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Wednesday, 18 March 2015

PACT'S 'RAPID RESPONSE TEAM' dissected by James



PACT Centre for Emerging Artists' 'RAPID RESPONSE TEAM', hereby referred to as RRT, is a clever, often amusing piece of conceptually driven theatre. Its title is as much a descriptor as it is a moniker, as the group of artists given themselves two days to respond creatively to the stories from the previous news week. 

I’ll start by saying that the production is conceptually appealing. In an information saturated world it’s kind of refreshing to sit and watch a group of artists filter through the content, and then reflect upon it creatively. Additionally, there was something interesting in the way the production offered a perspective on how we view and interact with news as a piece of entertainment. This was seen most clearly at the commencement of the piece as the performers watched a constantly updating news feed in silence. Every minute or so a new news story would appear, to which the performers would cheer and drink from their beers. The audience would laugh, and then read the title of the story; “Wife waits for word of Husband caught in killer cyclone,” to which the audience, like the performers, would quickly feel the pang of sadness, and perhaps guilt at utilising this story for entertainment. Yet is that not its purpose anyway? It produced an interesting dynamic to say the least.

The other appealing aspect of the concept was its creative limitations. The set was simple and largely bare. A rug adorns the floor, some tables (including the lighting desk) occupy the sides and back with a scaffolding rig sitting back-right. There is a screen against the left wall. The lighting is low and warm. It’s quite a welcoming space, and feels very natural. The performance isn’t trying to sell you anything, it’s simply practical; born out of the creative process. The team, Aslam Abdus-samad, Nick Atkins, DA Carter, Marie Chanel, Stephanie King, Ryan McGoldrick, Kevin Ng and Claudia Osborne, are obviously all very talented theatre makers, especially considering the amount of time they have to put each performance together. Before the show begins, we are told the performers started creating the performance the previous day, culminating in approximately 15 hours creation and rehearsal time. This produces a feeling of risk, while simultaneous provoking admiration at the team’s ability to create smooth, entertaining theatre with so little time.

Strangely enough, the inherent feeling of risk adds something to the performance. The question or threat of things going wrong is a constant presence throughout the piece. Rather than be a negative experience however, it’s quite pleasurable to watch the performers succeed with so much against them. It is a credit to their ability as theatre makers.

That being said however, there were some elements to the performance that were lacking, and I think this largely correlates to the amount of time the performers have to prepare.

Transitions between scenes/sections are at times long winded and a quite clunky. This isn’t a consistent thing, but certainly occurs enough to warrant attention. There were moments where the performance felt empty; we were moving from one brief segment to another brief segment, and the transition itself seemed to take the same amount of time as the segments it connected, leading to what felt like a drawn out empty procedure. Perhaps this feeling was a result of not knowing the subject matter the performers were drawing from, something which at times was frustrating and other times pleasurable (It became something of a riddle to solve).This was by no means the general experience of the show, simply something felt at various points.
I think it’s also important to note that no two performances of RRT will be the same and because of this, I wager the team will develop their process as they go along. The problems of this show will not be the problems of their next and will no doubt improve dramatically. 

Rapid Response Team was accessible, interesting, amusing and thought provoking. It is an interesting way to digest the news in an information heavy world, and an enjoyable night out. Definitely worth a watch.

RAPID RESPONSE TEAM performances take place on:
11th April 9th May 13th June 11st July 8th August 12th September 10th October 14th November

Monday, 16 March 2015

'THE BIG FUNK' disected by Lauren Scott-Young



 I hadn't been to the Tap Gallery before so I took my mum along as my date and buffer of social awkwardness. The place is cool -  some art to look at, drinks and canapes and an air of 'relaxed hipster' about it.

This piece sits really nicely in this gallery setting, the show is a comedy - a mixture of absurdist scenes and monologues exploring masculinity, mythos and 'the big funk': a movement that has stifled humanity, caused by our inability to acknowledge our fear, our mortality or our nakedness. All of this driven home with a monster monologue, delivered (with great conviction, I might add) by Jasper Garner-Gore.

The play is an ensemble piece, and this ensemble was strong. Jess Loudon, who plays Fifi, and Michael Drysdale, who plays her husband, Omar, share a great chemistry which results in a lot of laughs, and some of the best comedy lies in a cafe scene between Gregory, played by Bali Padda, and Jill, played by Alixandra Kupcik - they both really hit gold here.

