[2008096] Dharma at Big Sur

Dharma at Big Sur

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra with Tracy Silverman @ Festival Theatre

7:30pm, Sun 16 Mar 2008

And so, for my final Festival show of ff2008, I trundled into the Festival Theatre for my regular dose of the ASO. And this performance, much like ff2006’s Leningrad Symphony, proved to evoke a real mixed bag of emotions.

The first piece, Toshio Hosokawa’a Circulating Ocean, felt like it oscilated with the tides; periods of unstoppable power alternated with implausibly deep quiet passages. The opening had the audience barely daring to breath, such was the slightness of the violins’ bowing; the ending, in particular, faded into nothing, into a deep murky blackness that had ears yearning for more.

The second piece, however, was almost a polar opposite; opening with a percussive punch, it seemed like it might have blown its wad a touch too early – given that the piece was a mere eight minutes long, this was a bit of a concern. But using the percussion as a recurrent theme, and allowing other sections the opportunity to follow the percussive lead, Gareth Farr’s From the Depths Sound the Great Sea Gongs: Part I turns into an absolute blinder, well worth the price of admission. And yes, that means I’d be happy paying $9 a minute for the privilege; it really was that good. There’s something about the sight of a massive string section attacking their instruments in unison, bows viciously jagging away, that completely sucks me in.

As for the titular piece, John Adams’ The Dharma at Big Sur… well, it was a massive letdown. Import electric violinist and Michael Bolton wannabe Tracy Silverman attacked his strings with all the subtlety of a boor early on; harsh strings ahoy. It must have been intentional, since later addressing of his bow sounded much smoother; but he never recovered from that rough start. His rock-star facials were also a bit of a turn-off.

After the performance (and a little eavesdropping) I turned to my neighbour: “Excuse me; I don’t pretend to understand the complexity of this music in any way, shape, or form – but you sound like you do. Is it just me, or was that piece shit?” Bemused, he replied “You’ve got a good ear, then. Silverman has a massive reputation, and I don’t think either of us can see why.”

The ASO, however, managed to hold their own, though their role in the piece was relegated to providing a lush backdrop to Silverman’s strangulations. If it were not for their stony-cold professionalism – and a stellar first half – this programme would have been a mess.

[2008094] To Be Straight With You

To Be Straight With You

DV8 Physical Theatre @ Dunstan Playhouse

8:30pm, Sat 15 Mar 2008

It’s funny who you wind up talking to at these shows; I tend to be a chatty fella, swapping stories about shows with other patrons whenever I get the chance (that’s called word of mouth, people). And this evening I wound up sitting next to Albert Bensimon, who was bloody entertaining to talk to. There’s no real point mentioning that – no gossip or anything to report – but it was pretty neat when he spotted me at Dharma at Big Sur the following night, proferring a greeting and a wave. I waved back, rumbled out a “howyadoin?”, then noticed the raised eyebrow of my neighbour. “Oh, that’s Albert,” I said. “We’re like this.”

I walked into this piece expecting a bit of experimental dance – something along the lines of Nemesis, maybe – but DV8 delivered much, much more. A quick flick through the large, tabloid-sized pamphlet that acted as a programme indicated that this was going to be a heavily themed piece, focussing on the issues of human rights (in general) and sexual persecution (in particular).

And as for dance? Well, that depends what you consider “dance”. To Be Straight With You is half contemporary dance, half spoken word, half theatre, half multimedia light-show. This latter aspect, in particular, was astonishing: using images projected from behind the audience, DV8 created some gob-smacking effects, from simple writing on a blackboard to a beautiful spinning globe, all convincingly “handled” by the actors / dancers onstage.

Apparently derived from oodles of vox pop interviews in the UK, To Be Straight With You doesn’t so much explore as flat-out opine on the issue of sexual persecution. Seemingly taking a statement from Archbishop Desmond Tutu as its centrepiece…

The persecution of people because of their sexual orientation is every bit as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid. We must be allowed to love with honour.

…director (and DV8 Artistic bigwig) Lloyd Newson presents a series of scenes, snippets of dance, and slideshows that depict many aspects of this issue.

Now – truth be told, I was completely unable to understand some of the thick regional accents used in earlier scenes. Tales of torment and abuse – in South Africa, by English Jamaicans, and others – were nigh-on unintelligible to me; but the physicality of the acting – and the dance, the wonderfully refined movements! – made the message clear. And the production moves on a fast clip, zipping around the world, showing different reactions to sexuality by different races and cultures. Surprisingly, it lingers for awhile on the topic of gay muslims and the fundamentalist muslim responses to homosexuality; this lends a certain political weight to the performance.

