Adelaide Fringe: Séance

I booked very cheap tickets to Adelaide months ago, not even realising we’d be here in time for Fringe. It’s a happy coincidence, so in between eating a lot and looking at myself in the Gallery of South Australia, I’ve been seeing as much theatre as my wallet can handle (not heaps, but still). Why leave my cosy AirBnB bed during daylight hours when I could write scrappy reviews all day and see shows at night?

To a Queenslander, Adelaide Fringe Festival – particularly the Rundle Park venue Garden of Earthly Delights – looks like The Ekka but for actual art. There’s a good bit of dustbowl Carnivàle vibe thrown in, and plenty to stumble across. We were contemplating Sideshow Alley (my beau has never been on a Ferris Wheel?!) when we found Séance.

It makes sense that Séance is near the thrill rides: it kind of serves as the haunted house of Fringe. Séance is, quite literally, a show-in-a-box – it takes place in a shipping crate, in pitch darkness. It’s only 15–20 minutes long, but we decided it was a far better way to sink $20 each than on dodgems. The show (and, presumably, crate) has been transported from Edinburgh Fringe, but is facilitated by newish Melbourne theatre company, Realscape (in association with Darkfield – a collaboration between Glen Neath and David Rosenberg). Their modus operandi is to present “unforgettable theatrical experiences that captivate and inspire even the sixth sense.”

Inside the container is a long table, with old-fashioned red theatre chairs lining either side. We’re asked to put on noise-cancelling headphones before we’re plunged into darkness. Without wanting to give the game away – especially with such a short show – Séance relies on aural illusion. Using binaural audio, the show takes place inside your head, with your brain extrapolating Foley into reality around you. (For those who’ve never encountered the weirdness of ASMR YouTube, binaural microphones record “3D sound”. It’s virtual reality, but via audio.)

Hands+Seance

I’m pleased to read that Darkfield is an ongoing project – using “actors … binaural sound, pitch darkness and movement … in shipping containers to explore fear and anxiety.” What a damn fine project. Séance is the first in this collection of shows, and it proves that binaural audio and light (or lack thereof) are a fantastic way to create a memorable, affecting experience. As well, the show’s transportable nature calls back to the travelling illusionists and snake-oil salesmen of old.

But, for a show that relies on immersion, the team handling the audience is careless. While I understand the importance and complexity of safety warnings for such a show (e.g. to have someone leave partway would destroy the darkness), there was little effort to set the mood and bring us into the Spiritualist world of the séance itself. We were initiated by a dude in green basketball shorts, as chill and casual as any carnie strapping us into a ride. The show ought to have begun outside the container, not once the lights went out. This isn’t the dodgems; this is a dollar-a-minute theatre experience.

Within the audio of the show, as well, a few key clues busted the suspension of my disbelief, despite the Mulderesque fervour with which I wanted to believe. (For example, perhaps the audio could’ve been rerecorded with local accents.) But all in all, I found myself wanting more. While I get that there’s only so long you can lock 20 people in a dark box, another five, 10 or even 15 minutes would’ve allowed the writers to flesh (or perhaps spirit) out a more consistent, impactful narrative.

I loved the innovations used in Séance, and hope this spooky little show encourages more theatre-makers to push on the potential of binaural audio.

Séance plays in The Garden of Earthly Delights throughout Adelaide Fringe Festival.

Three and a half stars.

Dream: a blog

It’s several weeks ago now, but Vena Cava’s Dream: A House (Anywhere Festival) is still resonating – in a very dreamlike way. This installation took over the whole of House Conspiracy in West End, a sharehouse-turned-shared-arts space.

Transforming an entire building into an immersive experience is an enduring fantasy of mine. On top of that, exploring uncanny Queenslanders is the theme at the heart of my Master’s thesis. I bought tickets so fast I was just a blur with a credit card.

I haven’t written reviews in a couple of years, so this isn’t really criticism. Technically I could’ve squeezed Dream: A House into my recent lit review but never mind that. :| I’m just glad this show had its moment in Brisbane, and wanted to make a few notes that might help me respond to it more creatively in the near future.

Dream: A House was directed by Sarah Winter, who created A Library for the End of the World a few years ago: an uncanny walking tour of West End (guided by audio on headphones), which led to a tiny library of memories. The show ended by inviting you to record a memory of your own to add to the collection. I remember wanting to stay in that library room forever.

library-end-world

A Library for the End of the World, 2014

This new work operates on the conceit that the show is your night’s sleep, and the rooms of House Conspiracy are a series of dreams. Like A Library for the End of the World, it’s a solo experience, and the Dream team take pains to create a sense of safety and ritual before showing you to the front door. Going into a show alone – especially a walking show – is a wonderful experience: without a fellow audience, you can be vulnerable and react without moderating your feelings and facial expressions.

