Friday, September 28, 2012

Victoria Opera does 'Sunday in the Park With George'

I think if I see this in person I'll cry.

Tender Napalm - Suddenly Awesome [*]

Despite being excellent in all aspects and a solid piece of theatre, I didn't think much of Tender Napalm for the first twenty minutes or so since it didn't make me feel anything - perhaps it's because it takes a while to get into how the language of the text. But suddenly something just makes you like it.

Bailey looking buff and Phelen looking like Barack Obama -
thankfully they're adorable in real life (Source: La Boite).
Presented by both the Brisbane Festival and La Boite, David Berthold's staging of the production is replete with Garry Stewart's fluid choreography. The stories of Tender Napalm are told through a man and a woman who are in a state of grief. To escape their reality, they reminisce on their past and invent fantasies which involve unicorns, sea serpents and monkeys who have the ability to make conscious and coherent decisions on allegiances. It's a really well constructed script where multiple narratives, some deeply personal others ridiculously fantastical, run simultaneously to an ultimate revelation in a text thats replete with motifs of words, objects and ideas.

To describe the two actors simply, they're beautiful. Every line is accompanied by a decisive and emotional movement which is packed with energy. Garry Stewart's choreography incredibly really helps create an unusual performance which the pair bring to life through their enthusiasm. Despite looking like Barack Obama on the promotional artwork, Kurt Phelan is delightful to watch, his characterization being very animated and pretty adorable. Ellen Bailey's portrayal seems perplexing and is initially restrained and distant until a split second at the end where she breaks and you glimpse the most harrowing expression of agony. Prior to this the portrayal feels very individualized, but then this moment pops up and the entire performance suddenly makes a bargain with your brain and it all makes sense. Their chemistry seems to be a bit lacking, but like all the aspects in the show, it takes a while for us to buy into what they're doing. They're both really endearing though, and the party scene was perfect (although it feels like there need to be more pauses).
The perfect moment. I love anguish.
(Source: La Boite Facebook).

The technical aspects are pretty minimal because the action revolves entirely around the words of the characters. The lighting can't do much except illuminate Justin Nardella's daunting but gorgeous stage. The stage is clean with chain grids over exits which seems to evoke confrontation although there didn't seem to be a correlation between how it impacted the narrative. Steve Toulmin greets you into the theatre with this awesome piece comprised of percussive beats and sampling it sounds like something straight out of The Banquet - loved it. I wanted more music, but it was really difficult to see where it could have been without pandering the audience.

If you have any reservations, something about this play just makes you like it and it's suddenly awesome. Although they're not the best combination I've seen on stage, there are two very dedicated, talented and entertaining performers on stage. The text is really clever and sophisticated and the tech is just enough and exactly what it needs to be. I think this would really appeal to lovers of theatre with movement, and is the best thing I've seen in the Brisbane Festival. A solid 5 ½ out of 7.

Tickets for Brisbane Festival and La Boite's Tender Napalm are $220-$54, and is showing at La Boite Theatre Company's Roadhouse Theater until October 13th. Duration of approximately 80 minutes. Book by visiting La Boite's website.

Monday, September 24, 2012

After All This, Unsure What to Think

(Source: QTIX)
If you're studying Performance Innovation, this article will not help your assignment. Try fragmented narratives, though.

Brought up from an acclaimed season in Melbourne, another installation of Brisbane Festival's Under the Radar is Elbow Room's After All This. It's a puzzling examination of the afterlife composed of three different scenarios: two children talking about an up-coming nativity production, a disillusioned mathematician struggling with faith, and the ritual suicide of a charming cult.  While they seem to be unrelated in narrative, they share the through line of discussing the afterlife.

The beginning is endearing and touching, focusing on two children who know too much about death and religion already too early in their lives, before we're introduced to the second segment which is absolutely baffling. It features a scientist and a mathematician examining the audience before Kathryn Marquet jumps out of the audience asking for money like Eliza Doolittle, who then converts into a well spoken religious figure. The final part involves a chorus of enthusiastic cultists who explain their plans of ascension to whatever lies after death. Who knows - maybe they've got it right and we're the crazy ones? It was so fast paced that I couldn't reflect during and after I wasn't really sure what I had seen.