But To Be Straight With You never slows down, never becomes dull. DV8 presented a visually and sonically (oh! the soundtrack! stunning) spectacular show which, despite its rather monotonic themes, was completely engaging.

[2008092] Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz @ Her Majesty’s Theatre

2:00pm, Sat 15 Mar 2008

I saw Nora last Festival, and two years later it has left a curious taste – technical merit still resonates, but there’s a very impersonal, detached feeling too. It’s almost like I’d watched the production in some sort of sensory vacuum, the visual spectacle of the glorious rotating stage making as much of an impression as the cold and aloof German delivery didn’t.

And so, when returning to another Schaubühne production, I kinda knew what to expect: impeccable production values. Distancing delivery. A troubled emotional response.

I wasn’t disappointed. Or rather, I was somewhat disappointed, but not surprisingly so.

Taking my seat in Her Majesty’s again, I remember looking at the set with interest; where Nora‘s set startled you with it’s trickery well into the performance, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof lays itself bare for all to see. Plexiglass walls allow us to see the comings and goings of the cast, and allows us constant access to the stage’s centrepiece – the buzzard enclosed above the main performance area.

Now, the buzzard doesn’t actually do much during the performance – a flap here, a shit there, the odd distracting muted caw or flinch. And I can’t help but wonder – why was it there? Presumably, it’s supposed to create a feeling of foreboding, of menace, like an overseeing deity hovering above the display of social decay being presented onstage, ready to pick clean the bones. But, thankfully, the subject matter at hand does a pretty decent job of that anyway – buzzard, or no buzzard.

This was, of course, a production of the Tennessee Williams play, and I reckon it would be folly of me to attempt to summarise it here. Suffice to say that the performances were decent, though the previously mentioned Germanic dialogue delivery feels very remote from the southern drawl we’d expect from the cast. That said, the maliciousness of the characters surrounding Big Daddy’s fortune, as well as the sexual tension associated with Brick and Skipper (and the sexual malaise of Brick and Maggie) are all powerfully communicated; when Maggie spits “we’re living in the same cage,” the bile in her passion is there for all to feel, clunky language barriers or not.

And that brings us back to Nora – and the realisation that it was much more suited to the presentation and style of Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz than Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. The former was very European, the latter very American – and the emphasis on the latter seems to be expressed with nods to classic Americana, like the oddball slapstick pie fight. Even the use of Led Zeppelin – opening with the powerful No Quarter, punctuating with Babe I’m Going To Leave You – feels to be an especially western tactic (especially the former, which manages – with some flickering house lights – to evoke a thundery and turbulent atmosphere). And despite the added theatrical flourishes – the odd projection onto glass, synced with Act changes & more Led Zep – Cat On A Hot Tin Roof pales in comparison to Schaubühne’s previous piece… but I don’t think it’s because of lesser quality, more that my appreciation of Nora‘s qualities has matured.

[2008091] Book of Longing

Book of Longing

Philip Glass & ensemble @ Festival Theatre

8:00pm, Fri 14 Mar 2008

What do I know about Leonard Cohen? Well, Neil relayed the idea that he created beautiful – if gloomy – poetry, and his songs bookended Natural Born Killers (certainly my favourite Oliver Stone movie). What do I know about Philip Glass? Minimalist composer, lampooned in South Park, and I managed to see Scot Hicks’ doco focussed on the man a few days prior to this. Other than that… I know bugger all about these two chaps.

So why, exactly, was I rushing from the Fringe Factory down to the Festival Theatre on another stinking hot night?

Arriving in my own puddle of sweat (with just enough time to cover my torso in deodorant in the toilets before the soothingly urgent doors-open-get-your-arses-in-here bing-binging of the Festival Centre), I notice a wide selection of the crowd pawing through a small booklet – the poems to be covered in Book of Longing. This annoyed me – a lot – since there was only one booklet allocated for every two seats – and my seat wasn’t one of the lucky ones. Sigh. A neighbour super-grudgingly let me briefly flick through their copy prior to the performance; as a short Cohen anthology, it’s a great freebie, and I was delighted to snaffle my own copy post-performance from someone else’s cast-offs.

Of course, that begs the question: why were there cast-offs at all? Don’t other people clutch onto their programmes, their souvenirs, as tightly as I do?

But enough about that. The set was very simple – some of Cohen’s artwork, set in simple geometric shapes, formed a rather insignificant and pointless backdrop to the performers. Glass played keyboards, of course, and was accompanied by a decent selection of strings, a smattering of percussion, and four vocalists who enunciated Cohen’s words over Glass’ score. The vocal delivery ranged from almost straight readings of the text, through soaring flights of operatic pomposity; there were very few times when any of the vocalists voiced something that made me sit up and take notice. As for the score… well, I have to admit that I was expecting something a lot more repetitive and monotonic (well, at least of minimal tonal variation, anyway) than what was presented; certainly the horrid solos provided by the instrumentalists onstage (dropped notes a-plenty) beat expectations. Though not necessarily in a good way.