Sarah Winter, Siobhan Martin (production manager), and Rebekkah Law and Samuel Seagrott (stage management team) have put a great deal of time and love into creating a labyrinth of detailed dreams within House Conspiracy. (That house has a surprising number of rooms! I’ve been trying to map out the space – I’ll have to revisit when it’s functioning normally.)

ANYWHERE-DREAM-A-HOUSE-MAIN-IMAGERY

The show is most successful at its most intimate and sensory. I couldn’t bring myself to miss sniffing a single memory in the smell library (legit a dream I would have, too). In the sand room, I felt safe in the mystic’s intimate, attentive gaze. When I slow-danced with the woman in the flower room, I felt we’d known each other a long time – but only just fallen in love. I probably spent too long on the phone in the kitchen shit-talking the Northern Lights. The spaces and characters invite you to engage deeply – and I only wish I’d had more time to do so (and to scribble my secret missive in the bathtub full of books).

The rooms where the illusion was broken were where the dreamy themes were overwritten or overacted – minor issues easily tweaked. I loved the attention to detail throughout – from taking off my shoes at the beginning to finding them waiting for me in front of a chair under the house, swathed in cloud-like clean sheets on lines, which you unpeg your way through to leave. In hindsight I’d have gladly booked out two spots so I could explore the house for longer.

REVIEW: a library for the end of the world


sonder
, n. “the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own” (The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows)

Vena Cava presents an unusual work-in-development devised by Brisbane’s own Sarah Winter.

a library for the end of the world is a interactive work that challenges each solitary participant to explore memory and theory of mind. Through headphones, a guiding voice asks us some big questions — amongst them: if the world were ending today, what one memory would you leave behind?

Each half-hour session­­­ takes one traveller on something of a treasure hunt, guided by audio, to the library’s hidden location. The Anywhere Theatre Festival event page shrouds the library in mystery, but in doing so excludes important accessibility information: the production’s first half is a walking tour, with stairs.

This show embodies the spirit of ATF. Winter (disembodied) stages her performance outside of a traditional space — with the participant at the centre of the experience. West End is made strange and new through its frame as theatre. I am hypnotised: a great lover of audio books and spoken word, I follow Winter’s voice down the rabbit hole. It is simultaneously a meditative and thrilling experience to be led by someone unseen into unknown places.

a library for the end of the world

The library itself, once you find it, is an enchanting space. Its design hints at an outside-of-time otherworldliness — with the sensation that whoever works there may return at any moment. I can’t help but finger through curios and ephemera while listening to the library’s growing collection of memories. The analogue crackle of audiotapes is at once ghostly and fire-warm.

Throughout the show, I search through my own memories for the right one to leave behind. But when the time comes to hit record, my brain decides to tell another. That sudden memory seems as revealing as a tarot card. I leave the library pensive — even melancholy; I want more time alone within that experience to consider all the questions I’ve been asked.

A day on — at the time of writing — and the memory of the library has taken on the surreal, ephemeral glow of a dream.

Anywhere Theatre Festival runs from 7 to 17 May. Due to popular demand, a library for the end of the world’s season has been extended until 24 May.

WTF: Wedhus Gembel

Part II of our  World Theatre Festival interviews series brings us into conversation with ANDY FREER of Snuff Puppets.

Wedhus Gembel

OFFSTREET: Describe your show in under 25 words.
ANDY FREER: Wedhus Gembel explores the tensions between traditional and contemporary Indonesian life. It is a parable about the cycle of life and duality; from destruction there is creation, from chaos there is harmony.

OS: What stands out for you about the festival’s aims and programming in 2014?
AF: WTF’s commitment to presenting irreverent, cross-cultural, globally relevant programming matches Snuff Puppets’ company ethos to push boundaries and create entertaining, experimental and culturally diverse performances that challenge the possibilities of theatre today.

OS: Wedhus Gembel is an Australian-Indonesian collaboration. What have cast members learned from one another during this extended collaboration, especially in travelling to India and Peru?
AF: Collaboration is key to this work; it was how it was created and it is how it continues to run and be presented. Wherever we tour the show we run a free two-day performance-making workshop with people from the local community. The work created over those days is then presented within the show. Sharing and learning from each other within new groups of people and cultures gives everyone an amazingly diverse place to learn and discover.
Having toured throughout Java, Indonesia and been presented in Melbourne, Australia and Lima, Peru, the cultural diversity of these places has impacted this collaboration, creating an endlessly rich and fascinating learning experience for everyone involved. Wedhus Gembel is essentially a visual spectacle that transcends language barriers and covers universal themes.
The form lends itself to being a cross-fertilisation of cultures primarily because of the Australian/Indonesian collaboration, but also because it includes a performance-making workshop in whatever country we are presenting. Inherently we absorb the culture, living and performing with the people of these new places.

