Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Best of Clowning

The Gremlins (Source: Anywhere Theatre Festival).
My rendezvous with Flipside Circus was unfortunately not realised when I got lost in Paddington after The Oxford Girl. I managed to get myself to Roma Street by 6:30pm, and as it turned out I had time to make it to the Gremlins' Gravity is Only the Beginning.

The premise of the show is that a family of Gremlins are about to launch their new budget no-frills airline and realise the Gremlin dream of flying. While ticket sales are going well and the maiden voyage is scheduled to take place, they've run into the hurdle that they're yet to actually build the plane.

I don't have patience for clowns and the art of clowning. The most contact I've had with them have been from Cirque du Soleil productions, and even then I've always thought that clowns, at best, are a necessary evil. Having an entire performance based around the physicality and comedic timing isn't something I particularly enjoyed or something that I'd like to experience again.

Saying that, the text, jokes, and one liners that were included in the script were very smart and witty, and the troupe is in fine form - they parade around with youthful and endearing exuberance, and the three principals Röxoff, Møfball & Botölf seem to never tire or waver in energy. With the exception of the patriarchal Röxoff, the entire ensemble perform in an impressive imaginary language. There were several segments that were excellently choreographed and orchestrated and some very nice moments. I also greatly admire the sly business strategy of getting the entire audience to walk through their sponsors shop.

I can see the appeal, and I appreciate that a lot of people were really enjoying their time. Just not something I can enjoy or can discuss at great length.

Tickets for 'The Gremlins: Gravity is Only the Beginning' are from $12 (if you want a $12, make sure you ask for one, otherwise it's a default $14 - plus a $1.95 booking fee), and is showing at Anywhere Theatre Festival until May 19th. Duration of approximately 35 minutes. Book by visiting Anywhere Theatre Festival's website.

The Oxford Girl by the Ithaca Creek [*]

Performed on the banks of the Ithaca Creek, Physical theatre and live music combine for a work-in-progress of The Oxford Girl, an adaptation of the 17th century folk tale of the Cruel Miller. Thanks to its enchanting setting and music, The Oxford Girl is a charming piece that holds a lot of potential.

The setting was enchanting - the hidden grove in Woolcock Park had a sprawling green lawn before a plateau led into the riverbank. Tiny candles were lit to add to the atmosphere, and the entire experience looked and felt ethereal.

The piece opened with Louise Hales delivering a skittish intro with a quick synopsis of the show - unfortunately I was still deeply interested in how charming the setting was, and by the time I realised that the entire synopsis had been laid down I'd missed it. Although I'm familiar with Butoh traditions and the presentational style, it's extremely difficult to engage with, and much of the story was lost in translation. It seemed pretty important to know the basics that a miller had drowned his fiancé (wife?) in the river. Well, someone had died. Regardless of missing the context of the piece, the cast (James Halloran, Hannah Farrelly, Xani Kennedy and Indigo Keane) evoke an eerie atmosphere with their meticulous choreography, and they sensitively utilise the terrain with exceptional prowess.

The show couldn't be complete or remotely accessible if there had been an absence of music. Cellist Isabella Ambrose plays before and for the duration of the performance. While a lot of the score is incidental improvised material, influences and excerpts are drawn from Bach and folk songs to create the essential soundscape. It's somewhat repetitive and not especially tuneful, but adds an entire additional dimension to the piece. There were also a few instances where James Halloran also sang to progress the story, but around half of what he was singing was lost since his lower register isn't particularly well projected.

While the piece is obviously just embarking on its creative development, the execution of the movement, engaging music and exquisite setting all combined for an enjoyable period of Saturday afternoon. More clarity to the script and accessibility to the story would be welcome but otherwise it was enjoyable and has a lot of potential.

Tickets for 'The Oxford Girl' are from $5 (plus a $1.95 booking fee), and is showing at Anywhere Theatre Festival until May 19th. Duration of approximately 35 minutes. Book by visiting Anywhere Theatre Festival's website.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Experience Kansas City

Who is 'The Monster'? (Source: Anywhere Theatre Festival)
An interactive piece, This is Kansas City is a charming and intriguing scratch work which employs the use of mobile technology and imagination to create an interactive installation. This is Kansas City is a promenade work in which participants navigate around Southbank, directed by remote messages received through the use of a mobile phone, to collect information on the enigmatic criminal referred to as 'The Monster'. At designated locations, participants are given specific instructions while details of 'The Monster' emerge, so they can ultimately pass judgement on whether they think 'The Monster' is really as evil as it's made out to be.