…Christ, I’m just reading the opening to this piece back, and it makes it sound like I absolutely hated Book Of Longing; but that’s not true at all. It was pleasant, if not mildly enjoyable, with some bits of genuine interest: Glass peering at the vocalists, eyes flitting back and forth between the performers and the score in a grandfatherly display of concern. The surprisingly dynamic score played nicely against some of Cohen’s poetry at times; “This Morning I Woke Up Again”, for example, had a staccato rhythm and repetition that was curiously reminiscent of (my expectation of) Glass’ compositions. And, most of all, the end of the performance was stunning – as the final piece reaches its climax, each of the performers slowly moves to the front of the stage, standing, open, facing the audience; as the piece softly peters out, the house lights gently come up – by the time the last note is played, we’re all bathed in light, sharing what feels like a remarkably intimate moment with those onstage and off.

But the problem is that, whilst there were a few genuine surprises – and despite the glorious ending – I just didn’t really enjoy this performance that much. Now, maybe that’s because of late-FF fatigue, but regardless… it just didn’t click. I kept thinking that Cohen’s poetry would be better heard in my own headspace while I read it myself; I kept thinking that Glass’ score would be better heard elsewhere, without vocal accompaniment.

Post-performance, waiting for the crowd to disperse, the aforementioned grudgy neighbour managed to dissipate any feelings of positivity gathered by the ending by rabbiting on and on to his wife: “In New York and London, they keep coming out while the audience is clapping; here in Adelaide, everyone stops clapping so soon they don’t bother.” Much teeth-gnashing resulted. Strangely enough, the usual crowd of Festival Standing Ovation-ers didn’t seem to be in attendance this evening, either; presumably they would’ve turned out in droves had we been in New York.

[2008088] Kommer (Sorrow)

Kommer (Sorrow) (Festival page)

Kassys @ Space Theatre

7:00pm, Thu 13 Mar 2008

An odd one, this.

Kommer starts with the audience staring down at a sombre scene. Without knowing anything about the piece, you can sense it’s a funeral home. It’s a wake. Six people gathered in mourning. Movements are slow, contemplative; there’s a solemnity about proceedings that slowly begins to shatter as the characters begin to interact. Initially there’s a sense of complicit duty, of keeping-up-appearances; but, gradually, the ice breaks. Ludicrous actions relieves the audiences’ tension, but maintains it onstage: A fight over the CD player. The pecking order of commiserations. A ludicrous topiary demolition of the funeral home’s plant life. And then, one by one, the characters drift offstage.

The audience is left looking at the messy remains of the funeral home, dirt and plant fragments strewn everywhere. And then a movie screen descends from the roof, and we’re treated to (pre-recorded, not live) expressions of the actors back-stage. They celebrate another successful performance on-screen and, as they leave for the evening, they pass through The Space once again, past the audience; the transitions between screen and real-life are tightly managed, and work a treat – the illusion is wonderful.

We then follow, on-screen, each of the actors into their lives outside the theatre – one woman loathes her second job. Another is afraid of her age. One man returns home to his one-room flat to joylessly eat his processed food. One man gets mugged. Another lives out his midlife crisis. They’re all terribly, terribly lonely, each painting a tragic tale of… sorrow.

And that’s the real payoff from this performance; it’s not in the off-beat presentation, it’s not in the quirky performances. It’s in the painful, tortuous lives that these people lead, laid forth bare on the screen. Even the gorgeous Esther Snelder, once the on-stage performance is over, leads a heart-breaking life on-screen. Yes, there’s humour in amongst these grim depictions, but it’s overwhelmed by a feeling of grim… mortality, in a way.

Now, some people may be put off by the miserably depressing tone of the piece… not me. I revel in this stuff: it’s immediately identifiable and perversely uplifting. Wallowing in another’s misery is almost cathartic to me – which says a lot, really. And Kommer delivered the muted, everyday, sorrow of existence in spades, reminding everyone of the pain of simply being, and presenting the opportunity to compare and contrast with one’s own life. Hey, I felt uplifted as a result, though I know many who weren’t.

