Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sarah Winter presents the Floating Feast

Regrettably I have no photos of this event, but that just makes it feel even more cotton-pickin' exclusive.
I just got back from seeing Sarah Winter's second instalment of La Boite Scratch, and it was fucking fantastic! It was downright delightful - a personal, interactive and inherently original experience.

Initially, each person is given a personalised letter to read, and then led towards the dinner. The reveal of the room was perfect. Walking in from the drizzling rain outside into room's cosy and intimate atmosphere was awesome - in the warm the lighting was a soft plain wash that shined on the table and there was a soft, ambient piano track looped in the background. In the centre was the table, ready and set for our arrival, laced with tasty finger food which balanced, defying gravity, above off monochrome balloons.

After our Zooey Deschanel look-a-like hostess seated us down and welcomed us, we were challenged to maintain the plates at their height while taking food and replacing it with other objects and food, while simultaneously engaging in activities. We were given a menu of missions that we could undertake - I wished I wasn't wearing daggy winter casual clothes. It was so much fun, meeting and greeting people, attempting to learn everyone's middle names, discussing obscure dreams, confessing profound fears and desires, and even playing on a nearby piano. The most imaginative part was seeing people prepare their tea using the floating teabags - so cool! The best bit was looking around and glimpsing at everyone with a smile on their face having a good time.

It was just so good. In a small room with such an exquisite set-up it felt so intimate and exclusive. Luckily I got the chance to dine and chill with some really cool people (David Berthold, Sandra Gattenhof, Shari Irwin and Sarah Winter sat mere meters away!) that weren't a bunch of timid prudes. There was a bit of a downside since there was this gargantuan pot of beautiful flowers that obstructed your view of half the table, but in a sense it made the space seem even smaller and even more exclusive. Lower the flower pot and have a round table, then we'll be peaches and gravy.

The worst thing about this entertainment was that it had to eventually end. An hour is just not enough - you just want it to go on and on, you want to talk to everyone, try everything - I want to have it twice the length and twice the interaction! But not twice the people, as I loved the intimacy of the small group. Maybe even there could be a final task or puzzle for the group to contribute to if they wanted to? Regardless, in it's incarnation tonight it was still practically perfect.

Winter is a genius, I actually think after this I love her. I don't love much theatre, but I'll be raving about this for a while. A wonderfully sophisticated, charming, and intimate evening that I feel privileged to be a part of - I would gladly pay five times the price to experience it again.

If you unfortunately missed out on seeing it, envy me.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Last Two La Botie Indie Shows

Were both pretty good.

Since I saw Water Wars on the last night, and I was smashed and couldn't write it, it seems redundant to write a review of it now. On a whole it was a good concept with so-so execution due to the writing. The actors were all very natural and likeable, but the story made you feel pretty hostile towards specific ones - while I think that was the aim (to take sides and sympathise with particular ones) I don't think it was extremely effective since pretty much anything the kid said was just cringe worthy, since the actor was stuck pimping clumsy and stagnant lines like "the bad people", the hilarious "brown-outs" and the poignant "don't turn the tap on". The technical aspects were superb, with some of the most sophisticated lighting set up I'd seen for such a small budget show. Good idea with a not so good story.

I liked Hamlet Apocalypse a lot, and it was certainly a lot different than the last movie I saw based on Hamlet (The Banquet). I can't write much on this because I have to write an essay that analyses it, but it's a fantastic show, and I definitely recommend people to go see it. With the exception of the set up of the one sound at the end, I'd change nothing about it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Instead, I'm going to write a review on The Banquet's soundtrack by Tan Dun which is fucking brilliant - I'll post it tomorrow. Yewww!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Polyphonic Trees by Érik Karol

I love this artwork.
The supremely talented Basque singer Érik Karol is probably best known for his affiliation as the original singer of Dralion, to which he created a new dimension of the company's music with his haunting, crystal-clear vocals. 'Polyphonic Trees' is just insane - there's no other word to describe it; Karol weaves a bizarre hybrid of electronic pop with obscure lyrics and percussive beats that's hard to put a specific label on. One thing for certain is that it's electric and undeniably eclectic - and it has some stellar moments.