The concept is exclusive, intimate, and secretive. It's genuine fun to be surrounded by the buzz of the city while simultaneously being involved in a secretive rendezvous with both a vigilante and being monitored by the-powers-that-be. It's also intriguing to blindly fall down the rabbit hole - being told to comply to actions was intriguing and when you being to convince yourself that you are being watched by both parties it builds a delicate amount of pressure and tension which is quite compelling. Many details are omitted from the information given from each sides, allowing the imagination to fill the gaps and draw its own conclusions - it's fun to take sides at the end. The best time of the day to experience it is when the sun is setting - walking around South Bank at twilight was a great coincidence, since the overcast was actually charming. 

Technology foiled the flow a few times. The reception of the phone is shaky regardless, but the voice of 'The Authorities' was also pretty difficult to hear - it's a computer generated voice which speaks the lines, but they're quite jarring since the phrasing is unnatural and unpredictable. I felt pretty stupid when I received a set of instructions once, and I couldn't hear them properly so I said 'Pardon?'. Of course no one was on the line and I was stranded. Because of this, a few calls had to be made to the Kansas City Helpline, which involved a remarkably efficient woman emerging to fiddle with your phone to make sure the right messages came through. Due to me having issues, the person who started the experience after me overtook me, and subsequently the person after them caught up with me. I tried my best, but despite trying to look away at every turn I noticed them both constantly (it was actually really irritating) and the immersion from the intimacy and exclusively died instantly. I get the feeling that this could be rectified by sending people out at 5-10 minute intervals, but I guess this would murder the practicality of the whole set up. 

This piece is still a work in progress, and although I've lamented how the little things detracted from the immersion, the pros far out weigh the cons. There is a magic to the piece, and overall the experience is very enjoyable. It's a novel and memorable little experience that has so much potential, it's just at the moment it's susceptible to little kinks. While they can be a little annoying, it's worth sticking with the piece to experience the intrigue - I hope the work gets elaborated on and is able to take us to more places!

Tickets for 'This is Kansas City' are $12 (plus a $1.95 booking fee), and is showing at Anywhere Theatre Festival until May 19th. Duration of approximately 35 minutes. Book by visiting Anywhere Theatre Festival's website.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Painted Feet Orchestra Debut [*]

No idea what this is. The only promotional photo I could find
(Source: Anywhere Theatre Festival).
A highlight of Anywhere Theatre Festival, tonight was The Painted Feet Orchestra's debut concert. A new collective of incredibly talented performers, this dynamic concert featured pieces that ranged from klezmer to Mozart accompanied with multi-disciplinary elements including dance, live painting, and lighting. The Painted Feet Orchestra is incredibly versatile in their repertoire from performers of stunning talent.

The features of the evening were plentiful. After a dubious opening of clanging on pot planters featuring Elizabeth John (Rzewski's To the Earth), the supremely talented duo Imogen Eve Gilfedder-Cooney (violin) and Nils Hobiger (cello) play Handel/Halvorsen's Passacaglia with a beautiful and intoxicating fervour. Deanna Connelly (violin II) and Sophie Mathison (viola) make up the rest of the quartet for a breath-taking, violently romantic performance of Schostakovich's No. 10 which is accompanied by an evocative live painting by Gary Akin. Maxine Sutcliffe (bass) and Luke Cuerel (saxaphone) lead a homage to Jimi Hendrix, and the ensemble is complete when they're then joined on stage by Toby Gifford (clarinet) and Alexandra Chetter (flute) for an arrangement of Bulgar from Odessa, a Slavic folk tune which was a whirlwind of improvisation which brought the house down.

While the piece was an utterly stunning musical experience, I'd be hesitant to bill it as a great example of a theatrical one. I understand the necessity of tuning, but such meticulous procedures on stage really disrupted the flow of the performance. The whole intimacy of the evening was compromised by some dreadful buzz which hissed every time someone made a noise on stage (so pretty much the whole show). While the multi-disciplinary skills in the piece are visually appealing, they aren't really unified by a specific theme or vision and their inclusion feels pretty random. That's not to say that the elements are at all bad - the shadow projection of the Passacaglia with its simple contrast of hues was beautiful, and the live painting was stunning - it just felt that as a stand alone experience it's fine but in order to create something theatrically engaging the content needed a connection. Regardless, with some adjustment to enhancing transitions and given more attention to establishing an overall theme or thematic through-line, the experience could be totally enhanced.

Any misgivings are obliterated at the closing of the night, when the highlight of the evening is played. The custom arrangement of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major. Gilfedder-Cooney's arrangement is a revelation, a delightful and sophisticated adaptation that highlights the versatility and talent of every member of the ensemble and the audience responds with rapturous fervour (people actually leapt out of their seats to give a standing ovation).

The Painted Feet Orchestra's performance was inspiring. While the theatrical elements of the production were a little lacking, the incredible standard of performance and sensitivity of the musicianship from the collective were astounding, and the entire experience was utterly engaging. Too bad it was only for one night - make an effort to see The Painted Feet Orchestra if you hear they're around, as this evening was excellent.