With a chorus of artists including Emily Tomlins and Angus Grant there are a few solid performances, but there is so much guessing on what is actually going on throughout the scenarios it's pretty difficult to connect with any of the characters. However, the cultist segment was very entertaining and everyone delivers an eerie but entertaining performance.

Apparently Steve Toulmin did sound design but I can't remember any sound at all with the exception of a song at the close of the show. Kris Chainey's lighting was pretty non-descript too, some nice washes and a few LEDs but not much else going on.

The most thought provoking moment was actually during that wild second segment - the scientist points out that everyone considers themselves to be important, despite them being no different to other people. I've always pondered this because surely everyone thinks they are the centre of the universe at some point . . . really glad someone finally discussed this in some form, although as soon as the idea was presented it was gone.

The piece left me a little dazed. I wasn't sure what to comment on after it as finished, and I wasn't really sure what had happened. It has some solid performances and interesting ideas, however they're not discussed at great length or depth. But everyone else loved it and it's finished now, so that's that!

After All This showed as part of the Brisbane Festival's Under the Radar at Brisbane Powerhouse until September 21. Duration of 60 minutes, no interval.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Things I'd Say To You

Source: QTIX
In the oven Warehouse of MetroArts, Fixate Productions are occupying the space with a little piece in Brisbane Festival's Under the Radar. Based on personal experiences, The Things I'd Say To You is a reflection on the process of loss and grief. In a surreal world in between denial and acceptance, characters ponder their ineffable feelings and situations, and consider the possibilities of what could have been.

The two actors, Kitty Gatling and Ilsa Wynne-Hoelscher, are very sweet in their roles. Their performance is very effective and suitable to the show - they're touching, animated, and appropriately bizarre. The only problem encountered is that the text is so heavy and personal it felt like they couldn't/didn't fully connect to the content. The text itself is also problematic to the audience - there are a collection of mundane topics which gradually reveal their personal importance to characters once they're discussed. However they don't seem to provide a satisfying explanation of their importance to the audience, and it doesn't seem they go deep enough for us to feel empathetically. For example, there is a reoccurring discussion with pancakes and their scent, and although I could sort of guess what was going on there with the loved one making pancakes, there needed to be further explanation. It is an engaging script which does have its moments of comedy, and the interactions of the two characters are adorable (Gatling's throw away comments while doing the laundry are particularly amusing).

As the piece aims to be surreal and reflective, it's pretty hazy what is actually going on in terms of narrative. One character constantly refers to the other as 'Mirror' and the other doesn't seem to get a name (I think it was said once, but I missed it). I didn't really enjoy the show because of the circumstances I saw it in. Unfortunately I sat in the third row, so I only saw about 40% of the show - the rest of the time all I was trying to navigate around the fabulous mop of red-hair in front of me and I never got a glimpse of the stand in its full glory. There was a lot of action on the floor that I missed, and the pacing of the piece didn't help.  For some reason a bunch of people, what sounded like a fucking high-heels convention, plodded past in the corridor next to us about 10 minutes into the show, obliterating the charm and intimacy of the room.

The show is minimalist on its technical aspects, but it's appropriate for the nature of the show. Hanna Sandgren's set is simplistic and lovely. It is utilised well by the performers who travel between the wings, and drapes material all over them which was a nice contrast. There were some simple washes in the lighting but nothing really special, and there is only one song used in the show which occurs during movement pieces. Projection is also used in a few instances including some kind of dye technique, but I have no idea what the desired effect was.

The piece is a great work for the emerging company and will hopefully have a sell-out season, and hopefully gets reworked to add a bit more clarity to its text. The Things I'd Say To You isn't the most compelling and dramatic work I've seen, but it is honest and genuine, and seeing the reactions of other audience members it has the beautiful potential to speak and bring solace to so many people who have experienced loss.

Tickets for Fixate Production's The Things I'd Say To You are $15-$20, and is showing as part of the Brisbane Festival's Under the Radar at MetroArts until September 22. Duration of 40 minutes, no interval. Book by visiting Fixate Production's website.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Underground's Urinetown [*]

Promotional artwork for Urinetown (Source: Underground Productions).
I didn’t know anything about Urinetown until last night, but from the moment where the front of house manager jumped on a seat and yodelled that we all “know the drill”, to the disembodied voice whispering “. . . piece of ass” at the start of the show, I suspected it was going to be a bit of a disaster. 

