THEATRE REVIEW: Sex with Strangers

Words by Tahnee Robinson 

Sex with Strangers is off to a good start. It has an intriguing title and an attractive cast — and the same play recently opened off-broadway starring Anna Gunn from Breaking Bad. Brisbane’s version, directed by Jennifer Flowers, stars Veronica Neave as the self-composed Olivia, with Thomas Larkin as the self-aggrandising Ethan. Despite the raunchy title, Sex with Strangers is essentially a romantic comedy. Two miss-matched souls meet-cute in a conveniently empty writers’ retreat cabin-in-the-woods; the action proceeds as expected (perhaps with more action than Brisbane’s theatre-going public is accustomed to).

It’s rare to see two characters so quickly and fully asserted on stage. The American accents initially come as a shock — though it becomes apparent that this was dictated by the script, which is set firmly in North America. Without microphones (clothes come off far too frequently for that to be practical) Neave and Larkin are challenged with conveying intimacy while making themselves heard. They do an admirable job, though it’s when both actors’ accents momentarily slip that I feel I’ve really seen their true potential for depth and sincerity — these are the people I want to be watching.

Larkin and Neave

Laura Eason’s script relies heavily on some well-worn territory — the comedic potential of age differences, the sexual appeal of bad boys — and is occasionally downright problematic. Ethan’s modus operandi seems to be to sail blithely over Olivia’s clearly articulated boundaries, and the initial result is a sexy good time. Naturally this approach only takes the pair so far before things start to get complicated. It’s tricky ground to navigate: understanding that having our boundaries pushed can be creatively beneficial and kind of hot, but that it can also be horribly disrespectful and destructive. It’s hard to tell if this exploration is deliberate or accidental, though it’s held together by the wholeness of Olivia’s character. She is a woman with hang-ups, on a journey of self-discovery, but she does not need to be rescued.

All of this takes place on Troy Armstrong’s simple but clever set. Each side of the open stage gives the audience a slightly different perspective — I was lucky enough to be able to see down the hallway, to catch the emotional nuances of the characters’ comings and goings. The lighting design (Jason Glenwright and Tim Gawne) is similarly clever: subtle changes in intensity and direction guide the audience’s sense of time and place. The first act closes memorably, using only the light of Olivia’s laptop screen. Dane Alexander’s sound design is fairly spare, serving largely to denote sex in a way that feels a little tongue-in-cheek. The music signaling Ethan’s arrival and departure from the writers’ retreat is a perfectly executed little touch.

Sex with Strangers explores some interesting territory with regard to consent and desire. And while it’s not quite as daring as I had hoped it would be, I suspect some of my fellow punters might disagree (there is something to be said about age gaps after all, and perhaps my browser history is filthier than I thought).

SEX WITH STRANGERS runs at Brisbane Powerhouse until 26 July 2014. Tickets $38

FILM REVIEW: Are We Officially Dating?

Words by Denis Semchenko

“So… What do you want to do with this?” is a question many daters dread. We’ve all been there and done that in our love lives; we’ve all endured highly confusing conversations and found ourselves in situations where we’d wished the ground beneath would open up and swallow us. Which is why the ability to poke good-hearted humour at these very human things and a stellar young cast make Are We Officially Dating? perhaps the ultimate contender for the title of 2014 Valentine Day’s flick.

Written and directed by emerging filmmaker Tom Gormican, the movie revolves around three sort-of musketeers: unattached Manhattan flatmates Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (The Spectacular Now’s Miles Teller), young, hip and ever-so-slightly-smarmy publishing company employees, and Mikey (The Wire’s Michael B. Jordan), a considerably more settled-down hospital worker. When Mikey breaks up with his wife Vera (Jessica Lucas), the boys invite him to move in with them and live up the bachelorhood. All three join an impromptu “no relationships” pact, yet no later than they hit the clubs, matters get complicated with the arrival on the scene of Ellie (Imogen Poots, familiar through 28 Weeks Later), an ambitious, level-headed girl with a fondness for spontaneity and sarcasm to match Jason’s.