The Painted Feet Orchestra performed on 17th of May, 2012 in the Ian Hanger Recital Hall, Queensland Conservatorium at Griffith University, as a part of Anywhere Theatre Festival. Follow The Painted Feet Orchestra on Facebook.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Romeo (BANISHED!) and Juliet by QTC

(Source: Queensland Theatre Company)
To describe Queensland Theatre Company's Romeo and Juliet in the same category of what people are saying (debacle, horrific, atrocious etc.) would be a bit of an over-statement, but it is pretty dreadful - this is the kind of production where you check your watch for the time, several times, wishing that it would just finish so you can go and live your life. It's a shallow adaptation that features a cast which don't gel together, in a design that isn't really unified or used well, under some abysmal direction.

Melanie Zanneti (Juliet) and Thomas
Larkin (Romeo) (Source: Queensland Theatre Company).
I was initially really excited to see the play since the revised artwork is gorgeous, and I love the work of almost all the actors included. Because of the end result, it was pretty disappointing to . . . see them in this work. Melanie Zanneti (who was the best part of Pygmalion last year) gives a convincing performance as a teenager. But much like the pitch of her voice, her portrayed moods are like a yo-yo. There seemed to be no calm in between her genuinely joyous outbursts and her neurotic bemoaning of the world. She has two distinct methods of delivering her lines - one being this youthful, bright and girlish tone which makes her sound like a child, the other being reserved for moments of woe, which is this low demonic incantation which is so cacophonous it could summon the dinosaurs dating from as far back as the early stages of the Paleozoic era back from extinction. It seems as though she hasn't got any direction on how to play the character one way, so each scene is pretty unpredictable. Thomas Larkin as Romeo is pretty much what you'd expect him to be: Thomas Larkin as Romeo. Considering he hasn't even styled his hair differently, the whole demeanour of his character feels identical of his work as Orlando from La Boite's As You Like It earlier this year. I know it's inappropriate to come into a theatre with pre-concieved ideas, but in this case it's very easy to draw parallels since the two shows are spaced so closely together. Between the two of them, there doesn't really seem to be any immense driving passion or spark, and it's very apparent that what you're seeing on stage is just a temporary love story.

The older members of the cast are a pleasure to watch, my favourites being the always wonderful Andrea Moor and Steven Grives who capture the audience when on stage. The star of the show is Caroline Kennison (I love her!!!), her performance is the highlight, bringing the much needed comedic relief and emotion to the stage. Seems though the young ensemble of males spent more time working on their bodies than on forging a concrete emotional connection with the audience, or working on how to enunciate 'Tybalt' properly (sounded like 'Tibbles'). Casting Veronica Neave as Mercutio is a directional decision that is wretched beyond comprehension. She throws herself into the role, animated and raunchy, but she just doesn't manage to conquer the pointlessness of the decision. She's also made out to be a sexual deviant, with every line involving some kind of pelvic thrust - I wanted Jennifer Flowers to personally go and apologise to the LGBT rights movement that was being conducted outside for adding so much embarrassing homosexual innuendo. There are moments where the entire cast work and there is this wonderful confluence between them, but it's so lopsided and rarely occurs.
The opening scene (Source: XS Entertainment).

The design of the show isn't really that impressive, despite the attempt to open with a truly opulent and lavish display. Bill Haycock's set, a disgusting poisonous yellow and green, looks like something summoned out of the ruins of Chernobyl. The front of the stage features a large crescent moon pool, which is featured in the opening with a superbly beautiful spectacle - it then remains almost entirely neglected until the climax of the piece. Although it's not visually appealing, it has potential, which is very misused with some baffling stage direction. The original soundscape, written by Phil Slade, rarely does anything remarkable, and while it has some great moments it serves as ambient music and the transitions being brief, violent rhythmic strikes on strings (which sound very similar to the Rite of Spring). The fight choreography was really flimsy too.

There are highlights of the show, which are things that I'll happily discuss. The opening of the production was enchanting, and there is an exquisite interlude when Juliet's body is laid down in the mausoleum. For that 30 seconds or so, everything on stage - lighting, sound, movement - all come together. The show actually had one of the best moments of theatre I'd ever seen - it's the moment was when Mercutio is wounded. She's dragged offstage while saying "A curse on your houses", and just when she's out of sight and you think that it's the end, she CLAWS onto the wall, shakes her fist in the air and wails "YOURRR HOUSSSESS!". All she needed was a witch's hat and a crystal ball to cradle while adding "I'll get you, my pretty!" and I would have given them a standing ovation. I SHRIEKED with laughter at the sheer ridiculousness and subsequently every time I thought of the scene I burst out laughing again, much to the dismay of the weeping teenagers in front of me. I also loved the way the actors all delivered the word 'BANISHED!', which was always conducted in an over-blown wail. It was almost like someone wanted to make the first half of the play into a comedy.

