Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Geese written and directed by Joe Woodward

Geese written and directed by Joe Woodward.  Shadow House PITS at Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, April 26, 8pm and April 28-29, 1pm, 2011.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 26

While I drove home from Geese in the middle lane equidistant from either verge on a dark section of three-lane freeway, a stationary white car appeared to my left.  As the image grew I could see its bonnet was up like a wing suspended.  Then I made out a dark formally dressed figure peering into the black hole seeming to be attempting to manipulate something impossible to see.  All four emergency lights were flashing.  As the image faded into my left rear vision mirror I found myself contemplating this person’s belief in do-it-yourself action without even tools, light or working clothes.  Why not just wait patiently for Road Service to arrive? I thought.

Before my thought was finished, in my right peripheral vision movement caught my eye.  An athletic figure in white was running, as if in training for some long-distance event, against the flow of traffic on the very edge of the right lane, on a right-hand bend.  I was thankful to be in the middle lane as he disappeared in my right rear vision mirror, and could only hope that drivers in the right lane would miss him as he would appear suddenly to them out of the darkness, just in front of them, unexpectedly to their right.

Then it struck me that Joe Woodward had at last succeeded in making me understand Antonin Artaud.  The images held briefly in my headlights were not part of my life as far as those other figures are concerned, but because I saw them they are now in my memory and I have pejorative thoughts and fears about them.  I impose my conventions and expectations upon them. 

Artaud’s conceit that we are only free when we escape from the hell of convention is not a philosophy to which I can subscribe.  In Woodward’s previous works that I have seen, it seems to me that he wanted to embrace Artaud’s position, but the result was that what appeared on stage remained hidden in an impenetrable cloud of mystery, becoming sound and fury apparently signifying not very much.

Though in Geese many long speeches are soporific as characters expound their particular philosophical positions, in the end there is a structured storyline.  There is a young girl who saw and briefly spoke to a disturbed man at a railway station in the beginning.  When she reappears at the end, she switches on a radio news broadcast which neither she nor the others she meets listen to, but we hear as background noise words like Libya, Yemen and Syria.  Suddenly the ‘Artaud’ characters’ views in the possible memories of the disturbed man, and his possible experiences, become relevant today.  How much conflict, death, destruction and madness is the result of people’s obsessive insistence on carrying out the dictates of conventions like religious beliefs, unbending political positions – even perhaps being totally enamoured, speaking only in French, of the theatre of Antonin Artaud.

Geese is for the most part too heavy (rather than weighty) theatrically for my liking, but now it is openly about Artaud, the cloud of mystery comes but also goes, and the ending makes a valuable observation about the real world.  “No one has ever written, painted, sculpted, modeled, built, or invented except literally to get out of hell” according to Antonin Artaud, but perhaps Geese is a step in the right direction for Woodward.

The Night Zoo written and directed by Michael Barlow

The Night Zoo written and directed by Michael Barlow, designed by Iona McAuley, music composed by Lee Buddle.  Spare Parts Puppet Theatre at The Street Theatre, April 26-30, 2011 (Wednesday – Saturday 10am and 2pm).

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 26

I had always thought of the company name, Spare Parts, as a whimsical joke, perhaps even a little sad originally when financial support was a struggle.  Perhaps it still is.  But this production, skilfully performed by Katya Shevtsov and Jacob Lehrer (who were ‘phantasmagorical’ according to my five-year-old companion), was spare in the sense of being ‘poor theatre’.  Less complexity on stage meant more opportunity for our imaginations to fill in the links which create the theatrical illusion.

The story is traditional in form.  Jamie cannot have pets in the high rise flat where she lives, dreams of the animals in the zoo who at first take no notice of her, but dreams again of becoming friends and playing with them.  Later in the park with her parents she plays with a dog who has no home, and her parents agree to let her keep him as a pet.  There is, of course romance and some sentimentality, since it seems that the parents will be breaking the no-pet rule, but for young isolated children the purpose is to encourage forming positive relationships.  Jamie’s dream not only stimulates enjoyment and empathy with the animals, but also changes her parents’ standard ‘sorry, but no’ approach to realising that their lonely child needs a companion.

Some of the stage ‘business’ which might have made the production less spare if it had all been physically represented, such as the time and locality transitions, were neatly done by video projection.  The result was a layering of dramatic frames from two-dimensional story-book format to three-dimensional ‘reality’.  The mode-shifting involved the performers acting as people, in costume as animals and as puppeteers, with transitions from one kind of role to another smoothly done.

Though from the children’s point of view The Night Zoo is engaging and directly accessible – apparently simple – the show is a nice example of modern performance puppetry – not so simple as it looks.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik – Deep Sea Explorer written and performed byTim Watts.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik – Deep Sea Explorer written and performed byTim Watts.  Perth Theatre Company and Weeping Spoon Productions at The Street Two, April 12-16, 2011.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 14

RomTragCom for young adults is how I saw Alvin Sputnik.  But the primary age brother and sister sitting in front of me, after a little anxiety at early death and fright at the loud demand to be a superhero, settled in to the whimsy and said it was “great” at the end.  My (older) generation responded empathetically to the death and perhaps expected more depth of feeling to focus Alvin’s search for his wife’s soul.

For the modern-style bright young things who composed most of those present,  Watts’ shifting relationship with his audience – from technician to puppetry and mime artist, computer graphics artist to singer-songwriter, in-role narrator to in-role character, actor keeping to pre-programmed visuals and sound to actor interacting with the audience and thanking them after a second round of applause – was the kind of spark of originality they look for in theatre.  For this generation, mode shifting is a natural part of technological life.

The romance of this story lies in Alvin’s response to the untimely death of his soulmate.  He is attracted to the idea of heroically acting, even to the point of accepting the possibility of his own death, to save the world from environmental destruction.  Global warming is taken to an extreme – the world is completely inundated as the seas rise even above the peak of Everest – and so Alvin must dive beyond the drowned remains of civilisation in the hope of entering the hollow core of the earth where the environment is said to be perfect for human life.

Though his wife’s death was tragic, there is unexpected comedy in his adventures, during which he sees, or fancies that he sees his wife’s soul, a soft luminosity which he follows until he sees, or fancies he sees the beauty of the inner core – except that, as he had been warned, his oxygen is on the point of exhaustion and the entrance is through a violent volcano which kills him.  Only then can his soul meet with his wife’s, and the luminous images mingle, looking like dividing cells reuniting.  The world has not been saved, but their love is undying.

What I found fascinating was to see how Watts’ design produced a distancing effect which allowed him to present to his own age group a romance without sentimentality, with light touches of comedy, which is a tragedy not because of the protagonists’ deaths but because of the implication that we humans have failed to sustain the earth.

This is a small step into a new form of mixed-media theatre which, I expect, foreshadows greater works to come.