Sadly, one of the lingering memories I have regarding Kommer is some of the crap that was written about it in the ‘Tiser. It wasn’t deriding the performance – heavens, no, we couldn’t possibly do that; it was a statement like “they break down the fourth wall by building a fifth” (paraphrased). I think that’s a completely bullshit statement, a hopelessly inaccurate attempt at a clever turn of phrase. And yet, that’s the thing that will stay with me long after the memory of sweet Esther has faded, and long after the shared commiserations have been forgotten.

[2008081] Sacred Monsters

Sacred Monsters (Festival page)

Akram Khan & Sylvie Guillem @ Festival Theatre

8:00pm, Tue 11 Mar 2008

Without knowing any of the specifics, it’d be pretty reasonable to suggest that there’s been a bit of expectation leading up to Sacred Monsters; more cynical mouths might have called it hype. My first glimpse of this was at the Festival Launch last year, when the very mention of the piece brought forth many cheers and woots from the usually reserved audience. The second hint that this was highly anticipated was when booking my tickets – despite the Friends privileged booking window, the centre of Row L – L! – was the best I could manage. The third hint? Everyone I talked to at Festival shows was waxing lyrically in advance; even some Fringe-goers were giddy with the thought of seeing Khan and, most particularly, Guillem.

The first thing I noticed when the lights dropped was the singer, the band. I’ve yet to see a Festival show this year where the music was less than stunning, and this was no exception. Mostly Eastern in feel, with gorgeous oscillating intensities, the five musicians provided perfect backing to Khan and Guillem’s movements.

Each dancer had their own solo piece(s), and during these it was their control on display. When they danced together, however, it was strength and finesse that took centre stage; Guillem wrapping her legs around Khan’s torso in the piece that provided most of the promotional material for the performance, a stunning piece worth every cent of the price of admission.

In between pieces, there was some surprising humour; seemingly offhand back-and-forth chit chat, with some brilliant set pieces: Guillem raving about Christmas Trees for a minute, before Khan deadpans back to her “Sylvie, I was raised Muslim; I know nothing of Christmas Trees.”

But the takeaway, for me, was Guillem’s famed flexibility. More than any circus performer I’ve every seen, her poise and balance was incredible – with her leg extended, her foot far above her head, she stood still with nary a waver.

Khan was responsible for most of the choreography in the piece, and – quite frankly – it was stunning. If it weren’t for one of Sylvie’s solos that had me dozing off a little, I’d have joined everyone else in the first dozen rows in the standing ovation. As it was, this was “only” the most impressive bit of classically-influenced dance since Drumming – and, as per usual, my words have no hope of doing it justice.

Oh yes, this most definitely lived up to the hype.

[2008077] Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts

Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts (Festival page)

@ Piccadilly Cinema

11:00am, Mon 10 Mar 2008

I know dick-all about Philip Glass, which could possibly be deemed bad given the high profile of the upcoming Book of Longing. I mean yes, I know he’s a minimalist composer, and did the score for all those slideshow movies with the unpronounceable names that are held in ultra-high regard by film aesthetes, and that South Park took the piss out of him one episode. But outside that… nothing.

So a doco about the man? Could come in handy, that. And it’s quite possibly the easiest-to-get-to show for me… ever. The main cinema at the Piccadilly is packed – this event is sold out. It’s also my favourite screen in Adelaide at the moment, though I reckon its life is limited (with the obscene plans for the old Le Cornu site in North Adelaide – but that’s another, much grumpier, story). Surprisingly, Scott Hicks appears just prior to the film starting to give a big thank-you to all in attendance, and to talk about the financing of the movie – when funding for the movie finally eventuated, it didn’t come from international sources: it came from private investors in Adelaide. Which is nice.

The movie itself is broken – very overtly – into the requisite twelve parts, and is quite grainy in parts – Hicks did much of the camera work himself using a small digital camera. The surprising thing is the amount of humour in the film – Glass (and many of his collaborators) come across as very funny people… Glass himself tells the knock-knock joke. Even his family get in on the act; Glass’ sister makes some devilish swipes at “The Wives“.

Whilst the film contains a lot of archival photos & footage, it often sits and focuses on the “now”: which was when Glass was scoring Waiting For The Barbarians. This has the unfortunate effect of making the film, at times, feel more like a puff-piece for the opera, than a documentary of Glass’ life; of course it’s understandable that the movie should feature prominently – it was a major part of his life at the time – but it detracted, all the same.

Various snippets of Glass’ work is used to back the film throughout, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable. But for me, the highlight came when an interview with current wife Holly gets a little emotional. Holly tears up whilst talking of their diverging paths through life, and you feel the end of their relationship is near – only to be interrupted by Glass asking for her computer password. She wipes the tears away before turning to inform him of the password, then turns back to camera, dropping back into the morose mood… but suddenly she’s defending herself, leaping away from the hurt by laughing “now you all know my password!” It’s a standout human moment in a film that manages to create very human picture of all involved.