Ultimately the fatal flaw in this production was the direction. Given the timing of the season, the brevity of the script, and the chorus of actors, I'd say that QTC would have assembled this production to be a direct competition with La Boite's annual Shakespeare, and tried to emulate their success. With the amount of six pacs on display (any male under 30 ran around stage with their shirts open or off, for no apparent reason) I'd forgive you if initially thought this was a Berthold production. But unlike a Berthold Shakespeare production, Flowers' vision of Shakespeare is really, really lacking - in casting, contenet, and in the theme. Saying that the theme of the play is 'love' is a little broad, but it feels as if Flowers didn't fully understand how or care to assemble a dramatically truncated adaptation of the text to create a work that brings out the emotion or a long-lasting message or question for the audience to reflect on.

Disappointingly, QTC's adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is nothing special, since it just flails in every single element. The cast, while all very talented individuals, have no real chemistry between each other and their portrayal of characters leave much to be desired. The technical design elements, with rare exceptions, are nothing special, and the directing is just so clumsy - it just feels like QTC wanted to do something that made them appeal to more audiences but their design just came across as a knock-off, which is a shame because this could have been something incredible

Tickets for 'Romeo and Juliet range from $30-$79 (plus a $5 booking fee, God knows why because you can print your tickets at home), and is showing until May 13th. Duration of 2 hours and 10 minutes. Book by visiting Queensland Theatre Company's website.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Hoax at La Boite [*]

Wasn't much in terms of banners from La Boite, so that's from Griffin
(Source: Griffin Theatre Company)
La Boite and Griffin Theatre Company's A Hoax, directed by Lee Lewis, is so engaging that I didn't even check my watch for the time. A great premiere for a smart script with a flawless cast, this is the first La Boite show of the year that I thoroughly enjoyed.

A Hoax is about a white social worker, Ant (Glenn Hazeldine), who has written a fictional autobiography in the perspective of a young Aboriginal girl named Currah. In order to get the book published by the prolific and much sought-after agent Ronnie (Sally McKenzie), he hires Miri (Shari Sebbens) to pretend to be Currah. With the help of Ant and Ronnie's sassy gay friend Tyrelle (Charles Allen), Miri grows to embody Currah, taking on the life that was written for her and then some. Pressure mounts when the book is an absolute hit, and readers, in addition to the publishers' contract, demand a sequel. The elaborate little white lie that brought Currah to life becomes a tedious hoax that spirals out of control very quickly and gets worse with every additional detail added to it.

The cast are exceptional, which is fortunate because they all get around the same amount of stage-time. Glenn Hazeldine is so engaging with his handling of the difficult Ant, who's a pretty wretched character. He's forced to be domineering to control his scam but is eventually disgraced by his own product. Shari Sebbens, playing the product Currah, is ravishing, acting the outspokenly occa but timid girl before becoming the calculated celebrity. Charles Allen is a delight, throwing himself into the role of the incorrigible Tyrelle with wild, reckless abandon. His snappy vulgarity in combination with the diva attitude of the character is outrageously entertaining, and he delivers the best lines in the show. Sally McKenzie as the two-faced neurotic agent is equally enjoyable - I get the feeling she tripped over her lines a number of times, but continued with such gusto it really adds an extra kick to her dotty character.

The script, which is written by Rick Viede, is very well written, being compelling despite the absence of significant action. The pacing of the piece is fairly slow but manages to be gripping since it's so intriguing to see what lies need to be concocted to ensure that the clandestine lifestyle of Currah can be maintained. Simultaneously, and what's most interesting, we see the asymmetrical development of Currah's undeserved rise to fame while watching Tyrelle's unfortunate descent into poverty, and examine how the characters develop to accommodate their luck. The only scene which seems out of place is the climax. It feels like it disrupts the flow since the huge jump is top jarring to take seriously. I pondered how realistic the scenario would be in real life too, and regardless of the passionate foreshadowing, it still struck as pretty unlikely. The quality of the prop was questionable also.

The sound design in this production is very reminiscent of Toulmin's work with Julius Caesar. It's not prominent, but emerges more in the second half and is dark and brooding. Renée Mulder's sterile white pristine set, which seems initially simplistic but striking, carries its own subtle commentary on Currah's situation living in a world that is manufactured for her.

As a new Australian dramatic work, A Hoax does really well. The script is smart and engaging to watch as the dreadful tension builds, and it's brought to life by the exceptionally talented cast. It was so enjoyable, and there's even an intermission! Lovers of realism and tension come on down!

Tickets for 'A Hoax' range from $22-$48, and is showing until May 25th. Duration of 2 hours and 25 minutes, including interval. Book by visiting La Boite's website or by calling (07) 3007 8600.