Urinetown is about a world in turmoil – in an eternal drought, water consumption is monitored and restricted by the tyrannical Urine Good Company who charges the public for the privilege to piss. Handsome boy Bobby Strong, who lost his father to the cruel arm of the law, falls head over heals in love with Hope Caldwell in an ill-fated romance among a revolution that hopes to inspire change and liberate the water rules, so everyone can pee where and whenever they want.

The musical itself is a perplexing and difficult choice since it really has no redeemable features. The premise is insipid and the book, score and lyrics are too inane for a snob like me - while there are a handful of reoccurring motifs (like, 3?) there is no complexity or anything memorable in the score. While the director and script claims that the production looks at the serious issues of the environment, globalisation and consumerism, it doesn't really come through or discuss any of the issues at great length. I don't think anyone was expecting a musical comedy to do such a thing, but if it was trying to it's difficult since there isn't much character development, and sequences and numbers just happen in front of your eyes while you watch in a daze.

There were three standout performers in the cast – unsurprisingly two of them include James Gauci and Rhiannon Marshall. Gauci plays the dashing Bobby with a great exuberance and vitality, easily breezing through the rock-esque score, and Marshall is the picture perfect and plucky heroine with an airy voice and lovely timbre. Their duet, ‘Follow Your Heart’, showcases true musicality and ability to perform. The third standout was a boy with light purple hair, who performs these outrageously inappropriate movements, stealing focus every time he was on stage. And the audience loved him for it - pointing him out and cheering every time he was there. One thing the whole cast is is enthusiastic, although by the ending of the second act, it’s apparent that they’ve all cottoned on about how ridiculous their situation is. Regardless, everyone performs with great √©lan, and it really pays off in a few musical numbers like ‘Run, Freedom, Run!’ and ‘Why Did I Listen to that Man?’ Pretty much anything involving the whole chorus was a glorious, chaotic mess and barrage of sound. Kieran Davey and Xanthe Jones aptly perform and make the best out of their two roles, an irritating duo who provide unnecessary narration while breaking the forth wall (the whole thing feels very patronising).

The Schonell in its festering glory didn’t help the situation - the cavernous space swallows up any performer or piece of set in it, and the minimalist approach of having a sparse set for the small indie-rock musical totally backfires since the space is about as intimate as a volcano. The set was practical but didn’t really stimulate much, although unfortunately it fell down about a third of the way through Act One. The wretched sound system causes the frequencies of microphones to cancel out sporadically, and (I think we heard one of the lighting operators fall down) it’s impossible for the lighting to evoke any additional emotion and it just comes off as a category I would describe as ‘musical lighting’ – however, there is a lot of comedic lighting cues, like when the cast dance in the dark, characters having to step across into their spotlight, and (my favourite) couples walking across the space in a blackout for apparently no reason.

For a scipt claiming to be a comedy, there are a lot of lines and gags that are emphasised and then re-occur as the script progresses. They’re pretty rancid, but there are a few genuinely funny moments where I laughed out loud – Little Sally retelling Bobby’s final message, Caldwell’s bizarre mannerisms and throwaway remarks, and ol’ purple hair kept us adequately engaged throughout the duration of the show.

It's a huge achievement for a student theatre company to produce a large scale musical with such a huge cast, but this performance of Urinetown just goes to show that even a solid and enthusiastic cast can’t save a truly unpleasant show. There were a lot of mess-ups on the technical side of things due to the shabby venue, but there’s nothing really special in the musical itself. The enthusiasm of the cast carries the show to some extent and there are a few stand-out performers, but it’s not a particularly enjoyable evening.

Tickets for Underground Production's Urinetown are $15-$20, and is showing at The Schonell Theatre at the University of Queensland until September 10th. Duration of 2 hours and 30 minutes including interval. Book by visiting Underground's website.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

1984 - Shake & Stir's Live Movie

I don't think I've ever been as depressed reading a book as I was with 1984, and once I finished it I remember thinking that it was not something that I'd particularly care to experience again. With that in mind, I never expected to see an adaptation for stage - but enter Shake & Stir, whose work aims to connect younger audiences with more complex texts with contemporary stagings. Shake & Stir's re-imagining of 1984 is a brilliant adaptation, and although it's still equally depressing it's compelling and engaging through its use of multi-media, brilliant technical design and wonderful acting.