[2008071] The Age I’m In

The Age I’m In (Festival page)

Force Majeure @ Dunstan Playhouse

8:00pm, Sat 8 Mar 2008

This was great. Simple as that.

Now, I could post this blog entry off and be done with it, moving on to the next show in the queue, but I’d feel guilty about it later on and – worse – have committed to the aether a bunch of words that in no way allow me to reconstruct the performance in my head. So I shall, in my own inimitable way, elaborate.

The Age I’m In seems to address the issues of identity with respect to age. Using ten performers aged from early-teens to well-grayed, and using audio snippets from interviews of people aged 9 to 83, we’re treated to a cross-discipline display that sees the performers miming to dialog one minute, dancing the next, and manipulating video screens the next.

There’s contemporary dance for the young ‘uns. There’s ballroom dance for the oldies. There’s intimate and tender physical interactions for everyone. There’s moments of humour when the youngest girl mimes the vocal delivery of the oldest man… and vice versa. The hand-held video screens are fantastic – pre-recorded video plays whilst the performers move the screens by hand over other performers, creating a perverse x-ray-like effect. Naked bodies beneath clothes, emotions exposed.

Performances are ace – from the confidence of the youngest girl, to the refined restricted movements of the oldest man, everything feels personal and honest and… correct. Their miming to pre-recorded voices is almost flawless, and – humour aside – utterly believable. And the direction is stunning… there’s one scene where three women track up and down each other’s bodies with the video screens, exposing their naked beauty, whilst the audio imparts a feeling of fragility. Over the other side of the stage sits the youngest girl, watching the other women with a mixture of interest and trepidation.

And the ending – magnificent. The eldest of the cast, spotlight front-and-centre. A light, misting rain creates a sheet at the front of the stage… the rest of the cast join him, and you get the feeling it’s a cleansing ritual. Utterly moving, it perfectly capped off a wonderful show; whilst it’s not the deepest piece of dance or theatre, it is a glorious marriage of both – with a nice bit of technology wedged in. Compelling stuff, indeed.

[2008068] Moving Target

Moving Target (Festival page)

Malthouse Theatre @ Odeon Theatre

7:30pm, Fri 7 Mar 2008

I guess that I’m stepping outside my comfort zone a bit lately, because I find myself wanting to write the words “I didn’t have the faintest idea what this was about… liked it, though.” A lot.

Now, I don’t mind being completely bewildered by a performance – as demonstrated by Conclusions: On Ice. It gives me something to think about, something to mull on during the walk home. Shows like that sit at the back of my subconscious for days, occasionally popping forth in an “aha!” moment… and sometimes not showing up at all, just remaining in a ruminative state, something for the neurons to fire on while I’m doing something else.

But Moving Target is a different kettle of fish.

Walking into the theatre, the stage is essentially a large, white room; six characters wait, apprehensive and edgy, for us to be seated. When the house lights drop, five gang up on one – it’s a clinical verbal battering, sinister glares, uncomfortable for all… but the audience doesn’t know why. Suddenly, a game of hide-and-seek breaks out – again, five-against-one – and the five are left to hide amongst the frugal props.

And here, Moving Target breaks with expectations – the hide-and-seek segments (and there are many of them) are impossibly funny, with characters hiding under carpets, under cushions, under tables, behind sofas, even in plain sight with a sleeping bag on their heads. These sequences are physical humour at its finest; the time where one character got tangled up in a chair, only to be helped out of his predicament by another character (who subsequently became entangled) had the audience in stitches.

In between these segments, though, there’s a much more sinister plot at play. It’s gradually revealed to us: in times of heightened terror responses, there’s a green parcel in a bin. It was placed there by a girl. Is the parcel a bomb? Is the girl a terrorist? Do any of these characters have anything to do with the story, or are they just narrators?

Essentially, we’re none the wiser until the last ten or fifteen minutes of the performance; until then, we’re happily bumbling around gleaning snippets of knowledge where we could. But in a visually intense sequence – flashing lights galore, including some jarring bright red / green transitions – the terror threat is directly addressed… and all trace of humour disappears. We’re clearly in Serious Mode now; and, rather than dodging around the issue, we’re taken on a linear explanation of the resolution. And then backtrack to see the other side of the story. This results in a few gasps of realisation from the audience as the performance slowly dissipates, fades to black, with a snapping of inexplicable masking tape.

