Adelaide Fringe: Fallot (FÄ-‘LŌ)

Fallot is a circus-infused physical theatre work about the eponymous heart defect, Tetralogy of Fallot, as experienced by circus artist Marianna Joslin. Company 2 directors Chelsea McGuffin and David Carberry produce Fallot, performed by Joslin, Phoebe ArmstrongOlivia PorterCasey Douglas and Jake Silvestro.

The show had a developmental run at Brisbane Powerhouse during Wonderland Festival 2017; I missed Fallot then, so I was glad to catch up on my Bris-circus during Adelaide Fringe. In the intimate Empire Theatre tent, I love that you can see more of the physical work of circus by sheer proximity. There’s a lot of muscle and control in Fallot, perhaps fitting for a show that explores the heart muscle’s control over the function of body and mind.

In this particular run of Fallot, Joslin’s role in the show is limited by a recent injury, so she becomes the narrator and shadow of her own story. Joslin has experienced the physical and emotional trauma of several open-heart surgeries, and Fallot is at its strongest when its performers use their physical strength to show the vulnerability that comes with being at the mercy of doctors, anaesthetists and nurses.

The show has a fantastic, uncanny look: screens turn theatre into operating theatre, with freaky robed surgeons contrasting with beige lace and medical corsetry. White hospital sheets are a recurring motif, used as tissu to climb, rope, or costuming. The female performers each embody aspects of Joslin’s experiences, centred around a black operating table on wheels. A standout scene has Douglas and Silvestro, as doctors, shifting their co-performers on, off and around that table, using subtle versions of Company 2’s signature toss-the-girl manoeuvres to rob them of their agency. Another sees nurses weave hospital sheets around Armstong’s legs before hoisting her to the ceiling to float in the limbo of anaesthesia.

Fallot does struggle to settle on a tone. It plays up moments of classic cabaret between pathos-driven scenes, but there isn’t a clear sense of physical narrative between these – it doesn’t quite flow yet. This is most evident in the final scene, a lip-syncing number complete with heart puppets – its weirdness, though not unwelcome, comes from left field. It’s madcap, but inconsistent. Part of the challenge here is that Fallot’s narrative is held together by actual narration by Joslin – some live, some recorded – often overlong and leaning hard on clichés that wind up more tiresome than heart-warming.

Company 2 works with first-rate physical performers, but Fallot doesn’t trust those artists to show (rather than tell) the story. Fortunately, David Carberry’s musical score is a compelling pulse that resonates with the performers and with the beat of our own hearts.

Fallot runs at the Royal Croquet Club at Adelaide Fringe until 25 February.

CIRCUS REVIEW: Scotch and Soda

Company 2’s Scotch and Soda began its life at Woodford — and that grassroots festival vibe stays with it, even confined to a theatre. The Judith Wright Centre again proves itself to be a chameleon space: Dan Black’s clever lighting design makes use of colourful string-lights to evoke the big top. Company 2 (known for Cantina) conjures an immersive speakeasy atmosphere in the round through simple design, costuming and music. In this case, the Crusty Suitcase Band binds the production together and takes it from great to unforgettable.

Scotch and Soda features circus staples — acrobalance, aerials and slapstick — but what sets Company 2 apart is that, while each performer is at the top of their game, there’s a larrikin sense of chaos and play. It reassured me (just in case I was wondering if I was having a great time or not) to see two of Limbo’s cast members (Danik Abishev and Heather Holliday)* in the audience, having a damn good time. If international circus talent of that magnitude loves your show, it’s definitely good stuff.

Scotch and Soda by Sean Young (SYC Studios)

Scotch and Soda photographed by Sean Young (SYC Studios)

Chelsea McGuffin (co-director), whose signature move is to tiptoe across wine bottles, could balance her way out of any dilemma; David Carberry, Daniel Catlow and Ben Walsh bring chemistry to adagio and vaulting; and Mozes is hilarious on roller-skates but gobsmacking on trapeze. But Scotch and Soda is more than spectacle: the Crusty Suitcase Band is a vital part of the performance, with weird sax breaks and percussion-offs definite highlights. They even play the plastic bag, to great effect.

The only time Scotch and Soda takes a dip in energy is during a sequence featuring budgerigars, whose unwillingness to play along is comic, but ultimately overlong — and it’s unclear how keen the budgies are to keep us company. (There was also a puppy at the start that didn’t reappear — alas!)

