Hello My Name Is

“So this is a community centre.” I’m in the same studio space I was in last October, playing table tennis and drinking wine, my thumb on a hand held buzzer that I was to press every time anyone either talked about anything personal or heavy, or made an inappropriate comment. “This is no longer [tapping the tennis table] over there, it’s over here.”

Nicola Gunn is a dazzling theatre maker, relentlessly touring and developing her work here and overseas. Her current project Hello My Name Is is a partly solo work that takes place in a community centre and demands audience interaction on a very particular level. The latest incarnation of the piece happened with her season at the Blue Room in Perth last month.

 

“I really used it as an experiment with audience participation and I really push it and push it to just really make sure that I don’t like it. I don’t want the audience to be left to their own devices. It’s not the kind of show I want to make.”

 

Audience participation is a hard sell, which Gunn knows better than anyone. But rather than forcing the audience into the uncomfortable position of furthering the story, and ‘performing’ the work for her, in many ways they are there to keep her company. “I don’t like audience participation, but I also don’t like solo shows. And the great dilemma is that I am a solo performer. So it’s about using the audience to perform with me, and to acknowledge the fact that I need someone to talk to. And that, unfortunately, will have to be the audience.”

 

Gunn included a slighter level of this audience interaction in her last show At the Sans Hotel, for which she won The Stage’s best solo performer award at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Her shows in the past have included lonely characters in vacated buildings, desperate to reach out to a slightly bewildered, yet bewitched audience. These characters, she is slowly discovering, are part of a broader, more autobiographical work in progress. “I’m discovering this autobiographical thread, along with this sort of gothic sensibility. This is the first show where I’m actually being myself, Nicola Gunn, and not having a mask or a character or a funny accent. So I think every show leading up to this has been this gradual unmasking. And this is the final one where it is actually just me. It’s following this performance art tradition of making the artist the art. It sounds really self indulgent to say that well, I am what I’m making, but it is me.”

 

This self-consciousness she is discovering in her own performance, then, might be a reflection of the self-consciousness the audience feels when asked to participate in her show. “In Perth it was really hard because people wanted to act, and pretend they were in a community centre, and I really hated this, the audience acting and breaking the magic, so I had to explain ‘It’s not really a community centre,’ and then we’d have to get into this conversation. So this time there is this narrative of the audience arriving for a workshop called ‘How To Change The World Through Social Transformation,’ so I’m assuming that everyone wants to be here, it’s set up in this very bureaucratic way. Also out of an audience of 50, I only get maybe, 15 people up to do things, so there will always be people watching. So there is still the sense of a show and being watched.”

 

Which at least means the terminally shy have the option of opting out. Although this may also trigger a feeling of regret, or even jealousy that their shyness has inhibited them truly taking part in the piece. “The idea is that if people opt out of doing activities, I want people to leave going, ‘Wow, I wish I did something, I wanted to but I stopped myself,’ and that’s what I want, that’s the feeling that I want.

 

At the Sans Hotel tagged itself as a psychological detective story. The feeling that runs through Nicola Gunn’s work, the feeling that makes it so unlike anything else going on in Melbourne is that her shows, like mysteries, don’t actually have a complete story in them. It’s more that each character has their own fragmentary back-story that the audience investigates. The fragments that are there have a greater resonance.

 

“The show again is playing with that kind of form, because there is no narrative, and people really have to infer their own meaning. I had this eureka moment of actually realising what I was making was a retrospective of Nicola Gunn’s life and work, as if ­– not as if I was dead, but as if I was someone who was really important, because I’m interested in how we value things, and how we value and don’t value people. And that’s kind of when the show started coming together for me. Because I am personally going through a bit of a career crisis of actually just quitting. And so it’s about choices, and why am I doing this? And again, if I were to retire, this is the retrospective of my life and work at the age of 33.”

 

Here’s hoping that that doesn’t happen, because even through Nicola Gunn’s work is never going to be easy to describe, or always participate in, it is always going to be work worth seeing.

See the original article here

Frankenstein in Love

The Monash University Student Theatre production of Frankenstein in Love, performed for the Melbourne Fringe at Collingwood Underground Carpark, is an ambitious, visually strong, yet ultimately uneven horror story that misses its mark when it comes to the plot in a manner that distracts from its potential.

The play – an early work by writer and filmmaker Clive Barker (The Books of Blood, Hellraiser) – takes place in a Central American country in the midst of a coup led by the mysterious El Coco (Benjamin Marshall). It is quickly discovered that under the previous dictatorship, an exiled European doctor, Josef Frankenstein (Thomas Middleditch) has been allowed to carry out human experiments on enemies of the people. Now the maimed and monstrous survivors of the doctor’s experiments, including El Coco himself, are after revenge.

The play’s use of visual elements is very strong, with the chorus painted in make-up reminiscent of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, and the gore being actually gory, with ripped out hearts and flayed characters shouting for revenge being run of the mill events in this unapologetically lurid play. The lighting is also, for the most part, effective and seamless, working well with the use the actors make of the underground venue: slowly creeping out of the dark, the audience seeing them before the other characters do. With all of these elements in play, it was curious that the delivery of the text was decidedly un-camp, with the exception of Tegan Harrod’s Lazaro, who nailed her Igor/Renfield-like character with a great mix of physical performance and vicious buffoonery.

I would have understood the choice of a serious portrayal of all of these elements, had the potentially strong thematic content of the script been explored. At a time when Central America seems to be tearing itself apart, at a time when torture and body horror is the norm for both filmmakers and government superpowers, at a time when fresh batches of war criminals continue to be unearthed from conflicts that ended not so long ago, it seemed a shame that none of these modern anxieties were used to lend a helping hand to the production in any consistent way.

Ultimately, a choice had to be made on what everyone was to run with. Uttering thematic elements as tokenisms is not the same as a thorough and thoughtful exploration of them. Auschwitz, coups, human experimentation, all within an unstable Central American government; so many strong ideas were circulating under the surface of the script. A utilisation of the elements of horror, coupled with some reference to the sociological anxiety or disruption in which most horror stories are contextualised when they are written, was obvious in its absence in this production.

Rating: Two and a half stars

Monash Uni Student Theatre present
Frankenstein in Love
By Clive Barker
Directed by Emma Palackic and Sophie Phillips
Production Design: Sophie Phillips
Lighting Design: Jason Lehane
Sound design/Composition: Ross Unger
Cast: Benjamin Marshall, Alexanda Wynne, Rosie Noone, Joel Skurrie, Thomas Middleditch, Tegan Harrod, Josh Karlik, Nick Fry, James jackson, Henry Brooks and Isobel Roberts-Orr

Collingwood Underground Car Park
September 16 – 17 and 19 – 25 

Melbourne Fringe Festival
September 21 – October 9

See the original post here: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/frankenstein-in-love-185671