 The set was nice and simple, white walls and floor in a little open space, not separated from the gallery. Red tape marks broke up the floor space delineating where set pieces, and sometimes humans, were placed. One of the more memorable scenes involves a bathtub - it's nothing too fancy, a fibreglass tub in a purpose-built wooden frame on wheels. But it's what happens in the tub that defines this scene: Austin (Garner-Gore), bathes Jill (Kupcik) “like an innocent child” and she is cleansed, in both literal and figurative senses. It's the centrepiece of the play and it was handled with great delicacy and warmth by director, Michael Dean. Thumbs up.


The Big Funk runs 11 March - 21 March; previews 11 and 12 March. Mon-Sat 8pm, Sun 6pm @ The Tap Gallery, Darlinghurst.

Monday, 9 March 2015

BELVOIR’S ‘BLUE WIZARD’ dissected by me



There are moments during a show when you realise with sickening awareness that you are not its target audience. ‘Blue Wizard’ hit me with that fact somewhere between ‘I come from a crystal planet where everyone is gay’ and ‘I only eat cocaine and jizz’. 

As much as Nick Coyle’s ‘Blue Wizard’ has been jazzed up since its inception at PACT centre for emerging artists in 2013, it still feels like a distinctly Fringe Festival show. The acting is patchy, the energy is lacking and until Coyle starts to integrate puppetry into the performance, the show itself is flat and thin.

‘Blue Wizard’ attempts to appeal to its mainly gay male audience with snide remarks every now and again, with Coyle’s gold lame underwear as costume and its content is squarely aimed at its demographic. Although I never felt uncomfortable, mostly I wasn’t amused either. The Blue Wizard, one of many hair coloured wizards from his home planet, known for partying and sexual freedom, lands on Earth as ambassador after winning a competition on his home planet. His comet crashes and left with just a wizard’s egg that takes 2000 years to hatch, he finds himself in an abandoned tip (perhaps Earth of the future). The egg hatches, the Blue Wizard becomes nursemaid and we realise his dilemma of time, love and sacrifice.

It is the play’s ending that almost redeems the one hour show. That and Steve Toulmin’s sound and Damien Cooper’s light show. Ralph Myer’s has crafted a design that is versatile and able to surprise us with what can emerge, be lit, found and created. In fact, if the first three quarters of the show didn't rely on someone who could act and with had more substantial material, the performance would have been more enjoyable for all of its audience, not just the gay male contingent. 

However, the men in the audience were amused and love the ‘readings’ and ‘shade’ done by Coyle and there was a level of androgyny that gave it an intrigue. The problem with the show is that it was half-cooked and if not for the technical prowess at play, the thin nature of the show would have been doubly exposed. 

I would not be rushing to see it but if you do, it’s currently playing in Belvoir Downstairs Theatre

Monday, 2 March 2015

SQUABBALOGICS’S ‘MAN OF LA MANCHA’ dissected by me



There’s nothing like the work of Squabbalogic to convert a reluctant musical theatre goer. I have come to excitedly anticipate their work, especially as they present musicals I’ve rarely heard and then wonder why I haven’t when it’s this good. The reason is simple- there is an element of magic in Squabbalogic’s work. It’s not over-produced, but it’s polished and professional. It doesn’t always go for the star factor but it always produces quality performances and it almost always reinvents with integrity and creativity the space, the music and the interpretation of the work presented. Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion’s ‘Man of La Mancha’, directed by artistic director Jay James-Moody is no exception to the rule. 

‘Man of La Mancha’ is a play within a play. Imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition, Cervantes  fights the fellow inmates for the right to retain his manuscript of Don Quixote. As the inmates transform and accompany our enacted plot, they embrace all of the play’s elements, including its music- played by the cast throughout the play. It makes for an interesting dichotomy of those a little stronger in acting and those a little better at music but in the end, it doesn’t matter. The gritty rawness and authenticity of the prison is enhanced by the piecemeal ensemble of instruments and players. 

Tony Sheldon is exceptional in this production. His Miguel De Cervantes/Don Quixote is vulnerable and dignified, comic and dramatic. I’m embarrassed to say that this was the first time I’ve seen Sheldon in action but I’m so grateful I finally did. He beautifully engages as our delusional hero and lovable knight and his conversion into his frail alter-ego is done with nuance and skill. Then as Cervantes, his confidence and charisma is magnetic. Sheldon’s ability to manipulate our feelings and present three different, clear and precise roles was powerful and drew in his audience at every step.