Now, I don’t want it to sound like I disliked Moving Target, because that’d be far from the truth. I loved those first flabbergasting 75 minutes – I loved the repetitious, circuitous, twisty-turny double-back nature of them immensely. I loved the fact that I was essentially stumbling in the dark for most of the time, creating theories and counter-theories in my mind as to the meaning of every single artifact. But the conclusion – where the plot is laid bare, linearised, de-mystified – took all the rumination away from the performance. Which ended my engagement with Moving Target as soon as I started applauding the actors. Which, for some reason, makes me a little sad… I would’ve preferred to take a little of the performance home with me, in a little white-walled room in the back of my mind.

[2008065] Persian Garden Poets

Persian Garden Poets (Festival page)

Paul Durcan, John Kinsella, Dorothy Porter, Luke Wright @ Persian Garden

7:00pm, Thu 6 Mar 2008

After last years’ successful foray into poetry (with wordfire and Sean M. Whelan and The Mime Set), I was eager to do more of the same in 2008 – but couldn’t really afford the time to sit in Writer’s Week gigs. So this seemed like the perfect event to feed my written-word desires.

Mike Ladd from the ABC emcees the evening, and – apart from some cheerfully lame rhymes – has minimal input. First up was Irish poet Paul Durcan, who started his spot with a massive pause… something like three breaths, which was either a mood setter for his generally morose readings or a measure of respect/contempt for the audience. It’s kind of hard to tell. His downbeat poems were very elaborate and lyrical in nature, but rest assured I’m not dashing out to track down his anthologies.

John Kinsella was up next, and was almost a polar opposite from Durcan’s quiet, dull delivery. He’s an angry and passionate man, imparting huge amounts of energy and dynamism into his readings. He dwells mainly on rural West Australian themes – the silo story was fantastic – and really warrants further investigation.

When Dorothy Porter’s name was announced, there was a large number of “woots” and other associated cheering from the assembled throng. But though she was an expressive reader (of snippets from her works El Dorado and Akhenaten), her words utterly failed to spark my imagination or conjure much of anything. The “woots” from her introduction were notable by their absence as she walked off.

After a short break, the “star” of the night appears: Luke Wright from the UK performed his Luke Wright, Poet & Man routine. And, quite frankly, this was the funniest thing I’ve seen so far this year – it’s more of a standup routine that utilises poetry, rather than the other way around. But that’s not to marginalise the quality of his verse – for it is sublime, often coarse, but always passionate. Company of Men speaks of the need for blokiness, Camping Dad paints a detailed (and highly amusing) picture of a dying breed, and Sex Butler was lewd absurdism at its best. There’s more serious themes – death, his exposure to the class divide through his first girlfriend – but there’s always something pants-wettingly funny around the corner, always a turn of phrase that sticks in your mind: “face of bumming” is one that springs to mind nearly a week later.

In short, Persian Garden Poets was utterly worthwhile. The only bummer for the evening was that I couldn’t hang around to snaffle one of Wright’s CDs…

[2008060] When The Rain Stops Falling

When The Rain Stops Falling (Festival page)

Brink Productions @ Scott Theatre

1:30pm, Wed 5 Mar 2008

Wednesday matinees always bring out a special kind of crowd – namely, the senior citizens and school groups. The former arrive way too early, clogging up entry to the Scott Theatre; the latter roll up just-in-time, exploding into the venue with a self-importance that is palpable. Luckily, someone has set the thermostat in the theatre to about 21 degrees, cooling off the hotheads and lulling the oldies deeper into subdued quietness.

A man comes onstage, front and centre. As transparent screens descend from the heavens to add some semblance of depth to the set, the cast drift from wing to wing behind him. Rain starts dripping in; a fish plummets to the man’s feet from above, landing with a startling thud. He picks up the fish, and we’re away – telling a familial tale spanning four generations & eighty years, from Alice Springs to The Coorong to London to Adelaide.

The storyline happily skips through the multiple timelines, returning to certain periods when it suits the unfolding story. This isn’t as disconcerting as it may sound; the plot is pretty straightforward, and certainly linear in its telling. We essentially just track the characters as their interactions beget the following generations; boy meets girl, marriage, kids, etc. There’s a few twists to the story that are gradually revealed, and interest is maintained throughout.

“But Pete,” I hear no-one but the voices in my head say, “you’re being very vague. Even vaguer than usual. What are you not telling us? Did you like it or not?”

Did I like it? Well… it was certainly engaging, and wonderfully performed; not a dud actor onstage. But – at the risk of letting loose with a rather big spoiler – there was one aspect of the story that I had massive problems with: the paedophilia. Now, I understand that it’s utterly crucial to the plot, but it still felt like a cheap emotive device – the easiest way to generate the maelstrom of emotions. Base; lazy, even. It just didn’t work for me.

