Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Shadow House Party

Shadow House Party comprising

A KREWD Incarnate by KREWD ( founder – Bambi Valentine)
Trinculo’s Shadow by Joe Woodward (Shadow House PITS)
Ophelia’s Shadow by Lucy Matthews (Acoustic Theatre Troupe)

The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, January 17 (preview) to 21, 2017.

Commentary by Frank McKone
January 17

KREWD and Acoustic Theatre Troupe are among the current regular reincarnations of young adult theatre companies, following a long tradition in Canberra; in these cases also incorporating rock music/theatre bands.

Usually, in the past, such groups were quite fiercely independent.  I recall, for example, Freshly Ground Theatre in 2009, Bohemian Productions around 2003, and even Elbow Theatre in 1998.  Canberra, being the city of transients, spawns new groups at the time of their young lives when the excitement of creating new work by and for their age group is a valuable contribution to our cultural life, and often triggers a career in the long-term.  Elbow’s Iain Sinclair is now an established regular director for the major companies in Sydney, just to select one example.

To keep a new small experimenting theatre group going for any length of time in Canberra is not easy financially, let alone for the other main reason – that people complete their studies here, or find employment in other places, and move on. 

It is therefore a good thing that Joe Woodward, with his strong interest in imagist and multimedia theatre, has stayed on teaching drama for so long here, after his early acting career at La Boite in Brisbane. 

While his Shadow House PITS theatre has over the years presented a number of original works, often derived from the concepts of Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, on this occasion Shadow House PITS has assisted the two young companies by acting in the role of producer, arranging practical things like a venue and insurance cover.  He also provides a change in focus and depth of philosophic thinking for the second Act in this show, and a degree of mentoring and personal encouragement.

The result is a night of three quite different types of theatre, each with genuine intentions. 

In Act 2, Woodward’s “Trinculo” character finds himself thinking he is Marat about to be murdered by Charlotte Corday, and therefore (in an odd kind of way) analysing the nature of those individuals who believe they are born with a right to have power thrust upon them – up to and definitely including Donald Trump. 

The presentation of a demagogue’s type of speech (including recordings from Trump's election campaign) which Marat meditates aloud upon, and then invites members of the audience to join him around, on and even in his bath and raise questions for discussion, is a model of theatre which questions the relationship between actor (as himself acting a role), the role he acts, and the audience who participate in the act (partly as if relating to him, the actor, and partly to the character Marat), while the rest of us watch and react to a theatre experience.

A KREWD Incarnate in Act 1 has already begun something of this process, beginning with actors in character as humanoid animals, inviting us to join them in the acting space and act out our responses to them each individually during the half hour as we arrive before the second section of the work begins.  Here we remain as audience seeing the animals perform their routine roles (in both sections using very loud largely rap-based recorded music) as humans whose behaviours are socially determined.

I found the idea in theory interesting, but theatrically I needed a lot of patience to maintain the interest in practice.

Then I found the same problem with the final act, which was a very interesting work, in a kind of rock-opera form, beginning with the point in Hamlet where he discovers Ophelia is being buried and her brother Laertes confronts him, and then flashbacking to explore how Ophelia reached the point of suicide.  The effect was to make a new play in which Ophelia is the central character.

However I found that the work needs a great deal of trimming so that the drama moves along more grippingly.

But finally, a very important aspect of both companies’ work in Acts 1 and 3 was to demonstrate the strengths especially of the young women who have devised the material and perform, as singers, musicians, in movement and voice often with great power, confidence and authority.