Monday, February 27, 2012

Review - The Lady from the Sea [*]

Abhinaya often provides lovely visuals, but the true beauty of this piece comes from the music.
I'm torn on if I'd recommend 'The Lady From the Sea', presented by Abhinaya Theatre Company with an original music score from Topology. There were a lot of aspects I really didn't like in the show but the music was stunningly evocative, so I quite enjoyed myself,

It's slightly misleading to entitle this as 'The Lady From the Sea' . Although it's billed as an adaptation, if anything this performance should clearly identify that it's loosely inspired from the original text. Ellida and Dr Wangel aren't even named in this performance, and none of the other characters feature other than the sailor. There is no mention of her deceased son or Wangel's other children, and text focuses exclusively on this love triangle between the three primary characters. As a result, the content of the play seems disappointingly repetitive, and we are very much forced to pay attention to the characters.

The characters were one dimensional. The principal woman (the character name was never spoken) had only two modes of delivering her lines, one in irritating and callous self-absorbed riddles that mainly insulted her husband (also not named) and the integrity of their marriage, and the other being these agonizing, grating wails. While both deliveries are tolerable initially, since the structure of the piece exclusively focuses on the love triangle, it’s pretty much all your hear for over an hour, and it’s really trying – other patrons commented on exactly the same thing.

Brisbane group Topology provide a gorgeous score
I recommended you divulge into the music and just blissfully tune any dialogue out. The principal man was a lot more tolerable, but the way the text is written forces him to primarily be one key, mostly speaking desensitized and defeated pleas for his wife not to leave him. The two were supported by a trio of artists who donned these bizarre masks of one large eye, and moved in synchronisation to form this otherworldly surrealistic imagery. There was a cool factor in the dancers but overall since there was no plot, the characters were not accessible or engaging to the audience.

I liked the set, but the projections were totally inappropriate and tacky. Their abrasive look really didn't gel with the elaborate stage movement of the dancers nor did it compliment the elegance of the music. Their movement of the actors was good, but the principals occasionally were confined to some plexiglass containers. That was probably the ultimate WTF moment of World Theatre Festival 2012.

The sound design was impeccable. The live voice over artist was menacing, but it sounded as if he spoke directly into the audience's ears and it was unnerving but simultaneously smooth and lulling. Gentle noises of the sea including the waves and bird cries also sporadically wafted into the soundscape. It worked perfectly with the action and was extremely effective with the music.

The music was the coruscating aspect of the production. The original score, composed by Robert Davidson, was performed live by the supremely talented Topology above the stage. Designed to resemble the ineffable textures of the sea, the incidental music is beautifully emotive, painting moods of yearning and lamentation through a distinct fusion influenced by the Mediterranean, the Caucasus and airy Scottish rifts. Totally gorgeous and it's worth the price of the ticket alone.

I'm torn on this production. While there is disappointment from the text and the characterization, the visual design including the choreography was excellent, and the music is utterly enchanting. While I'd recommend avoiding the piece due to the screeching from the actors and obscene design, I would recommend it for the music. The audience seemed pretty torn too - people around us were shifting (loudly) in their chairs, about half a dozen walked out, and others were asleep.

If there was a soundtrack available for purchase I'd recommend getting that and passing up the show. But there's not, so at the end of the day it depends how much you value music.

‘The Lady from the Sea’ presented by Ahbinaya Theatre Company and Topology is showing on 24-26 February at Brisbane Powerhouse’s World Theatre Festival. Duration of 70 minutes and presented in Malayalam with English subtitles. Visit the World Theatre Festival Official Website for more information on session times and to buy tickets and festival passes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Helping to Suspend Dinner.

Last week I had the chance to help in the process of creating a unique theatrical experience that was curated by Sarah Winter. Dinner With Gravity ran for just under two hours on Saturday evening for 12 guests at The Studio, at QUT. Just thought I'd reflect on how cool it was and how much fun it was to be a part of the process, and if the work does resurface somewhere, I'd really encourage you to go.

Ironically, tying knots was really important and I can't do them properly - watch me tie my shoes oneday and you'll probably step back and say "Oh my . . .  what did you just do?". I don't know how I'd gotten through life so far without needing to tie knots, but the truth came out and I was exposed for the sham I am. The week consisted of rigging up lights, fire retarding (tee hee) materials, carrying heavy booms and equipment, and a lot of moving stuff. The best thing about the whole process is that in the bump-out I used a lot of the skills I'd picked up from my Cert III, so it was pretty gratifying to see that I could still use and apply those skills. I felt the most out of place since I was the youngest and at times I didn't really know what the fuck I was doing, but it was a great learning process. We all worked really hard - I knew that Kat was exhausted and beyond the point of return when she asked me to tie a balloon to a pole then fell over in a heap while laughing when she realised I couldn't tie knots.

I adored the end result. We had a few seconds to take it in after the mad end rush before the session began. The room had the charm of something out of a fairytale. The focal point was the center of the room was over a hundred white and black balloons floating above the the seating area, three tables of different size and make were in the center of the room on top of some (hideous) plush rugs, and the surrounding floor was covered by large crunchy leaves. The tables (in addition to the air around) were covered with gourmet food including floating strawberries and cream, rice-paper rolls, mini quiches and other canap├ęs with creme fraiche and these badass cupcakes from The Cupcake Parlor (I think it's around West End). Suspended above the table was a hand tied twine net and hanging from it was a white sheet canopy that had more leaves threaded throughout which gave it this empyreal wood-nymphesque vibe.