OS: What are the challenges and benefits of telling a story with puppets of such epic proportions?
AF: The challenges technically are often transporting and storing our giant puppets. Interestingly, the solving of this problem became a benefit. We were able to pack the whole show into our luggage quota; now a five-metre mountain-volcano plus all the puppets and props travel with us in our luggage. The scale of our puppets, all being bigger than an average human, give a sense for the audience of being in a transgressive space. It is in this place that audiences are disarmed and perspectives shifted.
The puppets play in the realm of mythology and dreams, creating a joyously chaotic and transformative outdoor spectacle of epic proportions.

OS: What will Wedhus Gembel leave its audiences feeling?
AF: Our aim is to give our audiences an insight into an amazingly rich and exotic Javanese culture. They will be swept up in a story of love and nature, superstition, chaos, magic and mythology. There is also some very cool music and we invite the audience onto and into the performance . . . it must be seen to be believed.

WEDHUS GEMBEL runs from Feb 18 to 22 for World Theatre Festival.

REVIEW: Confessions of a Control Freak

Words by Tahnee Robinson

Confessions of a Control Freak finds Belinda Raisin — actor, singer and former ballerina — exploring the pitfalls and foibles of her alter-ego Frances, a self-confessed control freak. But is she, really? Frances herself seems unsure. Certainly she likes a good list — Raisin makes a good start early on with an aria to her lists: lists that appear on post-its and clipboards, laminated on the toilet wall and unravelling for metres out of a filing cabinet. It sets the scene well, and the gangly faux-sexy dance as she twines the enormous list around herself and between her legs is a good indicator of what’s to come — Raisin plays the sexy dork well, and she makes Frances simultaneously a harried neurotic and a bit of an everywoman. And that’s what Confessions is really all about: can women (or this woman, at least) really have it all? It’s an old theme, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one, and Raisin tackles it endearingly, expanding on habits and tics that have the audience chuckling in recognition.

Confessions of a Control Freak opens with Jamie Teh at the piano. Teh, blind since birth, shares the stage with Raisin for the duration of the show, providing musical accompaniment and sound effects with unobtrusive dignity — even whilst holding up a sign that says, “She has I.B.S.”. He and Jennifer Teh are responsible for the musical compositions, and the soundscape ranges from 70s electro-pop to Disney. The music comes as a surprise, and audiences might have expected more original work, but the use of iconic hits works to the show’s advantage. Raisin’s voice is quite good — it’s arguably the weakest element of the show, but that doesn’t really matter. The point of sampling Adele’s “Someone Like You” with regard to one of Frances’s (many, many) deceased pets is not to showcase Raisin’s pipes, and it doesn’t need to be.  Mary Poppins’s “A Spoonful of Sugar” (confession: Frances LOVES cleaning) is, in this instance, a very large glass of wine. And that vodka taking up door space in the fridge.

ConfessionsOfAControlFreak3_3FatesMedia

The Poppins-themed cleaning montage sees Raisin, having unearthed a trove of useless treasures, zooming around the Judith Wright Centre in rollerblades, handing out glasses of wine to audience members. It’s one of the better “feed the audience” inclusions I’ve come across, and watching a woman fly around a cluttered space on wheels, brandishing brimming glasses of alcohol, evokes precisely the amused-horror you might feel watching a friend having a manic moment. Needless to say, the job does not get done.

It’s a short performance, clocking in at around 60 minutes, but sometimes the material feels a little thin. Perhaps that’s because it’s a cabaret about the everyday — there’s no velvet here, nor feathers — but the pacing feels occasionally sluggish at moments.  Frances turns serious toward the end — an abrupt segue from the dead pets montage, which has the audience highly entertained — meditating on children, and whether having babies is something she really wants, or whether it’s just the next item on the list. This is a question that’s probably been considered by every couple of child-rearing age for the last few decades; it’s no doubt relevant. But something about it feels a little disappointing, like there’s nothing revelatory to be had here. I was happier when Frances’s “bundle of joy” was set to be a puppy (pity about what happened to that bunny, though).

As a whole the show is very warm, and Raisin’s slightly gawky physical humour goes down well with the crowd. The Judy is an excellent venue choice for the show, fostering the intimacy it replies on and allowing the audience to become part of the antics. It’s worth a visit for the slightly-scattered list-maker in all of us. After all, we’re all just trying to keep a job, find love, stay fit, see our friends and develop some hobbies, right?

CONFESSIONS OF A CONTROL FREAK is on at the Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts until 17 August. Tickets $19–24.

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