Direction was also a little flawed. Most of the time the set was beautifully realised: simple tables and chairs, those lovely translucent screens separating timelines and receiving frugal titling projections. But sometimes critical moments at the rear of the stage were obscured (I had to infer the pouring away of ashes), and there was an odd total dropping of stage lights prior to the end of the performance – which brought forth loud and uncomfortable applause as the next scene was started.

But did I like it? Let’s just say I didn’t hate it; but I won’t be recommending it in any future conversations. But I’ll admit a perverse pleasure was obtained in reading the reviews for When The Rain Stops Falling that were proudly pinned up outside the theatre – because they were universally awful. Not the opinions; the actual writing. I can only assume that there’s some editors out there who are ruling with an iron fist and are above the law – but they’re making their writers look shocking.

Says I.

[2008058] A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Festival page)

Dash Arts @ Her Majesty’s Theatre

6:30pm, Tue 4 Mar 2008

As I try to type every year (it bumps up the word count… not that anyone’s counting the words, but more words on the page looks impressive, at least), I love me a bit of Shakespeare. So, every Festival and/or Fringe, I try to squeeze in a bit of The Bard’s work; this year, the Festival presented A Midsummer Night’s Dream – as performed by an Indian / Sri Lankan cast – and I was instantly sold.

It wasn’t until a few days before the show, when I was chatting with another Festival patron, that it was revealed to me that most of the dialogue wasn’t in English.

Ummmm… shit. The thought hadn’t even occurred to me that Shakespeare could even be delivered in another tongue. But, after the initial shock, I figured it’d be fine – I have a pretty thorough knowledge of Midsummer.

Except that I mixed that up, too – every time I’d read “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, some little babelfish daemon in my brain had been substituting “Much Ado About Nothing” instead. In actual fact, I knew bugger all about Midsummer, having only seen one production and never having read it. Of course, I only realised this after I started reading the programme and noticed no familiar names in the list of characters. And being totally bewildered by the plot.

So… ummmm. Whoopsee-doodle. But off to the theatre we toddle, only to find myself sitting behind The Tallest Man in the World. No joke, he was ginormous – I was craning to see anything of the centre of the stage. I felt sorry for the chap behind me.

Initial thoughts were of worry. Already caught off-guard by the programme, I was totally thrown when the first lines of all the initial characters were in English – only to be rapidly followed by lines that were most definitely not English – and not a surtitle in sight. At that point, I gave up all hope of following the plot, biding my time until the interval.

But help was at hand – most of the female lines, and some of the male characters, were in English, and a lot of the intent was easily recognisable in the gestures and postures of the cast. Egeus’ angry rabble probably benefited from the Hindi translation, in fact -this was one of the times that the language barrier was truly transcended.

As for the rest of the performance… well, there are two real standouts. Puck was absolutely brilliantly portrayed, constantly onstage either in-character, or in the guise of a rigger – tweaking the set as the need arises. His presence was a joy, his mischievous peeks through the fourth wall – eyes full of impish knowing – were delightful. Bottom was also played purely for laughs – and he plays it damn well, with a big expressive voice and eyes that matched.

Direction was a real mixed bag. Some characters were quite clearly facing backstage when delivering lines, or deep on the stage facing the wings… and it’s clear that few of the performers have experience in large theatrical settings, because their voices (with the exception of Bottom) just didn’t carry. The set was gorgeous – a massive latticed backdrop covered with paper constituted Athens, with the fairies punching through the paper to create the forest.

But the interval left me confused… wasn’t it halfway through Act IV? This left a very lightweight and thin post-interval section, which I can only assume provided the opportunity to insert a Bollywood-style sing-along ending. And whilst that certainly raised the spirits of the audience at the end of the performance, I’m not convinced it was necessary.

Yes, it was enjoyable. But there’s still something itching away at me, suggesting that something wasn’t quite right about this production. Perhaps it was the feeling that, beneath the lavish production and cheeky idea, depth was lacking; it just didn’t feel like the quirky idea had been followed through. I have no idea why, though.

As a bonus, this performance was preceded by a half-hour Q&A session with Director Tim Supple which was really quite interesting. All the obvious questions popped up – language barriers, et al – and, in some ways, I found this little session more enjoyable than the pre-interval portion of the performance.

[2008057] Children’s Cheering Carpet – Japanese Garden

Children’s Cheering Carpet – Japanese Garden (Festival page)

TPO @ Space Theatre

11:00am, Tue 4 Mar 2008

As with my first Cheering Carpet (and in contrast to the second), the children in the queue for this performance were quiet and subdued heading into the performance. The raked seating that had been in The Space to support Glow had been removed overnight, leaving much more sparse seating; I took to the balcony, leaving the seats for parents & children, and offering a better view of proceedings.