The music initially is just a bombardment on your senses, but the mixing of styles with memorable melodies and a plethora of electronic influences, all topped with Karol's earth-shattering vocals, creates an extremely innovative music experience. The almost-title track, 'My Polyphonic Tree' is a hypnotic ballad drenched in electronic effects with an ambling piano accompaniment, which leads into the chorus of seductive and ethereal strings with their beauty being heightened by Karol's contrasting counter-tenor vocals. 'If Only' is glorious, a hard rock piece accompanied by harsh self-harmonies, a tremulous cello and a rocking drum beat propelled by the continuous alluring melody from the xylophone, and 'Between the Lines' is enchanting with its piano driven base and oozes beauty with its exhilarating beautiful interludes from the cello. 'Akasha' is like a dream, with strings and effects mixing with Karol's vocals in impeccable harmony, and 'Irréel' is a wonderful finish to the album, with a soft piano played over those ethereal strings with the wonderful chanting refrain.

The remaining pieces are all bold and daring attempts at aiming for innovation, but to be honest they're ferocious. There is a distinctly dark and twisted vibe in the music, along with a sense of ritualistic and religious drones. The music is inspiring in the way that feelings are induced while listening to the tracks. 'Forbidden Secrets' is downright terrifying, and 'El Roce de la Sombra' is so tedious I thought I was going to be mowed down by machine guns at some point. These tracks are great, not because they're melodic or nice to listen to, but because they manage to resonate an emotion with the audience.

Karol's pieces have a mixture of lyrics in English, French, Italian and some languages I can't decipher. The lyrics are obscure and indecipherable, but they're never dull. They're esoteric and written like cryptic poems that illustrate vivid images without being corny or sounding obnoxious.

Polyphonic Trees is an innovative and inspiring album. Érik Karol's offering evokes many different emotions in the listener and is has some beautiful, catchy, and rocking tracks. While the entire album isn't a delightful listen, Karol's hybridity of daring and bold electronic beats and effects combined with his poetic lyrics pushes the boundaries of alternative music forward, and leave you eagerly awaiting another offering.

 Polyphonic Trees by Érik Karol is available on iTunes Australia for $18.99.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thoughts on Zen Zen Zo's 'Cabaret'

One of the few aspects I liked - the artwork.
Zen Zen Zo are once again dipping into musical numbers to attract an audience. I saw their sell-out rendition of Cabaret last Thursday and (naturally?) I wasn't impressed. Not entirely the company's fault, but overall I disliked the story, songs, dancing, and the obnoxious attempts to take it beyond what was required.

Musicals have a reputation for being cheerfully gay and Cabaret is fruity, but not happy. The story was decent, moderately depressing because despite the toe-tapping numbers it's still about racism and the mood is undeniably dark with the impending genocide and Holocaust looming overhead. It also imparts a sense of emptiness because no-one in the play ends up happy (except the Nazis?) and there are a lot of broken dreams thrown around.

Emma Dean leads the Zen cast in the opening tune 'Willkommen'.

Zen Zen Zo try to emphasize points with symbolism, but as usual it's murky and vague. In one scene two lovers talk about their sensitive position among the possible Nazi occupancy on the city. One holds a basket of oranges, and says 'have an apple'. At this point a woman near me snarled in a very matter-of-fact voice "They're not apples, they're oranges!". I was thinking the same thing, meanwhile one character on stage looks like he's juggling in slow motion by waving the oranges in a circle. To represent an Anti-Semitic attack he then changes from the orange to a brick. Luckily I got so bored during this I read the synopsis on Wikipedia, because suddenly the cast on stage were horrified at something for no apparent reason, as the juggler upstage is still moving in slow motion. I know hipsters everywhere will tut and smugly tell me 'it's symbolic' - but in an attempt to make it avant-garde the company has drenched it in stupid symbolism that really detracts from the urgency of this scene. There were lots like that (that I won't go into because this paragraph looks long on my phone) and overall I think it was a flop to try and symbolise something that's so easily understood to begin with - the ending was another disappointing moment as it really failed to indicate the fate of the Cabaret.

During the interval I almost broke down into tears then purchased some pretzels. That was the highlight.

So it's a musical, but how are the songs? This was my first encounter with the show, so I can't really comment on if the arrangements were exceptional or not, but overall I was not a fan of the score. The songs sounded too similar to each other, and too many seemed redundant and didn't progress the story (although I may be biased since the first act went for a devastating 100 minutes and I was not prepared). The choreography and overall staging of the songs were lacklustre, entertaining for some brief moments but after fifteen or so numbers the dancing became tiring and unusually repetitive. The songs were either sung without any movement on stage, or drenched with the scantly-clad androgynous ensemble having a loud 'n' proud orgy on stage.

