Saturday, October 07, 2006

Back to the Fringe

Due to work being so hectic this week, I've been unable to see much at the festival since Sunday, but made up for that last night by catching three shows in a row. For two of them, I had the esteemed and always enjoyable company of my dear friend Lisa Greenaway, a writer and sometime- performance partner (and also the editor of The Program, an Australia Council-sponsored arts portal for da yoof). We enjoyed a couple of drinks, some superb calamari, and our usual sparkling conversation.

Afterwards, I retired to my couch with a glass of red and a book - Notes from the Teenage Underground, the debut Young Adult novel by Melbourne author, screenplay writer and excellent human being, Simmone Howell.

Now, on with the reviews!

The Nightmare Heap

At Bar Open, Fitzroy until Saturday 7th October

Staging a play above a bar is no easy matter, and congratulations to Wit of the Stairs, the company who mounted this independent theatrical production, for inventively using the limited space they had on offer. A semi-circular couch became the mouth of a mine; a bed was raked at a steep angle on a set of stairs so that the audience could clearly see the woman sleeping on it; a mysterious figure clad all in black, like a Victorian mourner, sat in a dark corner, awaiting their cue.

Atmospheric music greeted us, which coupled with the staging, effectively set the scene for this play, whose press described it as "funny and disturbing... a bedtime story for grown-ups."

Sadly it all went downhill the moment the actors began reciting their lines, although the fact that they started 20 minutes late certainly didn't endear me. Trite and expository dialogue, coupled with wooden acting from the male lead, and over-acting from the other performers, meant that this play about the supernatural infiltrating the real world became rapidly unbearable. While I regret to say I walked out after 20 minutes, I do not apologise for doing so: festivals are too short to waste time on such lacklustre theatre.

Absolute Necessity

Dante's Fitzroy until Sunday 8th October

After pouring my heart out in a fit of maudlin drunkeness on this blog the previous night, I confess that when I re-checked the festival program on Friday to remind myself what I was about see, to discover that Absolute Necessity was a "hybrid art performance" about love and relationships, I fretted momentarily.

The fact that this show by Chiaroscuro Creations (a collective of Deakin University's Bachelor of Contemporary Art students) was described as "a unique theatre-dance-media mish mash!" concerned me even more. Someone needs to tell these people how to write a better, catchier and more descriptive blurb!

That said, this was an extremely enjoyable production, and at only half an hour, was refreshingly brief and direct.

Krista Green and Ross MacPherson played the Bride and Groom, a theatrical Everyman and Everywoman. As the show began, they launched into an interwoven conversation, more paired monologue than dialogue, that explored, dissected and celebrated a romance throughout all its phases.

As the pair spoke, two dancers, the fluid Clio Williams and a slightly more awkward Heath Barrett, evoked the ever-changing mood of the text through swiftly stylised movement. An excellent video projection of an ever-changing landscape - sometimes autumnal, sometimes swept by falling snow - and a minimal score was well integrated into the production.

Green and MacPherson failed to adequately convey the emotion of the piece, and their delivery lacked range and modulation, while the production as a whole took at least 10 minutes to really find its feet. That said, its disparate elements successfully merged together to form a strong whole. With more development, and more accomplished performers, Absolute Necessity could be tremendous. As it was, despite its flaws, I found myself utterly engaged by the time it concluded.

In the Beginning? Uhmmm

Dante's Fitzroy until Sunday 15th October

Having heard a bit of a buzz about this show, I was keen to check it out, and am delighted to say that it more than lived up to my expectations.

A twisted take on the Biblical creation myth, In the Beginning? Uhmmmm begins with God (Rod Primrose) in a nursing home, tended to by two attendents, the Devil (Hamish Fletcher) and an Angel (Olivia Crang). The two struggle wordlessly with their attraction for each other, and God struggles to gain their attention, which when it comes, is not always welcome.

His bed becomes a stage on which first God, and then his attendents, play with bones, fruit and other objects - mostly memorably, a raw chicken, plucked and headless, which dances and cavorts to create the single most inspired piece of puppetry I've seen this year.

While this production could do with further dramaturgy in order to draw out its narrative, and its multimedia aspects are underdeveloped, it's definitely one of the most memorable shows I've seen so far in the festival. Quintesentially Fringe, fanciful and startling, I heartily recommend it to you all.

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