Company 2’s last production, She Would Walk the Sky (World Theatre Festival, in collaboration with Finegan Kruckemeyer), struggled with incorporating sluggish prose. In Scotch and Soda, the company returns to its strengths, and the result is sheer delight.

SCOTCH AND SODA played at Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts from 24 to 27 September, as part of Brisbane Festival. Company 2 returns to JWCoCA in November with Sediment.

*BTW, Strut and Fret’s LIMBO is completely astounding and I spent all my BrisFest dollars on seeing it twice.

 

REVIEW: The Dark Party

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, 28 Nov. 2013
Words by Zenobia Frost

We settle in for The Dark Party up the back, led by the (unfounded, it turns out) sensation that the front row might be a dangerous place. After all, I’d watched journalist Dan Nancarrow have an apple chainsawed off his face for Brisbane Times — and would prefer not to follow in his footsteps. The Dirty Brothers (Shep Huntly, The Great Gordo Gamsby and Pat Bath), three “hobo clowns”, are already shuffling into the audience, distributing ping-pong balls. No explanation is given; in fact, The Dirty Brothers will remain silent, except for their occasional stifled cries. For the next hour, we will squirm, squeal and laugh as they injure themselves in the name of circus.

If I ask you to imagine three men dancing over dozens of mousetraps, you might picture chaos. But the Brothers’ triumph is in their deftly controlled performance — perfectly dishevelled, these three are masters of clowning. Their distinct characters, in monochrome clown makeup, simultaneously capture melancholy, mischief and horror. There’s choreographed elegance in their drunken shambling, lit by sepia spotlights. I couldn’t help but imagine Martin Martini’s Bone Palace Orchestra providing a live soundtrack.

THE+DARK+PARTY+hero

It’s hard to describe The Dark Party without spoiling all the surprises. The Brothers play with staples, bear traps, electricity and fire with a jaded sense of self-destruction. These acts are for their amusement, yes, but they’re reproachful as well; we feel sympathy for the one being hurt, whether by himself, his brothers or the world at large. They draw the uncanny out of everyday activities — one’s morning ablutions and the act of putting on a coat are made strange, perhaps because they are so irrelevant to the world these ruined clowns occupy. My +1 observes, as well, several well-placed tips of the hat to Waiting for Godot (which I’ve not seen to confirm) — “as if,” she says after the show, “Vladimir and Estragon had finally given up on waiting and instead had resigned themselves to setting each other on fire for entertainment.”

I’m endlessly glad that the Judith Wright Centre, with its adaptable performance spaces, continues to support concise or unusual acts that might otherwise be relegated to sideshows and fringe festivals. Cunning segues ensure that The Dark Party — only an hour long — is more than the sum of its parts; it deserves time to be a headliner in its own right.

The ping-pong balls return in a wonderful gag that relies on the audience to participate in the Brothers’ denigration. Their violence is effective not because they make it look easy, but the opposite: their reluctance, their silence and their pain are intrinsic to the act.

REVIEW: Salõn

Salõn tips its fascinator to soirees of a bygone era, wherein powerful hosts welcomed underground artists into their own parlours. The show is choreographer Timothy Brown’s brainchild, developed in collaboration with its cast with the support of the Judith Wright Centre’s Fresh Ground artistic residency. (Read my recent interview with Brown to find out more.)

In terms of aesthetic, Salõn approaches the sublime. The Judy performance space has undergone several striking transformations of late, and this is one of them. Cabaret seating hugs a series of stages stretched over the space. Andrew Meadow’s lighting design evokes a boudoir decked out in indigo and red silks and velvets. Surreal costumes form the basis for haunting tableaux. In short, Salõn looks pretty damn good.

The Oracle and the Serpent: Michelle Xen and Travis Scott (photo by FenLan Chuang)

The Oracle and the Serpent: Michelle Xen and Travis Scott (photo by FenLan Chuang)

Michelle Xen and the Neon Wild, as “The Oracle”, provide the soundtrack, but there’s no orchestra pit here; the band is very much a star in its own right. Xen’s neon-electric costume changes alone could almost constitute an entire show.

