The Divine Cabaret

Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy remind me of that peculiar time in the Eighties when a musician could meld together any series of genre-bending ideas and quite easily cast them into the welcoming arms of any number of eager listeners. One only has to think of Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman (For Massenet)’ – a song that is both brilliant and, if you are driving, makes you want to crash into the nearest brick wall by the seventh minute – which, in 1981, spent a week at number two in the British charts.

The Divine Comedy were and are a strange little band that wrote songs about public transport, bondage loving knighted public officials and gin soaked boys, and it’s this storytelling element that imbues the Melbourne Fringe show The Divine Cabaret.

Geraldine Quinn, Mark Jones and Karlis Zaid belt out a striking tribute to the group, but the beauty of the show is that the three singers, as well as the magnificent backing band are such consummate musicians in themselves that you don’t need to have a lick of an idea who the Divine Comedy are. I barely did, save for a few cheeky downloaded tracks so I could pretend to know what I was talking about.

The sense of Hannon’s original vocal style easily translates to the live, cabaret tinged performance that is given by Quinn, Jones and Zaid. Jones is also on keys, but the three vocalists beautifully spot each other’s solos with great harmonising. There wasn’t an off note in the evening, something that is usually expected with any performance.

There is an attempt by the three to construct a narrative, woven between the songs, coupled with a peculiar sense of humour that you can guess has been inspired by Neil Hannon, sometimes making you wish you understood the joke a little better. At the end of songs you find yourself trying to concentrate on the frenetic storytelling coming from one of the singers before you finally realise the reason it’s so hard to focus – the other performers have also launched into a barrage of noise at the audience, so that the stage is transformed into a chaotic storytelling battle, rattling along, descending into confident silliness. I liked the slow burn of it; it’s unexpectedness.

And gosh could the singers really wail. It especially came out when Geraldine Quinn sang ‘Thrillseeker’, with the other singers hanging back, happy to harmonise as she took over the stage, always on the edge of really physically thrashing about. Karlis Zaid was more self-contained, his gaze outward as at a target, especially when recounting the sexual dalliances of an unnamed knighted public servant (excuse me if I’m not sure of the name of the song, it felt weird to try and steal a set list). Mark Jones only once ventured out from behind his keyboard to tell a spoken word tale of what was lurking in his woodshed, other times approaching his singing with a more casual air that belied the intensity of his vocals.

This was a show of seemingly effortless musicianship that had a startling and vivid air, and a damn good, if subtle, sense of humour too.

The Divine Cabaret at Trades Hall, season concluded.

Melbourne Fringe Festival, September 22 – October 10

http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/the-divine-cabaret-182490?sc=1

Tomorrow, In A Year

Ralf Richardt Strøbech is the director of Tomorrow, In a Year , an opera mounted by Hotel Pro Forma and a highlight of this year’s Melbourne Arts Festival. It takes the life of Charles Darwin as a starting point, with music scored by Swedish duo The Knife and choreographed by Hiroaki Umeda.
 
Strøbech’s opinions on the opera are both open and precise, so it’s a good idea to let him do most of the explaining, starting with how much the production has evolved since it was first mounted. “It’s not the same piece as when it opened, which is nice because Darwin also made several changes in his Origin of Species. In the sixth edition it only contained 21% of the original book… so if it was insistently the same way every time it would be non-Darwinian.”
 
But what is the story, really? “It’s only fragments of a narrative… although there definitely is an underlying structure. The big one is about the life of Darwin himself, split into four parts. The Beagle voyage is the first where it’s about youth, then there’s the death of his daughter Annie, so that’s much more about middle age, and making a family, and then the third part is about the publication of his book, and the last part is about how he becomes a recluse and allows the world to exist around him. Then there is of course time itself, all evolutionary time starting from 4.65 Billion years ago.”
 
Darwin’s daughter Annie died at the age of ten after a series of health complications. The effect of Annie’s death on her parents was devastating, moreso as Darwin’s theory of evolution developed and he wondered if her death was because he had married his cousin. I ask if this interests Strøbech. “It does… The second part of this performance treats that a little bit… [There] is this beautiful story about the letters of Charles Darwin. He’s with his daughter at the hospital and Emma’s actually at home with all the other children… she gets these letters sent by messenger describing how Annie’s state deteriorates while she must keep up her face because she doesn’t want to alarm all the other children. So this to me was extremely interesting: How do you cope with that? And this is a pivotal image in the play, sung by the mezzo soprano, the dilemma between actually having an emotional storm on the inside while having to keep up appearances on the exterior.”
 
