Sunday, October 16, 2011

'Mind Games' is Cabaret on Steroids

Jo, being the vixen she is.
I am exhausted from all the brilliant art that has attacked me this week, but I wanted to write down some quick thoughts on Mind Games, in the hope that it will inspire some more people to try to catch the show as soon as possible. But anyway, what a week - the Iris soundtrack, then Ruben Guthrie, and tonight was Mind Games. Written, composed, and performed by the versatile Jo Loth, Mind Games is a cabaret that revolves around the theme of depression and mental health. It's probably not the most marketable show, but it's a crime that Mind Games won't be sold out every night.

Jo Loth storms the stage as her German diva alter-ego, the vivacious and hilarious Jolene Mindtrick. Loth's performance is like a prism held up to light a complex delivery that is just brimming with emotion. With great sensitivity and respect to the subject, she guides the audience through a totally unique experience. Mind Games is funny, charming, and engaging - the entire thing just sparkles with brilliance, captivating the audience through the essence of humanity and honesty.

The ingenuity of this production is the way that Loth's songs incorporate separate narratives into the music. They're funny, ironic, and incredibly touching. Any audience member who has experienced or had contact with depression can empathise with a score of characters which are found throughout the stories within the songs. While Loth has intertwined her personal life with the show, her personal stories never become unbearable or totally immersive since the audience is alienated by the fragmentation and interjections of other stories. Not that it stops us from being connected - the scene where Loth describes spending nights alone crying and contemplating killing herself just left me in a silent wreck. I fucking thought I was going to die from sheer excellence - I don't think I've ever connected with anything so heavily in theatre.

The musical score for this show was the center point and was the highlight. Loth, alongside the exceptionally talented arranger and pianist Wade Gregory, has composed songs that stretch over numerous genres, including rap, country, and faux-classical. The music is catchy, with some stand out tunes that are so touching - they're not pandering or boring compositions either, they're memorable and really enjoyable. Like the genres, Loth's vocals are diverse, flicking between dynamic, sultry, soft, raspy, and operatic with ease. She has a formidable but lilting timbre which adapted to fit all her vocal styles, and she was a delight to listen to. Gregory masters the piano, flicking in improvisations and embellishments on the music to add to that sparkling live element of the production. The duo are exceptional performers and I hope a collaboration or recording of this eventually surfaces because the music was great (despite the fact it destroyed me). I've actually been singing 'I'm Fine' out loud since I left the theatre 4 hours ago.

I wish this show could have had a high budget. I sat there wishing Loth could have a score of musicians, and that MetroArts could have had a more complex lighting and sound set up. The only complaint I have was the encore. After this gorgeous ballad, mixed with these unbelievably inspiring and uplifting speeches that separate the verses, there's an encore. Fair enough, the music is well worth it, but the song is a reprise of the opening song. Fair enough, but the opening song has these lyrics which are pretty heavy, talking about exposing our failures and repeatedly reminding everyone of our humiliations. It's an awesome song melodically, but I would have liked to have heard some cheeky new lyrics rather than feeling that we'd run around in a circle. Would have preferred a reprise of 'I'm Fine', but I guess that would have been an even more unsuitable choice.

The most touching part of the show was the reaction it provoked. There was a table at the back with information and brochures on depression, which a good portion of the audience went up to and collected whatever they wanted. I commented that it was a bit sad that it had to happen at all, but Jo said it was a good thing people were trying to help themselves or others. The idea that people have been so moved by the show as to be inspired to change an aspect of their lives is just a testament to how incredible this night was.

It's hard to comprehend we're still in Brisbane with so much incredible entertainment playing around the corner. I loved Mind Games. I'm planning on seeing it at least three times, it's just so worth it. Engaging through its witty script and the connection it establishes, Mind Games is a captivating and touching performance by Jo Loth and Wade Gregory, who glide through music styles and emotions with ease. Please, please make an effort to see it. I guarantee you will not regret it. And if you do, make sure you recommend the show to someone you don't like so they can hate it as much as you do...

ETA (18/10/11): Caught the show again on Tuesday, and Jo's put in an alternative encore. After the fun reprise of the opening song, she says "Now here's attempt #2 at being a Jazz singer". It's a revelation - a symbolic victory that she's overcome all the obstacles and is finally achieving what she loves. The ending is now wonderful. You go, Jo! 

Tickets for Jo Loth's 'Mind Games' range from $15-$20, and is showing until October 22 and is showing at MetroArts Studio. Book by visiting the Metro Arts website or by calling (07) 3002 7100.

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