Are We Officially Dating?

Although the latter executes a swift post-coital runner, he is gobsmacked to see Ellie in his company’s office as a client and offers her a sincere apology, which she accepts. The two begin seeing each other — but not officially dating just yet. Right on cue, the boys’ pact unravels: wisecracking Daniel, although terrified at the prospect of a female face in their “den of masculinity”, finds himself outside the friendzone with his longtime consigliore Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis), while Mikey inexplicably starts dating his ex-wife. Goodbye singledom; hello feelings and subsequent confusion.

Like numerous modern rom-coms with a twist, Are We Officially Dating? centres on a particular demographic: career-focused young people paranoid about forming “official” relationships. Although it doesn’t really break new topical ground, the film provides plenty of useful commentary in its accurate dissection of a commitment-phobic generation and the “Wal-Mart attitude”, or the habit of trying to get rid of someone as soon as they become “too much” for you. And once again, the performers do a spectacular job: ex-teen heartthrob Efron once again proves his worth as an organic character actor; Teller shoots off one uproarious one-liner after another and both Poots and Davis turn in superb performances as assertive young females who know exactly what they want and have no qualms in voicing their displeasure at their partners’ behaviour. Take your date out to see this, absorb the sentiment and get an idea.

Are We Officially Dating? (romantic comedy, USA. Running time: 91 mins) is out now.

Denis Semchenko is OffStreet’s former music editor. He is a writer, social media addict, vinyl enthusiast and serial muso. You can annoy Denis @gigarussian.

REVIEW: Aurelian

Words: Tahnee Robinson

The stage at Metro Arts feels like a house in storage: draped with muslin and shadows, the shapes suggest but don’t confirm. It’s a fitting scene for what is to come — Aurelian explores the nature of memory and grief, and the way we construct our lives around loss.

Aurelian is the work of Genevieve Trace and a small creative team. Trace describes herself as a multidisciplinary performer, and Aurelian certainly samples from a variety of creative forms. The performance uses film, audio samples, physical theatre, live recording and a collection of narratives to form a pastiche of recollection and identity. Opening with a monologue that verges on prose-poetry, we are awakened to the anxiety of grief; performer Erica Fields repeats, with increasing desperation, a mantra of sorts: “But I have to work these things in order.” This is the panic of the bereaved, sorting through memories distorted with obsessive recollection.

The performance takes us through a series of stories, interview-style. Fields, shadowed by co-performer Trace, nods and smiles and pauses, responding to a series of prompts and questions that are unspoken. She has captured the glossy, overwrought joy of the bereaved perfectly. We are sometimes not sure who she is — widow, grandchild, neighbour — but all of these characters speak with the earnest ardor of people trying to do their lost loved ones justice in the retelling. And these stories are real, sourced from people in Trace’s hometown of Ayr in northern Queensland. Amongst them seems to be Trace herself, or her character, trying to understand her own grief.

Aurelian

Around the halfway mark, the narratives speed up and begin to fragment. Mike Willmett’s sound design follows the theme: the soundscape squeaks and glitches with the failing of the characters’ recollections. The climax, an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable, is a wall of noise and flashing lights. Whitney Eglington’s lighting design makes clever use of the abstract set. Images are projected onto unlikely surfaces and lights appear behind screens to cast unexpected shadows and figures. The set is mostly made up of a series of trapezoidal constructions in various sizes. These function as seats, benches, projector screens and, at one point, a washing basket. They’re unobtrusive, and Trace and Field can move them about the stage with minimal interference.

All of this combined is Aurelian’s weak point. In evoking the overwhelming incomprehensibility of grief the show has overreached a little. There’s just too much here, for 60 minutes worth of performance. I can help but wonder if the whole thing would have felt more effective if a couple of the elements had been removed. The concept of the supernatural, hinted at during the opening, is explored more directly here. This is perhaps a natural inclusion in a discussion of death and loss, but it feels out of place amongst so much musing on identity and memory. The concept, executed with lights and a semi-transparent backdrop, and clever use of the two performers, is visually effective. But feels like a bridge too far — one thing too many to think about in a performance that is already quite intense.