He just answered my next question. I was interested in who the Mezzo Soprano was supposed to be representing, because she’s female and it’s the story of Charles Darwin, so I was interested in the choice of gender roles. “In a sense they don’t represent anyone, the three singers; in a sense they just represent themselves, to be very hardcore post-romantic. That being said, there are times obviously the male singer is very much Darwin, you can’t help but read him that way. [The mezzo soprano] has moments when she is an actual person, I would say in Annie’s Box she’s really Annie’s mother, but other times she’s more like time itself, because [her voice is] very grand and has the capability of suggesting something outside the individual’s body… she’s also somewhat distanced from the audience whereas the second lady Lærke [Andersen], who is an actress, is much more a representative of the audience onstage.”
 
And as for live musicians on stage? Turns out there are actually none. “None, exactly none, there are no musicians on the stage or in the pit, it’s all electronically produced,” says Strøbech. “The music was all made by The Knife who are completely incredibly fantastic. They make everything from scratch, so Olaf [Dreijer] went to the Amazon to record sounds, he also went to Iceland and then they were kind of transformed into this electronic score. The singing is live and there also is live voice manipulation and vocal coding so the singers can be in harmony or even in rhythm with themselves.”
 
If that’s not enough for you – the story of the greatest scientist of our time, incredible choreography and the mind-blowing music of The Knife – here’s Strøbech’s advice: “I think the most important thing to say is that we always tend to look for explanations in things but… this performance is really about accepting that the origin of thoughts is from sensing and observing. I think this is Darwin’s method. It’s only because he freed himself of all preconceptions that he was able to find a new path.
 
“And I think this is the most important thing about the opera: that it doesn’t want to bring one specific reading, it’s much more showing something that speaks to the senses more than the brain… and that was very much how we would work, the Knife and Hiroake… It’s a process and that in itself will read its meaning, much as the way a rosebud doesn’t mean anything other than a plant wants to get laid. It’s not symbolic in any way apart from to just be.”
 
Hotel Pro Forma’s Tomorrow, In A Year plays at The Arts Centre from Wednesday October 20 until Saturday October 23 at 7.30pm. Tickets range from $25 to $110.50. You can book through The Arts Centre or Melbourne Festival.

View the original article here: http://www.beat.com.au/content/tomorrow-year-0

Under Milk Wood

To begin at the beginning. How can it be that a single actor could even come up with such a brilliant but mad as hell idea: a one woman version of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, his 1953 radio play that features over 60 characters? Sixty of them! A play that was penned by the beautiful, damned, chauvinistic Welshman, encapsulating all that he loved and loathed about his countrymen; the sniping, the singing, and, of course the drinking; and all of it is brilliantly realised by Zoe Norton Lodge in this brilliant, and in many ways inexplicable, performance.

The play is set in a small Welsh village called Llareggub (‘Bugger All’ spelt backwards, an in-joke Thomas spent most of his life trying to slip in somewhere) from a predawn morning to the closing of the day. It consists of snatches of conversations, the solitary thoughts of the lonely and nostalgic, the young and old, and even the dead. It is not a slice of life kind of play – there’s too much magical, dense and grandiose language going on, especially from the narrator: “There’s the clip clop of horses on the sunhoneyed cobbles/of the humming streets, hammering of horse- shoes, gobble/quack and cackle, tomtit twitter from the bird-ounced/boughs, braying on Donkey Down.”

Bambina Borracha Productions – specifically their set designer, Natalie Hughes – have chosen a very simple set that can be easily transformed through the various props and guises available, underpinned by a multimedia backdrop (designed by director Vanessa Hughes) that adds colour to those sections of the play that require more than one voice at a time. A sheet hung up to dry on the washing line can become a shawl on Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, or a bundled up baby for Polly Garter, while the sound of drying washing whips in the wind.