Don't confuse this with the performers though - the band were simply on fire, funking out like nobodies business and bursting with energy that was snappy and cheeky. The chorus were bang-on tune and executed their parts and harmonies well, and all the soloists were pleasant - it's undeniable that the cast are talented and can bend their bits to almost contorting lengths. Emma Dean stole the stage through her charming portrayal of the vixen-diva Sally Bowls, with her wonderful acting and ferociously powerful voice. She is an absolute gem and I hope we see her in other musical roles (I can see her as Lucille Frank!).

The wonderful Emma Dean as Sally Bowles and Matthew Hadgraft as Cliff Bradshaw.
I haven't been to the Cremorne Theatre in ages, and while it's intimate and small, the staging seemed pretty half-assed. It was just two draw across curtains and a set of curtains at the back that functioned as either a bed or window. The lighting and sound were acceptable but I can't remember thinking they was stunning or particularly noteworthy (especially seeing several shows this week that shined in these areas).

In the end it's preference, and I unfortunately didn't like this rendition, but I can certainly see why it's selling well. Zen Zen Zo's typical patrons will enjoy their usual sexual adventures, passionates of the score and story will find a good execution here, fans of Emma Dean will be more than satisfied by her stellar performance. It's a decent job but not something I'd recommend.

Tickets for Zen Zen Zo's 'Cabaret' ranged from $30 to $50, and was showing from 4th to 20th of August, 2011. Book by visiting QTIX Website or by calling (07) 136 246.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Skyrim Collector's Edition = Not Worth It

Featuring a map you recieve when you pre-order, a DVD Making of which will end up on YouTube, an overpriced artbook, and a giant fucking, but albeit impressive, statue.
News from the money-hungry company that is trying to sue Minecraft over the use of the word 'Scroll'! The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of the most anticipated games of the year, and fans of the Elder Scrolls series have been waiting all year to see what Bethesda would deliver in terms of a Collector's Edition of the game. At QuakeCon 2011, over the weekend, the Collector's Edition was finally announced, and boy, does it suck. Here's the press-release from Bethesda's blog:

"The limited collector’s edition for The Elder Scrolls® V: Skyrim™ will be available for Xbox 360, PS3, and Games for Windows and can be pre-ordered now through participating retailers in North America, Europe and Australia. Like the regular release of the game, the Collector’s Edition will be available on 11.11.11
In addition to including the highly-anticipated game, this premium version of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim also includes... Alduin Statue...‘The Art of Skyrim’ Official Art Book...and 'The Making of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’ DVD.
The Collector’s Edition will be available through pre-order and it retails for $149.99 (US), €149.99 (Europe), £129.99 (UK), and A$199.99 (Australia). If you’re interested in purchasing, we recommend you pre-order asap, as the it will be available in extremely limited quantities."

Bethesda have always had an absymal record when it comes to producing quality Collector's Editions of their wonderful games. I pre-ordered Skyrim back in February when I returned from overseas, and put down some extra money and asked to be put on the list for the Collector's Edition as soon as it was released. When I saw the price was going to set me back $200 my jaw dropped, but I talked myself into thinking it was totally worth it. A big, fucking statue... yeah, I've been a huge Elder Scrolls fan so I may as well go for it. As it turns out, Electronics Boutique Australia branches only received  around 6 copies per store, so I'm not going to be receiving a copy anyway. I was relieved, since now I can put that non-existent money aside to make sure I can buy people nice Christmas presents, but at usual, I'm pretty sore that I didn't have a chance to get my hands on it and I'm exceptionally disappointed with the content. While some holier-than-thou figures will just brush over this and say "Tsk tsk, then don't buy it!" I think it's reasonable to say I'm not happy with the Skyrim Collector's Edition, and here's why.

The Price:
Let's start with the price. Bethesda is an American based company, so the rest of the world will base our prices on what's set before us, which is essentially $150 US dollars. Except the numbers don't actually add up.

USA pays $149.99; Europe pays €149.99; UK pays £129.99; Australia pays $199.99.

So let's take a look at the price of Skyrim if every consumer in the world paid the same price, first looking at the price a specific region pays, then converted into the price of the other areas.

Europe (€149.99): $214.23(US) /£130.68(UK)/ $204.94(AUS)
UK (£129.99): $213.99(US)/€149.19(EU)/$203.86(AUS)
Australia ($199.99): $209.05(US)/£127.52(UK)/€146.36(EU)

Woah! Look at those outrageously high sums of money! So what would we all pay if we were just matching the American price?

