Freeway: The Chet Baker Journey

Chet Baker was the ultimate screw up – with film star looks, the softest voice and crooning trumpet, he was meant to take over the world, but instead ended up defenestrated before he was sixty.  In Freeway cabaret star Tim Draxl has created a retrospective work, channeling Baker in every way except for the chaotic and destructive persona that crept behind him his whole life, the ultimate example in modern society’s struggle to look at the ongoing feud between genius and disaster.

And Chet Baker was a disaster, churning his way through addictions, prisons and women, leaving his figure at the age of 58 ravaged and ancient.  It’s understandable how hard it was for Draxl, with a stellar cabaret background and astounding four piece ensemble, to cover the whole story to a sympathetic and knowledgeable audience.  The addictions and fast cars (and the emphasis by Draxl, whether it is to make him more palatable or not, is on the fast cars) shapes the Chet Baker legacy. To me the problem of Baker is finding a way to reconcile the smoothness, the coolness of his jazz with his troubled life behind the scenes.

Which makes Draxl’s position so difficult; his performance is engaging and flawless, and that’s just the point.  When the lights change and he becomes Chet narrating his life, you can see that he, a seasoned cabaret performer, understands, connects, with so many parts of his life.  But when he is narrating Baker’s life to the audience, and sometimes even when he is singing, when Draxl is singing Baker almost note and sultry-perfect, when he is scored along with is amazing, seasoned backing band, even though you are enjoying yourself, part of you nostalgic for why you connected with Baker in the first place.  Though Draxl and his ensemble give a remarkable performance, and the recounting of his life is informative without being overwhelming, when watching Freeway, you do find yourself searching for the more definitive cracks, that made the light get in.

Freeway played played in the Fairfax Studio at The Arts Centre.

See the original article here

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

We are Doing Well

I’d heard a lot of good things about prolific theatre group Forty Forty Home, which unfortunately may have raised my expectations to unfair levels going into We Are Doing Well, their Melbourne Fringe Festival production. A production heavily relying on preconceived signs and signifiers, a sympathy towards the glitch aesthetic and an assumption of collective left wing groupthink meant that the production, while not bad, didn’t leave itself to actually say anything despite its myriad of intentions.

We Are Doing Well starts with Mel, your typical current affairs, Naomi Robson-esque newsreader having a meltdown on air. Horrified and embarrassed, she flees the studio only to come across a room that she’d never noticed before, inhabited by Jen, an ambiguous figure from television’s past, and a beach ball called Helvetica. Both are soaking up the rays of a videotaped tropical island paradise.

Jen invites Mel to stay, brings the beach ball and an apricot Danish to life, and all try to explore the nature of modern news reporting. Ideas about regret surface, the impact of lies. Part of the problem however, was that I knew what the subtext was going to be because I read the program. The actual execution of said subtext wore itself a bit thin on the ground, turning the actual play into a bit of a one note song, its padding out with the use of surrealism only effective to a point.

The surrealism was a big sticking point for me, especially since the presence of a newsreader, filled with regret at misreporting a story of neglect, has a tremendous amount of weight to it. You don’t write a play with a character, or more aptly, a symbol like that without doing something with it. Mel, however, spends most of the play in an ineloquent freeze-frame, only articulating the aforementioned feelings of shame and regret in the final moments in the piece. This leaves the audience wondering what her unarticulated angst means for most of the play, although it seems we’re supposed to know the source, that ‘current affairs newsreader’ automatically signifies ‘bottom feeding story fabricator’. Yes, that is true, that is what the majority of the people in the room probably did see in Mel’s character, but you either wanted that thought expressed in the text or, if a mutual assumption has already been made about them, an extension of the thought beyond that. Neither was achieved. Instead, when any headway was made, a segue to the beach ball coming to life or a surf rock dance would happen instead, manufactured whimsy which is often hard to nail.

The video projection, reminiscent of the website Everything is Terrible, had a homemade twinge to it. The vision stuttered, the sound pitched; a reminder that this island paradise is not real, is impermanent. Then there is the content, the newsreader and the morning show host. Their main conflict is guilt, the narcissistic realisation that one’s life has been created out of lies, that the other’s has been created out of a dissatisfaction with their chosen career. The job has become boring. I feel like I’m lying to my kids. I am unhappy. The only solution is to escape into a fabricated world. But even there you are not safe.

All these ideas have resonance, but without the emotional attachment to the characters, it’s hard to bring yourself to care whether they leave the room or not (another big sticking point, Mel continues to complain that she wants to leave, but doesn’t, even though there is nothing stopping her, physically or emotionally). I wanted more from this production than what it gave its audience, and I think Forty Forty Home are capable of a lot more.

Forty Forty Home present We Are Doing Well at Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall. Season concluded.

