No Mere Freak Show

Review: Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness

In a word, Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness is sumptuous. Renée Mulder’s set design and Damien Cooper’s exquisite lighting transform La Boite into a worn, warm big top. Finally, this theatre space—often a difficult one to negotiate—puts its best foot forward, rivalling the Spiegeltent for ambience with a raised, tilted platform that evokes a spider web of carnival memories.

Anthony Neilson’s script is rich pickings: witty, ridiculous, poignant, irreverent, poetic and absolutely spellbinding. “In a world where death is at our shoulder every hour,” says Gant “even the smallest act of creativity is a marvellous, courageous thing.” The show is a paean to imagination. Emphasising that “the truth of life lies least of all in the facts,” the over-arching story is revealed through a series of plays-within-the-play (not entirely unlike the layers of Gilliam’s Imaginarium).

 

Australian designers Romance Was Born have created wonderful costumes for a show that draws so much inspiration from the days of travelling carnivals. Every inch of the cast seems to sparkle, though I am glad Edward Gant (self-professed “prodigy, soldier, traveller, poet but always and ever a showman”) has such a glorious, glittering cape to distract from a fake potbelly that never quite looks right. The cast of four play numerous roles, from their carnival selves to teddy bears who just want some imaginary tea, whilst clever staging enables a chorus of pimples, bursting with “cheese,” to dance for us. Delicious.

I’ll admit that Paul Bishop is not the kind of Gant I expected, but his voice is perfect and he wears that moustache with finesse. Occasionally, perhaps uncomfortable in the role, he overplays Gant by mere inches and loses the confidence he needs to be ringleader. Bryan Probets* slips most effortlessly into his role as Jack Dearlove (and others), and seems the most versatile and genuine of the cast. Emily Tomlins (recently seen in Julius Caesar) is less convincing—she never quite disappears into her characters—while La Boite newcomer Lindsay Farris is competent, but like Tomlins never quite melds into the setting, unable to lose the Athletic Young Australian Bloke vibe.

Sarah Goodes clearly has a steady hand as director, and Steve Toulmin’s music delivers. With so much working in the play’s favour, the stage certainly was set for a mind-blowing performance. But, as I watched, I couldn’t help but be conscious of the fact that the cast were Actors (with a capital A) only pretending to be carnies. Possibly I go to more circus than is healthy. None the less, this La Boite/Sydney Theatre Company co-production delights, disgusts, enchants and surprises with what must be called amazing feats of theatre.

 

*I read, in his bio, that Bryan Probets was in the great Aussie vampire flick, Daybreakers. I was certain I remembered him as a vampire scientist working for the baddies. Turns out he was a subsider (a very uncivilised vampire indeed) in full make-up, so there’s no way that I actually remember his face. Memory is so fallible…but “the truth of life lies least of all in the facts,” right? Right?

Edward Gant plays until June 12 at La Boite. You can read my interview with composer and sound designer Steve Toulmin at Rave Magazine. What did you think of the show? Tell me in the comments section below.

Photos by Al Caeiro for La Boite.

Boy Girl Wall Accordion

It has been the kind of month that invites adventure in and won’t let it leave till it’s properly sloshed—by which stage it’s difficult to ever get rid of. I’ve been to see some outrageously good shows, rambled around cemeteries, written lots, and re-manifested myself as the love child (imagine that) of Tank Girl and Delirium. Hullo, April—where did March go?! This is where:

Jason Webley @ The Zoo

Early last week, Jason Webley arrived in Queensland to finish the Down Under leg of 2011’s epic world tour. Finally seeing him perform, after four and a half years of waiting, was a singular joy. Webley’s Brisbane show at The Zoo on March 23 attracted around 200 punters, all very ready to stomp and sing and become his makeshift orchestra.

When he’s on stage, the slogan on promo posters, “post-apocalyptic fun,” makes perfect sense. I can imagine Webley—in his beloved, battered dancing hat—as the kind of musician that would get us through the apocalypse and still have us dancing even after the sky had long since crashed down.

Those who came along to Webley’s farewell house party (/hosts’ housewarming) were in for an extra treat. The night turned into one long, glorious jam session. (I even got out my trumpet! And toyed with an unsuspecting ukelele!) You’ll find a garage-full of people playing Eleven Saints floating around on YouTube, no doubt.

Jason Webley @ The Zoo—photo by Zen’s dodgy phone

Poetry & Graveyards

Earlier in the week, I was very pleased to be able to drag Mr Webley and a RagTag group of Brisbanites around my favourite of haunts, Toowong Cemetery—an adventure in itself. After several months of guilty neglect, I’ve been visiting the graveyard much more often. (I don’t know how I manage to forget the necropolis down the road–inside the gates it is always cooler and quieter than it could ever get in our sweltering house.)