Aurelian doesn’t really conclude — there isn’t even a curtain call. And that’s thematically consistent. There’s no answer to grief, no cure or method for dealing with it and no way to manage the wrinkling and slippage of our memories.

AURELIAN played at Metro Arts from 7 to 15 September as part of Brisbane Festival.

TAHNEE ROBINSON is a Brisbane-based writer. She was OffStreet Press’s visual arts, film and fashion editor.

DANCE REVIEW: When Time Stops

Words: Tahnee Robinson

We awake in the underworld, on the banks of the river Acheron. The Ferryman (Thomas Gundry Greenfield) is rowing away from us. He will row for most of the performance, quiet and inexorable, as we linger by the river. He is a towering figure, but he is not unkind: he will wait patiently for his charge until she is ready. When Time Stops takes us through the last moments of a life, picked up in a rush of memories before making the final crossing.

Bill Haycock and Iceworks Design’s underworld is a beautiful creation, haunting but without malice, and deceptively simple. Comprised of mirrored surfaces and windows, backlit panes and a hidden door, the set is beautifully atmospheric and very flexible — a must for this performance, which places its entire musical ensemble on stage for parts of the piece. The lighting, designed by David Walters, is ingenious and integral, maintaining the subdued sorrow of the underworld but showing us glimpses of life — elation, love, terror — with a scattering of stars or a beam of sunlight falling across a face.

There are more musicians than dancers; Iain Grandage’s composition is performed by Camerata of St John’s, a chamber orchestra of string players sans conductor. There are 12 of them, and they move around and amongst the dancers as they play. This is no mean feat: creeping a bass, two cellos, two violas and seven violins around a stage occupied by a company of contemporary dancers in mid-flight is an extraordinary work of choreography and focus. The musicians are part of the performance — as they should be; the compositions are integral to the mood of the piece and to understanding what is being depicted.  The strings are perfect for this, their richness and many tones provide a degree of emotional nuance that is essential to our understanding of each section.

When TIme Stops (EDC)There are parts of When Time Stops that are particularly affecting. Broken into a series of moments of profound importance to the dying woman, it is largely up to the audience to imbue these impressions with meaning.  Amongst these segments is ‘First Kiss’, which stirs a sense of sweet nostalgia and innocence, reminding the audience of first-love elation without overstepping into melodrama. Later, there is ‘Scan’, which makes clever use of the set and lighting to imply a medical emergency of some kind — intimations of mortality revisited at the time of death. ‘Time’ is represented by a little silver orb, around which Daryl Brandwood dances with extraordinary feline skill and control; the orb is captured and released with joy and desperation.

The dancing is extraordinary, and each of the seven company members brings an intense commitment and control to the performance. They are uniformly graceful and astonishing, contorting themselves into impossible positions with complete fluidity and a superb awareness of each other. Natalie Weir’s choreography is inventive and intimate; The Woman (Riannon McLean) reviews her life with fear and longing, often reaching out to the visions she sees, embracing her memory of herself or her lover. It’s romantic, and often sexual, without being tawdry or overt; these intimacies are the highlight of the performance, as the dancers lift and hold each other, entwining and separating.

WHEN TIME STOPS by Expressions Dance Company is on at the Playhouse, QPAC, until September 14, as part of Brisbane Festival. Tickets $48–58.

TAHNEE ROBINSON is a Brisbane-based writer. She was OffStreet Press’s visual arts, film and fashion editor.