Written by Ella McDonald and Erin Kelly

Directed by Anne-Louise Sarks

Melbourne Fringe Festival, September 22 – October 10

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/we-are-doing-well-182580?sc=1

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

Jon Jackson / Walk on the Wild Side

I admit that I arrived late to Jon Jackson’s performance on Thursday night, lost in the unfamiliar territory south of the river. Waiting outside the closed doors of the performance for the next song to finish, I absently said to myself, ‘Oh, that sounds like Carmen, I wonder why they’re playing a tape of that?’.

I didn’t know who Jon Jackson was, all I knew was that he was a cabaret singer of good repute. The song finished, the door was opened for me, and I rushed to the nearest seat I could find before looking up to find the stage empty except for a single man, an accompanist, and a piano. It took a few seconds before I realised that the pitch-perfect recitation of an aria usually performed by the likes of Callas had come from Jackson himself. In a casual suit he may have been, but Jon Jackson’s ability to capture and recapture the vocal stylings of performers as diverse as Johnny Cash and the entire cast of Sweet Charity made him mesmerising to watch.

The audience clearly had a much better idea of who Jackson was than I did, with many singing along to a lot of the songs. This was due to a combination of familiarity of material as well as the intimate nature of the performance.

This was in many ways a retrospective of Jackson’s career, something brought up in his lamentation over the loss of live music venues across the city in the late 80s and early 90s, something that evoked a sea of heads in the audience nodding in agreement. In my relative youth, I reflected on the recent angst caused by the closing of The Tote, a venue one would not associate with cabaret, the bars more conducive to that style of music having been reduced to a mere handful; places where once Jackson’s style of music would have been performed regularly. I feel like I have missed out on knowing every one of these songs, performed by a brilliant vocalist who brought his own personality to everything he sang, given how performances such as this used to be held nearly every night of the week all over the city.

And of course there was a particular Australiana to his camp pitch. Before breaking into a near perfect rendition of ‘Ring of Fire’, Jackson talked about the small Queensland town he grew up in, with its annual rodeo beauty queen contest. Things got a bit bawdy with one of Noel Coward’s more fruity ditties, and, as one of his two encores, Jackson gave a rendition of the final aria from Catalini’s opera La Wally, after first introducing its fascinating context. Having heard it countless times, to then find it comes just before the heroine hurls herself into an avalanche in the Tyrolean Alps – a story hilariously recounted by Jon Jackson – listening to it now gave the song a new and astonishing edge. This is indicative of Jackson’s whole act, one that which relies, as it should, on brilliant musicianship, but with the edge of a performer who is a veteran of the business.

Jon Jackson: A Walk on the Wild Side

South Melbourne Town Hall – Ballantyne Room, 210 Bank Street, South Melbourne.

Melbourne Cabaret Festival, July 22 – 26 

For more information, please click here.

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/walk-on-the-wild-side-181797?sc=1

The Return

Two angry yobs board the last train to Fremantle. The small and ratty Trev, contrasting with the grandiose and muscular Steve, find the perfect foil to their boredom when Lisa, a young law student, boards the train, swinging wildly between charm and outright threatening behaviour towards her. When another two characters, the initially introverted ‘writer’ and Maureen, a put-upon housewife, enter the scene, the play heads towards an overly convoluted climax.

The original insular and potentially explosive concept of the play, that of the train carriage at night, is sound. Unfortunately this underlying idea of a concept-driven set piece is the rule, rather than the exception to the play, with each of the characters remaining just that: types, vessels driving a script based in the narcissistic sense of shame the author, Reg Cribb, has drawn from a real-life experience of his own on the trains of suburban Perth.

Apparently, again according to the writer’s notes, he witnessed two yobs, thugs, name them what you will, harass and threaten a young woman on a train in a carriage full of passengers who failed to intervene. The writer’s guilt from not helping this woman in the first instance, and in taking the story of her trauma and making a play out of it in the second, can be an understandable point of artistic conflict. The proceeding half conceived attempts to salve these feelings of guilt are not. The ‘writer’ character transforms from the mute observer, to the Machiavellian, middle class artist, to unbalanced vigilante in a manner of minutes towards the end of the play, derailing any meaningful study of the variety of reactions human beings have towards aggression, vulnerability and peril. None of the characters are allowed either a picture of incompleteness or an ambiguous moral subtext. Each are driven by idealised concepts of love, passion, or revenge, unless of course the character is female, in which case their oblique and patronising motivations seem to be that they… well, had nothing better to do.