More gravewalks means more grave poems—a good thing, since last year’s ramblings are beginning to see the light. Issue 35 of Cordite Poetry Review, Oz-Ko (Envoy) is online as of today, and I’m super excited to say that there you’ll find Warning. Consider it the introduction to that forthcoming cemetery collection I so often talk about (see! bits of it exist!).

And in extra shiny, super-duper rad breaking news, our own Jeremy Thompson is one of three poets commended by judge Peter Minter in 2010’s Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize, rising above over 1000 entries into the realm of Awesome. Whee!

boy girl wall @ La Boite

Bear with me, because my segues for this blog are about to get worse. In fact, non-existent. Run with it. You might remember me raving away last year about a wonderful little Brisbane show called boy girl wall. Well, it’s back on this year at La Boite, and last night’s opening performance proved its just as marvellous as we thought the first time around. Maybe a bit more marvellous.

Lucas Stibbard in boy girl wall—photo by Al Caeiro

In 2010, The Escapists’ one-man show, performed by Lucas Stibbard—with live music from Neridah Waters—relied on the walls of the Sue Benner Theatre at Metro Arts (the set was literally drawn on with chalk), so I was interested to see how they’d handle La Boite’s in-the-round set-up. Fortunately, The Escapists have made something gorgeous out of a potential problem: a chalk-board green stage hits the horizon line and becomes a collage of blackboards rising into the rafters. In the vast La Boite space, Keith Clark’s lighting really helps to hold everything together (I only wish he could use his lighting powers to rig up a more powerful OHT).

Beyond the venue, not too much has changed, and it was lovely to visit the 20-something characters again (especially dear Power Box and the lovely, but somewhat gothic library assistant). The script is clever, life-affirming, and above all, maddeningly funny. Seeing boy girl wall again, the influence of Under Milk Wood (which Stibbard and I chatted about recently in Rave Magazine) becomes delightfully clear. If you enjoy being happy, you should grab tickets before the rest of the season sells out.

September: Festival Month…

…after last festival month!

Brisbane has been fairly wild for the last couple of months. We’ve had festivals crawling out of our ears, blowing out our noses, oozing out of our eye sockets, and generally affecting us bodily. But in pleasant ways.

Queensland Poetry Festival

QPF was particularly splendid this year. My picks:

  • Andy Jackson and Rachael Guy performing a poetry-puppetry collaboration that moved us all to tears (and caused Andy’s books to sell out in about two seconds);
  • Superduo Emily XYZ (poet-in-residence) and Myers Bartlett performing sound poems for two voices (if they don’t get it, if they don’t get it, it’s all right, it’s all right…);
  • Ross Donlon, who runs the monthly Castlemaine Poetry Cup and writes warm, often subtly hilarious poems;
  • Luke Beesley, maker of edible images, from Melbourne;
  • Pam Schlinder’s launch of her long-awaited debut collection, A Sky You Could Fall Into; and
  • Madrigal Maladies first full-length performance (okay, that ones’ a blatant self-plug…). Poet Nerissa Rowan and I teamed up to experiment with two-voice spoken word madness–reintrepting the lyrics of well-known songs (about illness!). We sang in public and it was terrifying and rad!

Brisbane Festival

And then we’ve had Brisbane Writers Festival, and Brisbane Festival (with its glorious fireworks–and all of us gathering on the hills in the old suburbs to watch the city burn), and Valley Fiesta is coming up this weekend. But for Brissie Fest picks:

  • Cantina are turning the gorgeous Spiegeltent into a den of sin and vice–can’t wait to see it tonight.
  • Deep Blue Orchestra will cram their roving & dancing orchestral adventures into the Spiegeltent on the 13th and 14th.
  • Wunderkammer, Circa’s newest production, will tumble into QUT Festival Theatre next week.

Non-Festival Stuff

Unless we call it the Festival of Zen. I was fortunate to be included in Overland Magazine as part of the 200th issue’s 200-line collaborative poem. And I gained infamy in QWeekend Magazine a couple of weeks ago, along with Graham Nunn and John Tranter and co.–thank you to everyone who has sent photocopies, actual copies, or mentioned it. I felt like Harry Potter for about a day. It was bizarre.

So yes, not quite the Festival of Zen this month, but it’s busy enough to look like it from inside my mindtank. As a final note, I’ve been procrastinating by playing point-and-click hidden object games, and I’m presently in love with Mishap: An Accidental Haunting. If anyone has any favourites, please recommend them.

You know, it’d be cool to get involved in writing for games, because I’ve played a lot of mediocre games in the last few weeks that could have been wild with a dedicated creative writer or an editor on team. What we need is a poetry text adventure. How awesome would that be? Maybe I could pitch that to The Edge or something; they’re groovy folks.

*wishes for more time and funding*

Anyhoo,

A generally cheerful and typically hopeful Zen signing out.

~ Zenobia