REVIEW: Tequila Mockingbird

Words: Tahnee Robinson
Photos: Dylan Evans

In Tequila Mockingbird, shake & stir theatre company reinterpret Harper Lee’s classic in a distinctly Australian context — an idea very much in keeping with their mission statement: to “motivate, educate and relate to youth.” Thus, Tequila Mockingbird takes us to the township of Stanton, barely a dot on the map — where it hasn’t rained for a long, long time.  The town, like much of the play, functions as a symbol of country Australia: there’s a Food Store that closes at five, a newsagent, a pub and a cast of salt-of-the-earth folks just trying to get by.

All of these places are created on a single set that is simple, but clever. Back-lit walls change colour to indicate different locations, and to differentiate between outside and inside. Three metal cages are moved around to form fences, couches and the bar at the pub as required.

Photo credit: Dylan Evans

Charlie (Nick Skubij) has been dragged to this particular end of the Earth from Sydney after his parents’ separation, and he’s not impressed. He’s not the only newcomer to Stanton; there’s also an Indian doctor named Sameer, played by Shannon Haegler. References both to the source text and some of Australia’s present cultural issues are made clear; the play evokes the Cronulla riots, violence against Indian students, the phrase “fuck off, we’re full” and various other blights that have nixed attempts to declare Australia a post-racial society. Sameer himself references these indirectly, repeating throughout the play that his father had not wanted him to come to Australia. He even cracks a Jayant Patel joke. The scene is played for laughs, but it also serves an important function: to remind us that as a minority you are always in danger of your actions becoming representative of an entire ethnic or social group.

There is a lot of humour in Tequila Mockingbird, and it’s well received by the audience.  As a child of rural Australia these scenes made me smile in weary recognition more often than laugh out loud. Barbara Lowing shines in this department, switching between Sue the publican, Trish the alcoholic and Karen the concerned neighbor. A cast of six plays 11 characters and the whole team is adept at the rapid transitions; there’s no danger of confusion. Lowing in particular seems to function as a sort of country matriarch composite. Always loud and a little bit nosey, all three characters are stereotypes, but they’re supposed to be: I’ve been cackled at by the shrill alcoholic in the liquor store, and cornered by the concerned neighbour. The audience giggles and gasps in horror as Trish tells Sameer that all rice tastes the same with curry on it, and I wonder at the difficulty of tackling racism without accidentally falling prey to classism. shake & stir have taken on a big task with this production; they’re trying to cover a lot of ground in a relatively short time frame.

Photo credit: Dylan Evans

There’s a lot of time dedicated to build, and the key event — the assault on a young woman, Rachel (Nelle Lee) — takes place past the halfway point. From here, the pace speeds up. In addition to racism, the play also deals with the social symptoms of small-town death, and the cycles of hardship that feed them (alcoholism, unemployment and youth boredom come to mind). One of these is domestic violence. To defend Sameer, Richard (Bryan Probets) has to put Rachel on the stand to testify in court.  The scene is uncomfortable, and in the defense of the innocent the actual victim of the crime is cast as a villain. This isn’t acknowledged in the play, and after this point Rachel has no voice at all. The audience isn’t reminded that Rachel is lying under threat of further violence, and there is no sense of resolution to her situation.

One of the criticisms levelled at Lee’s original novel is that it’s a white-saviour story. It would have been nice to see this issue addressed more thoroughly in the interpretation. We hear from Sameer, but it feels a little shallow; his unfailingly polite acceptance and determination seem like an idealised version of a person.

Tequila Mockingbird deliberately avoids resolution in another area, too. In the original tale the stalwart Atticus Finch finds his faith shaken. Likewise, Richard is badly rattled by the course of events; angry and shocked he tells Charlie that “you can’t teach people like them.”  It’s a much more thought-provoking conclusion than a tight, comfortable resolution, and it better serves the play’s purpose: to leave the audience thinking.

TEQUILA MOCKINGBIRD is on at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC until September 7. Tickets $30 – $52.

TAHNEE ROBINSON is a Brisbane-based writer. She was OffStreet Press’s visual arts, film and fashion editor.

FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: Russian Resurrection 2013

Words by Denis Semchenko

This year’s Russian Resurrection not only marks a decade of acquainting Australian moviegoers with prime cinematic art from the land of Mikhalkov and Sokurov, but also delivers a clear message: the Russian movie industry, while consistently rich on thought-provoking product since USSR’s heyday, presently has the capacity to “go Hollywood” with class. Here, we briefly examine our top five picks from the 2013 selection.

The festival’s opener The Geographer is everything one could wish for in a good movie: funny and sad, hopeful and tragic. Perhaps the most-recognised Russian actor nowadays, Konstantin Khabensky (of the Night Watch trilogy) stars as the alcoholic high school teacher whose heart of gold and dodgy best friend eventually win over his family troubles and motley, nihilistic class.

geo_2812_b.5037d5c5eb31c

The Geographer

On top of a strong cast and remarkable character studies (Khabensky’s sad dad/unorthodox teacher is a revelation), the film delights in contrasting Perm’s bleak post-Soviet landscapes and the region’s majestic white water wilderness — and, in a series of scenes, drips with classic Russian heartache. One to own.

One of the year’s biggest Russian box office hits, Rezo Gigienishvili’s Love With An Accent doesn’t hide its intention to sell Russia’s temporary political foe Georgia to potential holidaymakers — or, for that matter, tickle Western moviegoers’ buds. Imagine a lengthy, if very well-produced Tourism Georgia ad with patches of romantic comedy and you’re pretty much there.

"Love With An Accent"

Love With An Accent

Shot in glossy hypercolour, the movie tracks a number of (occasionally idiosyncratic) modern love stories: a young couple, on the run from the girl’s irate father, helped out by a kindly streetwise local; a lonely, frumpy Lithuanian TV worker who follows her dream of a Georgian child to Tbilisi and an overenthusiastic busboy; a jaded, mid-divorce Moscow actor who ends up in a remote mountain village following a textbook comedy-of-errors development; a genial conman at large pursuing a classical music fan’s affection. It’s all bright, optimistic and often visually fascinating, yet a little short on depth.

Getting its official international launch in Australia, Legend No. 17 brings one of Soviet sport’s greatest tales to the wide screen. Like many “sports sagas”, it dispenses with a few historical accuracies in its depiction of Valeriy Kharlamov’s rise to a forward position in the USSR ice hockey team — and with it, international fame following his almost single-handed demolition of the previously invincible Canadians in the 1972 Super Series’ opening game (recreated with near-deadset accuracy as the movie’s key sequence).

Legend #17

Legend #17

Rising star Danila Kozlovsky (Soulless) portrays the diminutive half-Spanish prodigy with the right amount of fire and skill, while veteran actor Oleg Menshikov (The Siberian Barber) is superb as mercurial coach Anatoly Tarasov. Putting the spotlight on oft-astonishing game choreography, the adrenalin-charged film hits you with the force of a well-aimed puck.

Perhaps the program’s most strongly “Russian Hollywood” offering, Metro is certainly as close as Russian filmmakers have ever got to an all-out Western disaster movie. Heavy on CGI and screeching metal noise, it’s as intense as you would expect from a scenario where the Moscow River breaks through the railings at one of the city subway’s busiest sections, flooding the tunnel and wrecking a rush-hour train.

"Metro"

Metro

Trapped underground and trying their hardest to get out are a colourful bunch of survivors from all walks of life including an estranged father, his little daughter and (as it transpires later) a successful, cynical love rival, a pair of students thrown together by the incident, a tough-nut former handball player and … a tiny dog. Top-drawer actress Svetlana Khodchenkova (who remains surface-level throughout) adds to the requisite emotional tension; naturally, there are well-placed nail-biters aplenty. Big, loud and merciless — as befits a fictional catastrophic event in a 15-million city.

