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

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Tribes

Tribes, as produced by the Melbourne Theatre Company, creates an engaging family portrait that – despite falling into the pathways of constructed family dysfunction – constructs a narrative that reaches outside of the domestic unit and into the world of the Deaf community, reflecting the suffocation that sometimes comes with those who ‘try to do their best for you’.

An upper middle class family of Jewish intellectuals, the family unit in Tribes use argument and verbal patter as their main form of communication and identification. At least, this is the way they would all like to tell it, the exception being the youngest son, Billy (Luke Watts), who was born deaf and who spends most of the time sitting silently amongst the chatter – an act his relatives take for complicity in the family dynamic. This changes when he meets Sylvia (Alison Bell), a woman heavily involved in the Deaf community. Born hearing, but having deaf parents, she is in the middle of losing her hearing completely. This relationship opens Billy up to the Deaf community, which his parents have deliberately kept from him. In their view, connecting Billy with people who are like him would ‘hobble’ him somehow, pushing him down the path of hearing aids and speech therapy.

For many, this play would act as an introduction to the politics and prejudices surrounding deafness, as well as Deafness. Billy’s increasing awareness of how his family’s good but severely misguided intentions have caused him to miss out is thoughtfully set up in the first act – although the increasingly horrible commentary from his father, Christopher (Brian Lipson), on what he thinks of the Deaf community is often almost too much to take in order for a point to get across. But that is what this commentary, this talk, reveals itself to be; this bluster with lack of tenderness means that not only is Billy’s deafness discounted, but so are the opening paragraphs of his mother Beth’s (Sarah Peirse) first novel, and so are the increasing voices in his brother Daniel’s (David Paterson) head. The family is bound in the field of linguistic battle, but no ground is ever given in the name of empathy; they can argue until they’re blue in the face about the free play of signs and signifiers, but the only signing that Billy is truly interested in is summarily dismissed as a dull pantomime, a pale imitation of the English language.

It is the entrance of Sylvia that interrupts and awakens Billy, and Alison Bell encapsulates the heart of the show with her brilliant performance. Her character pulls all the threads together, with her knowledge of hearing and not hearing, as well as being the outsider who must be begrudgingly accepted into a home that defines itself through verbal cruelty, an act she equally dismisses and struggles to protect herself from. Bell has created a restrained and utterly engaging performance, gathering the audience as well as the family around her, hanging on her every word as she is transformed from a conduit for Billy and a representation of the Deaf community to the very woman who both embraces, and disassembles, the motivations and affectations behind the family’s very dysfunction.

I was greatly encouraged to watch a domestic ensemble piece coming out of the MTC. With an increasing, and occasionally worrying, trend towards spending more time on sets than scripts, this was an interesting and engaging piece of theatre, performed by a tightly bound, very talented ensemble that hopefully has scratched the surface of a few issues that, up to now, have not been properly explored. One jarring note was the ending, which felt oversimplified, in some ways embarrassing an up-until-then well written script.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Tribes
By Nina Raine
Director: Julian Meyrick
Set Design: Stephen Curtis
Costume Design: Louise McCarthy
Lighting Designer: Matt Scott
Composer/Sound Designer: Tim Dargaville

Cast: Alison Bell, Julia Grace, Brian Lipson, David Paterson, Sarah Peirse, Luke Watts

The MTC Theatre, Sumner
4 February–12 March, 2012
Bookings: www.mtc.com.au

See the original post here: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/tribes-187580

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

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

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