USA $149.99: £91.49(UK)/€105(Europe)/$143.48(AUS)

People in the UK would save £40, Europeans would save €45, and Australians would save $50. Australia in particular is used to being raped up the ass when it comes to importing new games (with new PC games being $100, XBox 360 paying around $110 depending on what game), but in this case Europe is paying the highest amount for this collector's edition. Australians are paying over twice the price of the original! As it happens, Zenimax (the parent company of Bethesda) is trying to squeeze out as much money as they can. The digital edition of Skyrim is almost €100 in Ireland, and the Australian/New Zealand digital price on Steam is $89 USD. Unbelievable. Just because this is one of the highest anticipated games, Zenimax thinks they should make an effort to make this the most expensive game in history?

The Content:
Okay, okay, so the price is high. That would all be forgiven if the content of the collector's edition would be worth it. The problem is that it's clearly not. In addition to the game, this Collector's Edition gives us:
  • A synthetic burlap (read: not cloth) map - which is included with all releases of the game to people who pre-ordered it.
  •  A 12 inch PVC model of Alduin
  • A Making of DVD
  • A 200 page art-book.
That just isn't worth the retail price of $200. Seriously, who the fuck priced that? Did Bethesda even notice what other games offered in their collector's editions? Here are two other Collector's Editions of their respective games.

The Witcher 2 Collector's Edition:
Contained, in addition to the original game (Skyrim equivalent highlighted):
  • A Making of DVD
  • Original game soundtrack and additional music
  • The game map
  • The strategy guide
  • Real life replicas of in-game items 
  • Two papercraft dolls
  • A bust head sculpture made from replica marble
  • 200 page art-book
  • A set of dice
  • Deck of playing cards with unique artwork
  • Stickers
  • One huge papercraft cutout
  • An exclusive DLC download
  • All packaged in a thick cardboard case
How much do you think that would cost if all that was included with Skyrim? $300? $400? 
Current retail price: $89.91

Mass Effect 3 Collector's Edition:
 Okay, so the example of the Witcher is pretty extreme - games are rarely that generous. Let's look at a game by Bioware and see what they offer. Contained, in addition to the original game:
  • 70 page art-book
  • Limited Edition 'Dark Horse' comic
  • Premium Fabric N7 Patch
  • 4x6' lithograph print
  • Original soundtrack
  • Forum avatars and social badges
  • All packaged in a premium metal case
Not as flashy as The Witcher 2, but a shitload more that Skyrim. How much would you price that at? $150? $200?
Current retail price: $79.99
The bottom line is that Skyrim's Collector's Edition bonus material are unsatisfactory, and they are not worthy of the gargantuan price tag of $200. The content is inferior to the last Collector's Edition I bought (Guild Wars Nighfall which I purchased for $25). Compared to other companies and game releases, Skyrim's content pales severely in comparison, and that's not good enough at such a ludicrous cost.

The Summary:
I am very annoyed with the Skyrim Collector's Edition. Clearly the fact that I've not been able to secure myself a copy has influenced my stance on this (although to be honest, nothing is stopping them producing more), I think it's disappointing that Bethesda have been so stingy with their content and the price is unfair. The fact that a small quantity has been produced will also assure Zenimax that there will be no financial loss, but it would be such an anticlimax to pay such a huge sum of money and unsatisfying that nothing really comes out of the product.

Regardless, this Collector's Edition will sell at no loss. Plenty of fans, myself included, would gladly shell over the cash and find satisfaction in the fact that they're supporting Bethesda and the Elder Scrolls (some of the best games in the world), and to have the satisfaction of saying they own such an exclusive product. Skyrim will no doubt be a brilliant game that will be innovative and groundbreaking, but I sure wish more people could have a chance to access this product. Would it have killed them to add some more features? What about the wonderful soundtrack? A gimmicky USB? Before anyone says "just import it!", I ask where from, since Amazon doesn't ship overseas and Australia is suffering from EB apparently being the exclusive seller. I want to support Bethesda, but I can't afford the price - and there isn't an option for me.

And just think - all of this has happened after Todd Howard commented that the industry would benefit if games were sold at around $29. Except for Skyrim, which fit into more of a $60 range. But then they released a $200 Collector's Edition of their game. Mon dieu. We can always find solace in one last hope, of course:
 "WELL at least you can probably guarantee that the collectors edition will be all over the net at $500 a piece after the release date" - Maddy
No doubt something to look forward to.

'The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' Collector’s Edition will be available through pre-order and in select retails for $149.99 (US), €149.99 (Europe), £129.99 (UK), and A$199.99 (Australia) for release on the 11th of November, 2011.