Titled after a song from 1976’s iconic Soviet film Fortune’s Irony, Viktor Shamirov’s This Is What’s Happening To Me is a remarkable study in modern-day big city isolation — albeit with a pronounced Russian spin. Set in Moscow, it’s centred on the unlikely reconnection of two brothers thrown together by their father’s cancer diagnosis and aided by a slew of chaotic circumstances and unforgiving metropolitan traffic.

This is What's Happening to Me_13

This Is What’s Happening To Me

Wonderfully portrayed, the siblings are distinctly different people: one (Shamirov), a meek, neurotic yet highly moralistic family man, is trying to make his plane back to Volgograd, while the other (Gosha Kutsenko), a high-flying, detached corporate cog, obsesses over his scheduled singing performance at his company’s New Year’s ball. Along the way, they encounter a teenage girl who tries to make it across town to her estranged father. All of the above adds up to a thoughtful New Year’s Eve story with a little bit of a Lost In Translation vibe.

RUSSIAN RESURRECTION 2013 runs at Palace Centro from 26 July to 4 Aug.

REVIEW: Blak

Bangarra Dance Theatre: BLAK

Words by Tahnee Robinson

It’s not often that each element of a performance — choreography, lighting, set design, smell — is beautifully executed in its own right. But Bangarra’s latest offering, BLAK, goes beyond that to create a performance both stunning in its attention to detail and deeply confronting as a whole.

Blak is slick and sharp, tightly controlled dance theatre that, despite telling its story through movement and metaphor, completely eschews artifice. There is nothing self-conscious here — and absolutely no apologies as the dancers use their bodies to tell stories of crime, violence, assault and grief.  The stage is often dark, but when the dancers look out they’re bold: they’ll look you in the eyes.

The performance is divided into three sections. Choreographed by Daniel Riley McKinley and the male dancers themselves, “Scar introduces us to gang of young men dressed in street gear.  Clad in dark, hooded clothing, their movements evoke a sense of sublimated violence, stalking the stage with fear and aggression as they navigate the difficulties of being young, male and indigenous in urban Australia. The men fall in and pull back from fighting and self-harm in a series of movements that fall somewhere between breakdancing and ballet. These sequences incorporate traditional elements that eloquently convey the opposing forces of modernity and tradition, and the difficult spaces available for young Aboriginal men to occupy and grow into.  Different pools of spotlight flicker between dark scenes of conflict. At one point the grinding, synthy soundtrack whoops into the unmistakable cry of police sirens and the group cease fighting, unified instead to flee.

Bangarra: Blak

Part two, “Yearning”, is choreographed in collaboration with the female dancers. It’s a change of pace — the movements are less violent, more sinuous — but the atmosphere is no less fraught, largely due to the music. David Page and Paul Mac have outdone themselves; they create a dark, electronic soundscape that incorporates traditional singing, vocal samples and instruments, with elements of trip hop and trap music.  A woman answers a call, illuminated by the sodium-lamp glow of a telephone box in the middle of nowhere in the dark of night. The music throbs and jitters; tension escalates in an eerie way that is reminiscent of some of Cliff Martinez’s recent film scores.

Jacob Nash’s set design is poignant in its minimalism. Single props are perfectly chosen to evoke a sense of place: a row of blue plastic chairs, a swinging spot lamp and a corrugated iron roof, glowing green in the dark. Beneath the eerie glow women sit atop milk crates and learn of a granddaughter’s suicide; a smoking tin can on stage wreathes their grief with incense. Their loss smells sweet and spicy and mournful; it lingers.

This beautiful simplicity continues as a small television — the old kind, a CRT with rabbit-ears — appears on stage.  Three women writhe on the ground. From the dark, a figure appears carrying a green spotlight; he’s filming them. As they dance in distress, they appear on the TV. We’re watching the film and reality in real-time, but we cannot focus on the domineering figure behind his lamp. The result is simultaneously deeply affecting and extraordinarily hard to articulate — a powerful, confusing motif.