Overall the adaptation is really enjoyable and very smart. The events of the book are condensed without compromising much of the plot, and certain scenes were staged exactly how I'd imagined them when reading the book.
Proberts, Parker, Balbuziente during
the '2 Minutes of Hate' (Source: Facebook).

I love that when I saw the poster, I knew which actor was going to play which character. The three main characters are perfectly cast, and overall the cast are great as an ensemble. They're led by the always worthwhile Bryan Proberts as Winston Smith, who plays the role slightly animated but sensitively subtle as a suppressed member of the silent minority. As the only woman in the cast, the role of Julia (obviously) falls to Nelle Lee, who shows a veneer of innocence but is delightful as the passionate and promiscuous rebel, and Hugh Parker is O'Neill in a way that's authoritative and eerily charismatic. Ross Balbuziente and Nick Skubij cycle a variety of supporting characters pretty well, but Skubij also pulls out a great performance with Charington (but I couldn't tell you why . . . ).

While much of the action on stage is led by the actors, multi-media plays a big part in progressing the story. The video media, provided by Optikal Bloc, is one of the most dominating features of the production. It exists as a way to communicate Winston's inner thoughts to the audience, and is instrumental in the production since without it, it'd be impossible to communicate the first half of the book. It's a smart idea and the only thing that really distracts it is that it feels like the total length of the footage feels like it's hugely dragged out, and all the internal monologue is delivered the same way (Winton speaking his thoughts directly to the audience in a shade of blue). It felt like we were sitting in the cinema watching 1984 - The Live Movie! While it gets a bit tedious, it's easily the best quality video I've seen in a live performance. Of course it also gets a lot of attention since half of the space is taken up by impressive and imposing television screens. It's gorgeously shot and processed, but there are a lot of slow motion shots zoomed into faces, and I spent a lot of time wondering if O'Brien and Winston were about to make out (actually, I think a homo-erotic subtext would have been interesting but I suppose that's a bit too much of a creative departure).

The remaining aesthetic and technical aspects of the show were brilliant. Josh McIntosh's cold and grimy set is imposing and practical, but so clever - it's magical when, in a few seconds, a corner of smoothly transforms into the intimate little room where Winston and Julia experience their temporary love story. Jason Glenwright's lighting is appropriate and varied as usual and the nondescript score, which is full of nuances and subtle rifts, perfectly captures and enhances the hopelessness of the monotonous life and is by far the best theatrical score I've heard from Guy Webster.
Proberts and Lee in McIntosh's beautiful set (Source: Facebook).

Beyond the unintentional erotic vibes, I have only two criticisms for the show, although I consider them to be pretty major faults. When Winston betrays Julia in Room 101, the event is too de-emphasized among the soundscape and lighting. Winston crying "Do it to Julia" is basically the conclusion to the show, as it shows that he has finally succumbed to the torture and has relinquished his will to think. It's pretty much a non-event since the screaming is so loud the content is inaudible and it's smothered by sound and a sudden change in lighting cue. The other criticism is the interaction between Julia and Winston at the end - it's too animated for people who have had their personal feelings annihilated (as spoken "they make it so they ruin your love"). Proberts moving a lot and trying to hold her hand implied that he still subconsciously had feelings towards her, and O'Neill makes it pretty clear he would have obliterated that. I guess it's really up to direction and interpretation, but those points really didn't get through.

While I'd heard some lacklustre reviews and people complaining about the overuse of multi-media, I really liked and enjoyed Shake & Stir's 1984. They've enjoyed a sold-out run which is well deserved and the adaptation has been handled sensibly and effectively. All the actors are great and the technical aspects are excellent, and beyond a few criticisms there isn't much not to like. Grand. I'd say the whole 'Double plus' thing, but everyone else in the industry has said that already.

Tickets for Shake & Stir's 1984 are sold out, and is showing at QPAC's Cremorne Theatre until September 1st. Duration of approximately 90 minutes.