The central concept that the writer wants to explore is that of a disaffected masculinity, a manhood no longer in need. That is why everyone is drunk and stoned and violent, why this incident happened, because of a disaffected manhood. It is how the character of Lisa became a “battle scarred victim” to quote Cribb. It’s not that I don’t buy the argument; it certainly has resonance from when it was brought up in the post World War Two era. Then the post Vietnam era. Then the post Buffy era. But this play would only warrant further argument if it wasn’t for the presence of that pesky ‘writer’ character. His character is superfluous and as incoherent as Steve’s movement between being a swearin’ bogan and then completely changing the modulations of his dialogue to talk about Verdi. It’s not that a thug is incapable of talking about Verdi, just that the writer has an obvious expectation that you’re only capable of talking about him if you do so in a grandiloquent fashion. In the end we’re left with male characters, their heads in their hands, wondering where it all went wrong. Meanwhile the female characters are put down as they are picked up, useful objects to help the story unfold or for the men to identify with. Maureen isn’t a woman with slowly dwindling choices, she is the older lady who reminds Trev and Steve of their mum. Lisa is a woman to be threatened and rescued in equal measure, her only agency is that of disappearing once she is of no more use to the story.

The makers of the play, therefore, are left with an ensemble of characters whose only sure shot is of the protracted scream of rage and despair. The set is striking and gives a lot of scope for theatrical and physical manipulation of the confined tableau, but in such a confined space the air isn’t given to the characters to create a rhythmic rise and fall of tension, with a tendency to fall back on a level of projection which isn’t really warranted in the confined space of the Old Council Chambers. Unfortunately the effect of the stagecraft was lost on a script that lacked any coherent resonance, a clumsy stab at gender politics that is incapable of disentangling itself from the author’s own wish fulfilment.

TaDaa Productions present

The Return

written by Reg Cribb
directed by Andrew Gray
featuring Katy Brinson, Brendan McCallum, James Taylor, Emily Thomas and Anthony Winnick

The Return is a journey about everyday people on the last metropolitan train to Fremantle.
It will bring laughter, fear, threat and deceit … these stories may offend – please try not to judge.

Dates:
Preview: Wednesday, 2 May 2010 at 8.00pm
Season: 3 – 19 June 2010 (Tuesday – Saturday at 8.00pm)

Venue:
Trades Hall – Old Council Chambers
corner of Lygon Street and Victoria Street, Carlton

Tickets:
$28 Adult
$20 Concession

Bookings > Bella Union:
03 9650 5699
Or online

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/the-return-181453?sc=1

Some film museums I have known

Some Film Museums I Have Known, produced by Sydney theatre company RhubarbRhubarb, is an effects laden journey into the stutter created in the cycle of referentiality.

Paula works in a film museum, endlessly introducing a video of the Lumière brothers explaining the history of film to us, the audience. There is a dovetail; while Paula explains to us her film script using a variety of props and projection equipment, as well as the novel use of portable spy cameras, Louis Lumière, the sickly identical twin of August, is disintegrating into the pixelated feedback of video. Their endless loop of information on the birth of cinema, what was supposed to be insurance towards their survival, falls apart. Paula, her existence posited on her film script, even if it’s only in her head, unravels also at the discovery of her film, already made, shot for shot, in her local video store.

The recounting of Paula’s film takes up the body of the work. To a receptive audience she recounts an absurd action film, filled with the clichés and outlandish twists that any self respecting Hollywood blockbuster is bound to have.

There was one point in the recounting of this film that I stopped and wondered why we were laughing. Were we laughing at the slack jawed Paula, at the deadpan recounting of her terrible film? Laughing in recognition of the clichés and tropes that she was reeling out as if for the first time? Sitting there you found yourself flickering, asking if Paula was sharing these clichés with you, a riff of recognition, a conversation in referentiality, or if she was evoking these tropes in an act of destruction, the actions named and shamed, no one daring to repeat them from that point onwards.

As we laughed at these tropes the framework of Paula’s existence slowly crumbled, reflected in the tenuous trackwork of the camera train, the increasingly distorted presence of Louis Lumière, the relegation of Paula’s film onto the video store shelf. You feel as if, since these cinematic crimes had been named, or at least referenced, that some sense of feeling would come out of Paula’s performance. That, when she discovers her entrapment in her own simulacrum there would be a sense of loss or tragedy or, well, that there would be an emotional endpoint to the piece. This is touched on by August Lumière, in his attempt to carry on alone inside the museum’s video loop, but Paula simply fades into the background of the innovative technology used. Not everything must have an emotional core, but there is a reason why these film references, boldly typed out on the program, were shared with the audience, why we as an audience knew what films Paula was referring to. Surely our absorption of these texts was not to have a back catalogue of conversation, surely all of these references mean something to us, surely we have some emotional connection to them. This side of the hyper-referentiality of the piece was left wanting, however.

Some Film Museums I Have Known is not about the emotional, connective content, rather the technological possibility of creating moving pictures. Story, as with technology, the scientific creation from a formula. It was a great piece to move forward from, but as a result it left me feeling a little cold about what it wanted to say.

Some Film Museums I Have Known

Performance • May 19 – 22
ACMI, Studio 1, Australian Centre for Moving Image (ACMI), Federation Square, Melbourne
Duration: 1 hour
Price: $15 Full, $13 Concession

Original Post:

http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/some-film-museums-i-have-known-181278?sc=1