The performance culminates in part three, “Keepers”, which features the full ensemble. The set is breathtaking: blackness lightens to reveal the gloss of wet rocks and light refracts off a stream of fog to create a waterfall. The dancers come together, with nature, to embrace both tradition and the future. This beautiful piece of work gives the performers room to show us the full range of movement, emotion and eroticism in their repertoire. It’s a tribute to love and community that ends a confronting performance on a note of optimism and possibility.

BLAK runs at the QPAC Playhouse until 27 July, 2013.

TAHNEE ROBINSON is a Brisbane-based writer. She was OffStreet Press’s visual arts, film and fashion editor.

REVIEW: Delicacy

Director Lucas Stibbard warns audiences that Delicacy is not a nice play — a wonderfully delicate phrase to use. This two-person, one-hour play, inspired by the life of German cannibal Armin Meiwes and his lover/meal, will make you squirm and cringe for what feels like hours. Although the show turns on the question of “will they or won’t they consummate their cannibalistic plan?” — a morbid twist on the old romantic trope — the characters’ domestic exchanges generate some of the most keenly felt discomfort.

Neil (Cameron Hurry), the character to be eaten, flits between psychotic bursts of aggression and agitated silence. Even when utterly still, as when he watches porn at the dining-room table, he vibrates with explosive unpredictability. Denny (Gregory Scurr) is a picture of passivity, absorbing Neil’s physical and verbal abuse to respond with praise and apologies, attending to Neil’s every whim. A review of an earlier production of Delicacy compares Denny to a manservant. In contrast, Stibbard and Scurr’s Denny, though servile, also achieves a fine layer of menace. If he feeds, praises and dotes on Neil, he does so in the manner of a attendant to a human sacrifice.

Costume designer Rachel Cherry transforms the mostly vegetarian Denny into a butcher figure with a simple transparent plastic apron. Their monochromatic clothes — Denny in pink, Neil in red — continually remind us of the blood, its flow and its release, that is at the heart of this play. Elongated silences punctuate Neil’s outbursts; in these silences Denny’s mask slips. Deep shadows in his eyes, created at these precise moments by Cameron Parish’s clever lighting, reveal a brooding and impenetrable core. These indirect touches sustain a brilliantly tense and uneasy mood in a play that is quite coy about the cannibalism that forms its gothic centre. Early on, our only clues are cryptic references in otherwise domestic dialogue.

Delicacy

Similarly, Bec Woods’ set is ever so slightly unnerving: recognisably domestic — a dining room and a kitchen — but exaggerated, distorted. The kitchen bench extends too far and ends up looking industrial. When Denny cooks, the kitchen dwarfs him. The dining room table seems huge with Denny and Neil crowded together in one corner. In stark contrast, a single, preposterously strong light above the dining table occasionally constricts the stage to illuminate just the table, creating a claustrophobic mood where before the space had seemed unmanageably large.

My one problem with the play involves its script. The story diverges quite significantly from the events that inspire it, which is not in itself a problem. The problem is that these divergences strip the original story of its interesting nuances. To recap the headlines, two otherwise likeable and normal-looking men, who shared affection, consensually agreed that one should eat the other. The men were well-regarded in their neighbourhoods — likable, relatable cannibals. It’s a true story that raises compelling questions.

On the other hand, Julian Hobba’s script turns both of these people into eminently unlikeable characters — selfish, childish, and violent — which immediately throws up a wall between them and the audience, letting viewers off the hook. There’s no chance that they will empathise with either Denny or Neil, short-circuiting the original story’s moral quandary.

Ultimately this play is not so much about cannibalism as it is a play that involves cannibalism. This story doesn’t plumb the depths of what it might mean to perform the act of eating another human, but it is a well-told gothic tale — tense, suspenseful, and shocking.

Delicacy runs at the Brisbane Arts Theatre until Jun 15. http://www.artstheatre.com.au

JEREMY THOMPSON was assistant arts editor at OffStreet Press. His work has been published in Small Packages, Rave Magazine, Voiceworks, and Notes From The Gean.

