however, sucked me in from the outset.

Simple story, really – a downtrodden draftsman snaffles himself a nice new overcoat, and his life changes as a result. But the manner in which the story is told – no dialogue, constant musical score, wonderfully staged crowd scenes, creative direction – make this a true aural and visual delight.

The attention to detail in this production is staggering – when the stage lights are all forward, characters still create a hubub behind the screens at the back of the stage… even the final cast-call is superbly done. Costumes are spectacular, the sets are both simple and clever… and the acting… the acting! Peter Anderson puts in a sublime performance as The Man, every facial expression adding to the story.

In fact, if I had to draw fault with The Overcoat in any way, it would be that the ending is quite sudden, and doesn’t really create a sense of closure. But that’s just a minor nit-pick – I left the theatre absolutely elated after this production. This is, without doubt, the best Festival flagship production for many a year.

[20040051] Held


Australian Dance Theatre @ Her Majesty’s Theatre

1:00pm, Tue 2 Mar 2004

Score: 9

Short Review: Snapshots of Art

This was the second preview of the ADT’s collaborative piece with photographer Lois Greenfield, and it was announced that the sets “were not yet finished”. However, talking to various people who have seen the non-preview performances, it appears that not much changed from the bare stage and elongated screens that constituted the set.

Essentially, Held is a study of time and motion. Lois Greenfield takes to the stage with a digital camera, and remains static while the performers from the ADT perform for her – lots of jumps, spins, air – always aiming for the spectacular in 1/2000th second grabs. The photos she takes are projected onto the screens after a short delay; displayed in black & white, all the shots have a classic timeless feel to them – we are witnessing art in the making.

The snapshots also demonstrate the tight choreography of the piece, and are utterly compelling. It gets to the stage that you’ve got to remind yourself that there is live dance occuring at the same time, so addictive is the act of watching the screens. Conversely, when watching the live dance, it can conjure odd feelings of “why didn’t she take a photo then?” A most odd experience.

The camera doesn’t always drive proceedings, though – the screens are often rotated to act as shadow backdrops. There was a wonderful piece of dance accompanied by strobe lighting – forcing the audience to interpret the dance in their mind’s eye using short flashes of visuals to guide them – almost the antithesis of the Greenfield’s camera.

There’s also a variety of dance influences, too – “The National Anthem” from Radiohead is accompanied by some stylised pogo-ing (resulting in some great photos), followed by an exaggerated waltz and some synchronised team voguing. At other times, Larissa McGowan was elaborately dancing in heels(!); another notable piece had most of the ensemble standing and facing the audience, while a lone performer danced like an absolute loon (in a good way!) behind them. Striking!

Throughout, the music is distinctly industrial in nature – pounding rhythms, ambient noisescapes, grubby drum’n’bass. But it works to actively drive the excitement of the piece; and this is one of the most exciting pieces of dance I’ve seen in a long, long time. It’s hard to explain the impact of the camera to the piece; but it leads to some extraordinary visuals.

[20040041] 100


theimaginarybody @ Scott Theatre

2:00pm, Sun 29 Feb 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: A perplexing question, but…

The premise is simple: if you had to choose just one single memory from your life to repeat over and over, for all eternity, what would it be? The investigation of this question asks – just what is truth? and what is achievement? Is it true that “all you have is what you did”?

A blinding blast of light (camera of the mind’s eye, perhaps?) introduces us to the cast – four recently deceased individuals currently in limbo. A guide appears, and issues the above question unto them; we then follow their initially feeble attempts to find that one perfect memory to define their lives.

The acting, aided only by five bamboo poles for props, is great – except for the unconvincing Nia (Claire Porter), which is odd, since she was the only one of the five actors who appeared in the original production of 100. The writing was fine – punctuated by the odd humorous moment (Sophie’s dream of London with amnesia reminded me of a normal office), but in the main this was a solemn affair.

I’ve talked to a bunch of people who loved this piece of theatre – but I’m not one of them. All I can say is “it was goooood, but not greaaaat.” Sure, it’s a compelling premise – one that I still consider now – but it didn’t make the play compelling.

[20040040] Conjunto di Nero

Conjunto di Nero

Emio Greco / PC @ Dunstan Playhouse

8:30pm, Sat 28 Feb 2004

Score: 8

Short Review: Shadows and light

As we enter the Playhouse, a pulsating beat fills the air. A dancer holds a pose on the edge of a single beam of light parallel to the stagefront – occasionally, a flurry of movement, before she holds the new pose. The air seems thick, the light seems solid; the house lights dim, the pulsing stops.

All five dancers were superb throughout (led by Emio Greco), but Conjunto di Nero is almost as much about light and shadow as it is about dance. The lighting almost defines the boundaries of the movement, creating lines to be followed, boxes of containment.

My permanent memory of this show will be the thought of the dancers stalking beams of light across the stage like annoyed triffids. Thoroughly mesmerising.

[20040036] Prague Chamber Orchestra

Prague Chamber Orchestra

Prague Chamber Orchestra @ Adelaide Town Hall

2:00pm, Sat 28 Feb 2004

Score: 9

Short Review: Ummm… wonderful :)

Firstly: no, I’m not a classical music guru. But when the chance comes along to see a reputedly rave-worthy orchestra, I reckon I might as well grab it :)

Secondly: the PCO perform without a conductor. This, in and of itself, make for a great visual spectacle – figuring out the lines-of-sight between musicians, watching the eyes of some of the violists flit back and forth from their sheet music to the violinists to the cellos.

This matinee was a performance of the Dvorak Centenary concert. The Serenade for Strings in E Major, Op. 22 was a great start, with a wonderful ascendary Finale. Romance for Violin and Orchestra in F Minor, Op. 11 was a dripping, at times brooding, piece that worked its way to a more uplifting conclusion. The Czech Suite in D Major, Op. 39 was magnificent – the Prelude seemed almost sawtooth in its intensity, and swelled throughout. But we hit pay-dirt with the three (count ’em) encores – the second being a particularly cheeky pluck-fest.

As I mentioned earlier, the visual aspect of the performance was great and, at times, amusing. A couple of the violinists would be visibly slouching when they weren’t required to play, and large sections of the PCO seemed almost reluctant to accept audience applause – even appearing comtemptuous at one point. But that didn’t detract from – and indeed, probably added to – a superb performance, full of beauty and wonder.