There was wine, coffee, and different varieties of teabags hanging off balloons - that's probably one of the most ingenious parts of the show. You pour yourself a cup of boiling water, then as you place the cup below the teabag, the moisture in the teabag pulls the balloon down (. . . that's what she said . . .). There are so many little things like that in the show, and I wish everyone will get to see it someday. I felt a little aloof at the end of the night due to a few things, but the main factor was the sad realisation that, like last time, it had to end. Especially considering the amount of effort that was put into the week long preparation, it's sad that something so beautiful can only be enjoyed so briefly! At the start of the week I'd said that I was so glad that the process was continuing, and I think it's got such grand potential. Inside the room it honestly made me think like there was no other world outside and I don't think I've ever enjoyed helping out so much.

We blitzed through the bump-out, sort of. The ratio of 4 hours to bump-out in comparison to around 5 days of set up seemed blitzy to me. I felt a little disappointed that I'd been involved with the process from the beginning and I was going to miss the end of it because it takes around 2 hours to get home and that meant I'd have to leave at the end. Sarah came to the rescue and rectified that, and I got to stay around to help finish. One of my fondest memories from uni so far was the crew sitting around in a circle exhausted, but chatting about random bullshit and eating the left-over gourmet cupcakes.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Australian Cast of A Very Potter Musical

Left to right: Emma Taviani (Hermione), Dakota Striplin (Harry) and Tom Oliver (Ron) from A Very Potter Musical.
It's dreadful to enter a show with preconceived ideas of what the show should be like, but this is one of the shows where comparisons are inevitable because it wasn't likely to ever be staged again. A Very Potter Musical, with music and lyrics written by Darren Criss and A.J Holmes, was originally performed by Team Starkid in 2009, and broadcast over YouTube. The musical has achieved quite a following, and has made its way to Australia. Brisbane based Lost Boys Theatre Company defied all the odds and staged a new rendition of the production, offering free entry to the devoted public who managed to book tickets at MetroArts' The Studio Theatre for a just under a week. Lost Boys Theatre Company has created a rendition of the musical is extremely enjoyable, with some catchy songs paired with a hilarious book.

Overall the singing is okay, but the acting of the cast is without a doubt the highlight. The cast is helmed by Dakota Striplin who, in addition to rocking a guitar, plays the main character Harry Potter. As Harry he emits a hybrid vibe of the pretentious and egotistical side that you loathe from the movies with undeniable charm and bravado. Team Potter are completed by Tom Oliver and Emma Taviani, who play Ron and Hermione. Oliver's portrayal is bombastic and moronic, but extremely entertaining and somehow oddly endearing. He functions really well in conjunction with Taviani's square, nerdy and neurotic portrayal of Hermione. Together all three boast a great chemistry and bounce perfectly off the cast. Anthony Craig as Quirell and George Kennedy as Voldemort were both great with their voices and their fancy feet (and were adorable as a couple). It was refreshing to see Cameron Whitten not sink into the original portrayal of Snape, instead embodying the role as a high tension, hyperactive borderline insane figure. The standout actor is the phenomenal Lauren Neilson, who plays the obnoxiously androgynous Draco Malfoy. Each Neilson appeared on stage she absolutely stole the show. With the help of Malfoy's sardonic but bumbling henchmen Crabbe and Goyle (played by Lachlan Gerehhty and Nic Mohr respectively), Neilson cascades across the stage to produce ludicrous poses and acrobatic feats which are flamboyantly unnecessary and hilariously self-indulgent.

The songs are okay, most of them lacking real complexity and structure but several pieces like 'Get Back to Hogwarts' and 'Granger Danger' are catchy and really enjoyable. What the audience is there for though is the book, which is unbelievably witty, crammed full of intertextual references to the Harry Potter series, littered with ridiculous continuity errors and sporadically glorious social commentary. Interesting, this is not the first adaptation of the musical in Australia - another production was staged last December.

While some of the additions to the book worked, the majority of the content was tedious or unnecessary, and veered on being grotesque. I didn't really like the copious amount of swearing that was thrown in just for the sake of swearing - the original staging had a few profanities here and there, but it was usually reserved  and utilized for moments of comic timing rather than peppering it on every throwaway comment. Dumbledore is made to look more like a senile, disgusting old man in this adaption and lost a lot of his eccentric charm. The scene where Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange are attempting to get it on in the Ministry of Magic was awkward and flat out gross. The use of American accents was hackneyed and totally inappropriate, especially considering that most of the American references (Ron's snacks, the colloquialisms etc) were omitted from this adaptation. I guess it was a request from the creators, but that doesn't make it anymore valid - especially seeing as Harry Potter is set in the United Kingdom.

The set design, including the lighting by Michael Rogerson and sound by Joel Redding work well together despite the limitations of the Studio. The lighting works wonders on such a small stage and manages to evoke different scenarios and manipulate how large the stage looks. Also, fantastic work to the person who decided to arrange the musical score to include a violin. It was really effective and managed to add an extra element to the music. The band, led by Ben Murray, were on the ball and looked like they were having a great time funking out.

All complaints aside, the audience (and I) loved this. People genuinely were having a fantastic time, cheering, tapping their toes along and singing along with the cast. The cast are supremely talented, and despite their bizarre performance with American accents they perform with phenomenal enthusiasm and commitment to their characters. The design elements are great, paired with entertaining music and an amazing book. A really enjoyable theatre event that I'm thrilled I got to experience.

A Very Potter Musical performed by Lost Boys Theatre Company was performed at MetroArts' Studio from February 1st-5th. Admission free.