Review: The Travelling Sisters Let Loose (Anywhere Fest)

Review by Nerissa Rowan

It’s the last night of the Anywhere Theatre Festival, and the show is sold out. We meet on a street corner, before being led down a dark alleyway. What awaits us? Should we be frightened? Is this a trap?

But from behind the trees emerges a brightly lit garden surrounding a beautiful old Queenslander. The verandah is full of waiting audience members, drinking tea, coffee and hot chocolate. It has the feel of a garden party, as we run into people we know, chat and take in the surroundings.

Soon the front doors open and we are led into a spacious living room. I settle on a mattress piled with cushions, closest to the fireplace. The atmosphere is friendly, and we feel we’ve arrived at a friends’ party. When the hostesses arrive, there are magic tricks and party games which get everyone joining in. Tonight is clearly about having a good time.

The Travelling Sisters Let Loose is a comfortable cabaret, which loosely links stories, songs and traveller’s tales. Lucy Fox and Ell Sachs tell us how they found this “abandoned” house, and how they’ve passed their time since — bathing in memories and music. They wander the room, so no matter where you sit, you’ll be in the perfect spot for some part of the action.

The subject matters are many and varied, including love, loss, losing face and losing inhibitions. Whether fact or fiction, they feel like personal stories, told with real emotion in conversational style, in song or in poetry. The songs are quirky and clever, and the voices are beautiful. One epic song is accompanied with a gorgeous animation projected on a wall.

Throughout the night, the audience is treated to snacks. The relaxed atmosphere helps us feel that we can sing along or clap in time to the music just as we would among friends. Some are asked to help build a blanket fort. It would be difficult not to smile — but why would you try?

The Travelling Sisters Let Loose is an enormously warm feel-good show. It’s staged like a family concert — but my family is nowhere near as talented as this pair. I look forward to finding out what new adventures they will take us on.

The Travelling Sisters Let Loose ran from 8 to 19 May, 2013. Anywhere Theatre Festival

Review: Growing Pains (Anywhere Fest)

Review by Nerissa Rowan

When you think of poetry, do you think Shakespearean sonnets or bush ballads? In Growing Pains, four writers show us there’s a lot more to spoken word than rhythm and rhyme. This is “poetry”. It touches on themes of ethnicity, relationships, religion and the trials of growing up.

They’ve taken over the Bird Gallery, a cosy space permeated with the smell of coffee and packed with chairs, cushions and beanbags. On the wall is a work in progress — a collage of baby photos and memories. The audience and cafe patrons are encouraged to add their own memories to the wall. Prompters like “what did you want to be when you grow up” and “what smell do you remember” are designed to inspire us to share our stories too.

“Herein you will find instructions on being an adult.” Martin Ingle’s hilarious piece about the rules of adulthood sets the tone for the next hour. He is confident and funny, bringing a stand-up comedy feel to the show, particularly when he asks the question: is it love or food poisoning?

His work is interspersed with that of the three other performers. Vuong Pham is quiet and reflective, bringing haiku and faith into the mix. The soft spoken but powerful words of Jo Sri make it obvious why he was the Queensland winner of the National Poetry Slam in 2012. His words are heartfelt, personal, humorous and often political.

We have to wait a little while before Josh Donellan takes the stage, but he brings more great slam and storytelling filled with wordplay and emotion. He’s the only one who comes close to fitting the traditional stereotype of a writer, with his 1984 t-shirt and a hat that, at first glance, looks like a beret.

There’s some creative metaphor, amusing wordplay and jokes at the expense of poetry. The audience laps it up.

The finale is a well-constructed collaborative piece which wraps up the show nicely. It brings the performers, their styles and themes together into a cohesive whole. Words are my thing, and I enjoyed this show immensely.

Growing Pains ran at Bird Gallery on 16 May, 2013. Anywhere Festival.

Nerissa Rowan is a poet, performer, Arts Hub reviewer, and former OffStreet PressGang member.