Another highlight was Marika Aubrey (Aldonza). Her feisty heroine’s journey is one of the engrossing moments of the production and James-Moody’s ability to interpret the dark elements of the play with force and vulnerability allows ‘Man of La Mancha’ to find a weight that catapults it from a potentially fun fantasy comedy into a relevant and uncomfortable examination of oppression and survival. 

Paul Geddes musical direction underscores James-Moody’s interpretation that allows the ensemble to move organically from instrument to actor and highlight the mood of each scene and sometimes juxtapose the brutality with a sweet melody that heightens the violence. 

Simon Greer’s set creates an earthy hue of an underground makeshift existence for our characters with each part of the space able to be transformed, to secret away performers and to fill the stage with movement. Benjamin Brockman’s lights were the perfect complement to Greer’s set- in every corner lurks a darkened danger, every shadow a potential villain and every light a transient chance of hope and joy than can quickly turn against you. Brendan Hay’s costumes enhance this further still. A grimy lived-in, worn and tattered design contrasted to our protagonist’s arrival and stature. Then as each character becomes part of the play within the play, their roles are reinvented in costume and status. Another special mention to Ross Chisari for his choreography and to the whole cast for the passion, skill and vigour in which they have embraced James-Moody’s production. 

‘Man of La Mancha’ is playing at the Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre until March 21st.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

THEATREXCENTRIQUE'S 'POPE HEAD' dissected by James


Theatrexcentrique's 'Pope Head', written and performed by Garry Roost, is a chaotic and energetic bio-piece on the life of Irish born painter, Francis Bacon. As someone who isn’t incredibly familiar with the personality of Francis Bacon, I was interested in what I would discover from the performance. I knew enough to know he was a Surrealist visionary and sometimes classic idiom maker (“Champagne for my real friends. Real pain for my sham friends”). Bacon’s turbulent life no doubt makes for some intriguing and exciting writing, however interestingly, the writing was probably the production’s weakest point. Needless to say, the performance is enlightening, at times engrossing, funny and horrifying.


The set is appropriately simple; white floors and walls, with a triptych centre stage. The panels are spaced so Roost can walk between and behind the paintings, often going out of sight to reappear again a second later, sometimes transformed into a new personality. These transformations, made through physical and vocal characterisation and slight costume changes, occur just as much in front of the panels as behind. The volatility and schizophrenic nature of Roost’s performance only adds to the chaotic and tumultuous nature of Bacon’s psyche.


Roost’s Bacon is a breathy, dislikeable yet scathingly amusing character. Often manipulative and uncaring, he is also an intelligent, tortured soul with clear tastes on art, criticism and sexuality. Roost brings him to life admirably. There is something satisfying about watching an actor work hard on stage, and Roost certainly does, deftly transitioning between characters in varying impassioned states.


One thing that felt lacking, as I mentioned earlier, is the writing. There are moments of clarity, but largely the text feels encumbered by a desire to express all, to tell too many perspectives of a story. Roost’s text would have serviced the performance better had it more clearly delineated between timelines, characters and ideas. At times this creates pleasing and achievable riddles to solve and discover as an audience member (Who am I seeing now? When does this take place?), but largely it resulted in distancing the audience from the narrative and the character.


Some original music by Matthew Williams and Eddie Gray, a close friend of Francis Bacon, was also featured throughout the piece. While at times it felt unnecessary (dark, unnerving soundscapes over what was already dark and unnerving parts of the performance), Eddie Gray’s string compositions were at times a delightful counterpoint to such a troubled character.


Overall I enjoyed the production. While there were problems with the text and its clarity, dramaturgically it was well produced and director Paul Garnault made some lovely decisions with its staging. The main talking point however is Gary Roost’s performance. He is energetic, tortured and breathes a frenzied life into a complicated character. The production is worth seeing if only to experience the commitment and energy in his performance.
Pope Head runs from the 24th of February till the 6th of March at the Old Fitz.
Tuesday – Saturday 9:30pm, Sunday 7pm.
Tickets: $20 + Booking fee.


By James Harding.