The thing is, the increased physical distance from The Carpet also seemed to distance it from me emotionally, as well – I found this Japanese Garden to be far less engaging than the previous two. This may have been exacerbated by the inclusion of a more traditionally acted opening, delivered by a third performer. This opening failed to convey any significance in the overall piece, and only served to delay the time before the first audience interaction with The Carpet. But once the interactive bits started, they came thick and fast.

The visual art for the Japanese Garden was, sadly, less impressive than previous efforts; colours in the same subtle groups used together, muted, little to catch the eye. The imagination was left to feed on small iconic glyphs used to indicate walking paths, with zooming used to reasonable effect. But, overall, I found the Japanese Garden to be disappointing; the elaborate ending, with the three performers carefully laying out small small rock, glass, and sand gardens on the mat (precluding any further audience play) felt overwrought, contrived. But no matter – I’ll always hold Children’s Cheering Carpet in high regard for that glorious Kurdish rendition.

[2008053] Children’s Cheering Carpet – Italian Garden

Children’s Cheering Carpet – Italian Garden (Festival page)

TPO @ Space Theatre

2:00pm, Mon 3 Mar 2008

In the queue for this, the second of the Children’s Cheering Carpet variations, I knew that it would be a substantially different show; the children were in line in principle only. More explicitly, they were jumping all over the shop. Methinks some parents decided to IV their kids pixie sticks for lunch.

Although the general concepts for this Carpet were the same, the visuals for this Italian Garden were much more organic (as compared to the abstract nature of the Kurdish Garden). Flowers and leaves were everywhere; images were much more subtle. Sadly, it also felt like there was less interaction with the audience – or opportunities to interact, anyway. One child, apparently whacked off his dial on sugar and with springs in his shoes, jumped on anything and everything at every available opportunity. That he was controlled by the dancers at all speaks volumes of their control – which, again, was a delight to watch.

In short – less interaction, more delicate visuals. Which was a bit of a shame, since I preferred the boldness of the first iteration.

[2008052] Children’s Cheering Carpet – Kurdish Garden

Children’s Cheering Carpet – Kurdish Garden (Festival page)

TPO @ Space Theatre

11:00am, Mon 3 Mar 2008

It’s unfortunate that Children’s Cheering Carpet will inevitably be compared to Glow – after all, they share the same space (pun intended) and a similar layout. The titular Carpet is a large white dance mat onto which images are projected, and – again – there’s a level of interactivity between physical actions on the mat and the images projected onto it. This time, however, the mat itself is pressure sensitive… it would appear that the pressure pads were spaced about every two feet square.

There are three different renditions of Children’s Cheering Carpet, each with their own art and music style. This first session was the Kurdish Garden, based on the art of Rebwar, had big, bold, abstract shapes; lots of fish and rocks and sand. The two performers are certainly attractive and agile; the action is slow, with exaggerated movements of discovery as they roam the mat; stepping on projected stones triggers the next stone in the path to appear, or standing on a horizontal strip may cause it to scroll across the mat. And the gestures and movements are exaggerated for a reason; about ten minutes into the performance, the dancers start pulling children out of the audience into the Garden, onto The Carpet, onto the mat.

And this is where the performance takes a turn for the sublime, for the joyous… and on multiple levels. In managing children on and off The Carpet, the dancers show the most beautiful poise and understanding – open arms being a friendly request that’s never refused. And the children… initially shy and self-conscious, they soon discover the freedom within the rule-set they’ve been offered and begin to play. Leaping on stones, swishing fish away, following a constantly changing path… they laughed and played with joy, instinctively co-operating where necessary. One young fella was anxiously crawling onto the Carpet almost as soon as the performance began.

Like I said, I found this a joy to behold… it was like the blackness of The Space – and the brightness of The Carpet – banished all the children’s preconceptions of what it is to explore, to play. Even better was the scene on exiting the performance; the children were running amok in the little carpet amphitheatre in exactly the same way they had been playing on The Carpet, their parents desperately trying to calm them down. For some reason, I took perverse delight in that.

Sure, the technology isn’t as clever or responsive as that in Glow – but this production feels more substantial. It could be the fact that the audience gets involved, it could be the fact that the dancers feel more “connected” to the piece, it could have been the neat canopy that was dragged between the children on The Carpet and the projector (creating a fascinating cloud effect) – but mostly, I think, it’s because I loved watching the interactions between the dancers and the children. The open and friendly manner in which they managed the children was a joy, as were the responses they got in return. Delightful.