Thomas originally wrote the play for radio, and it has since been adapted and mounted for theatre and film. This is what makes it so interesting to translate to a visual medium. You can’t have 60 actors traipsing about the stage, so it makes sense to put it on as a one person show, cut out the stress of elevating the importance of one character over the other. Even so, the thought, the precise detail that has gone into this production is amazing; you can see the exertion on the face of Norton Lodge, but it doesn’t affect one’s enjoyment of the performance one jot; in fact it enhances it. If we had been subject to such a flawless performance without the actor showing any sign of physical strain and concentration, it would have made the play less human, less engaging. As well as being taken in by the story, the audience found itself as if watching a marathon runner, egging her on to the finish line, but watching the grace of her movements on the way. Oh, and the Welsh accent? Fantastic. Watch this while you can.

Bambina Borracha Productions present Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, at Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall until October 9 

Directed by Vanessa Hughes, performed by Zoe Norton Lodge, set design by Natalie Hughes

Melbourne Fringe Festival, September 22 – October 10

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/under-milk-wood-182445?sc=1

She’s Not Performing

Margarite’s demons are catching up with her. A woman in her early 40’s with the energy to drink and dance the night away with a boyfriend who, while not that much younger than her, she treats like a refreshing boy toy, there’s something eating away at her that twists her joyful dancing into a frenetic sway. The stage at La Mama has been transformed into a gentlemen’s club, and it’s there, late at night with her boyfriend, Iain (Mike McEvoy), drunkenly watching the dancers, that Margarite’s (Andrea Close) memory is triggered. Twenty five years before, while still a schoolgirl, she gave birth, adopting the baby out straight after. She’s Not Performing portrays a segment, an impression of Margarite’s pain as she remembers her daughter, who should now be twenty five, and decides to search for her. As she slowly reconnects with the father of the child, Hamish (Christopher Bunworth), and increasingly alienates Iain, she finds herself drawn to the dancer she saw on that first night at the men’s club, a dancer, Annie (Rachel Purchase) who bears an uncanny resemblance to Margarite’s younger self. The character of Margarite is a bit refreshing; at the age of forty two she has not aged gracefully, and still messily navigates her way through the space. The dissonance in her character is a relief, but the relation of her character to the storyline is not. The subject matter of adoption is always going to be fraught, but She’s Not Performing is disturbing not because of its subject matter, but because of the inherently narcissistic motivations of the older characters. This would be an interesting bent if this narcissism was not also portrayed as heroic, moral and meaningful. Margarite is messed up because of the way society has moulded her into a type, a slut, and damaged goods. This, however, gives her the right to treat those around her as reflections and extensions of herself, characters, if you will, in her own psychodrama. This does well to create dramatic episodes, heighten the tension in a series of set pieces, but does nothing to make you sympathise with, or even like the main character. Margarite’s world is a vacuum, a slowly closing circle, with not even enough room for the idea that her daughter is a real person with her own agency. At no point does she speculate what sort of person her daughter might be. Instead she is thought of as an extension of Margarite, a reflection, demonstrated through the scenes she shares with the dancer in the strip club. She looks just like you. She is you. A handy metaphor for Margarite to confront her demons, to remonstrate against her fate using the figures of the ‘nice guy’ the ‘seemingly moral family man’ and ‘stripper’, to claw her way to some sort of peace and determination within herself in order to move forward. These are not, however, abstract characters. Rather they are people Margarite projects her anger and confusion onto. Demeaning her boyfriend, having flagrant disregard for the feelings and welfare of the dancer she ‘befriends’, Margarite’s hell is extended to anyone whose life she touches, especially for those who care for her. The peace she comes to towards the end of the play is at the cost of everyone around her, a note you feel is supposed to be poignant and determined, but left me feeling frustrated at the obsessive use of possessive nouns around an abstract figure, a daughter that is decided upon as Margarite’s salvation, whether she wants it or not.

She’s Not Performing at LA MAMA THEATRE A Doll and Soulart Production A New Play bby Alison Mann (Winner Melbourne Dramatist’s Emerging Playwrights’ Award 2008) Directed by Kelly Somes With Christopher Bunworth, Andrea Close, Mike McEvoy, Rachel Purchase August 18 – September 5

see original post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/shes-not-performing-182160?sc=1