As for the rest of the cast, Iona Marques ( “Alice”), a dancer trained in Rio de Janeiro, seems to be made of something more malleable than mere human muscle. She’s a charmer as she wanders between our tables; once on stage, she’s something else entirely. Das Unheimlich persists: mesmerising Anthony Trojman (“the Peacock”), perched above The Neon Wild, looks rather like the son of David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Nerida Matthaei, an accomplished dancer and choreographer who has just won a place on the 2013 Australian Korean International Exchange Program, seems uncomfortable in her role as ringmistress “Jean”. Even enthroned atop her “Things” (David Trappes and Alex Weckes-Hucks), Matthaei lacks the confidence to pull off her one-liners with the panache required to elevate them above the level of cheese. Elizabeth Whelan demonstrates the redundancy of dialogue as the silent “Marchesa”, omniscient host and patron, though her talents as a dancer are sadly under-utilised.

The Peacock: Anthony Trojman (photo by FenLan Chuang)

The Peacock: Anthony Trojman (photo by FenLan Chuang)

Bridging the divide between circus and dance, Travis Scott (“the Serpent”) ensures we’re awake with a suitably sinuous swinging pole routine. Trappes and Weckes-Huck’s acrobalance and juggling provide just the right relief to lighten the moody epicurean atmosphere.

While the links between acts are tenuous and the pacing occasionally lags, Salõn has a thematic cohesion that helps it to transcend an average variety night. Brown draws on elements of Weimar-era cabaret to create a sense of decaying decadence. His choreography is as slick as his Serpent’s scales. The audience is left with a dreamy impression of colour and movement, light and neon sound.

SALÕN runs at the Judith Wright Centre for only two more nights, till 29 June, 2013.

Judith Wright Centre: Salõn

Timothy Brown (Queensland Ballet, Expressions Dance Company) promises Judy audiences the exotic, the erotic and the sublime in The Salõn. He curates  seven physical performers — with backgrounds in circus and dance — in collaboration with musos Michelle Xen and the Neon Wild. It’s a showcase of local talent with international appeal; don’t miss out.

ZF: Salõn is an ambitious interdisciplinary work. How did you go about getting the balance just right, both in terms of aesthetic and the diverse cast?
TB: It was like creating a lavish yet unpredictable patchwork of acts, styles and artists genres.

ZF: With your dance background in mind, what were you looking for in your seven performers?
TB: The Salon performers are local independent artists who have proven to be outstanding in their fields while also creating their own unique niches within music, circus and dance.

Anthony Trojman — photo by Dylan Evans Photography, design by Blender

Anthony Trojman for Salōn (photo by Dylan Evans Photography, design by Blender)

ZF: Tell me one or two stunning, surprising or strange things about the character or talents of the performers.
TB: Travis Scott is a dancer come pole dancer come swinging pole dancer. This is very unique as there is only a small hand full of swinging pole artists around the world.
Former Expressions contemporary dance artist Anthony Trojman (pictured) is currently completing his honors in physiotherapy, with his last exam a day before we open!

ZF: How was “living work of art” Marchesa Luisa Casati an inspiration for the show?
TB: Marchesa Luisa Casati has always been an icon for me. Although this work is not a biography of the great Marchesa, the concept of icons, divas, and muses being immortalised through art are themes among others the show has drawn inspiration from.

ZF: How important was the Fresh Ground program to the show’s development? (Salõn was part of our JWC’s Space program introduced this year.)
TB: Fresh Ground is a unique program that I think gives the Judy a very important role in the independent arts sector. Artists need to have access to government facilities and support without too much paper work and admin. Just a studio with a speaker can give an artist a chance to create magic for Brisbane audiences and potentially show the world how good we are and what we have to offer.

ZF: If you were to paint a tableau that represented Salōn, what would it look like?
We have quite a few in the show! Very colourful, very diverse with a mix of glamour, grace, rebellion and cheek!

SALŌN plays at the Judith Wright Centre from 22 to 29 June, 2013.

REVIEW: Briefs (Theatre People)

Brisbane is very proud of our Briefs boys, who are off to Melbourne and the UK next with their Second Coming. Follow the links to read my five-star Theatre People review:

It’s been a long time coming. Two years have passed since Brisbane’s own cabaret burlesque boys played on a home stage — not that they’ve abandoned us. The Briefs troupe has been all over Europe and Australia, getting the good word out: Brisbane is not — never was — the “cultural black hole of Australia.” We’re the circus capital.

Briefs founders Fez “Shivannah” Faanana and Mark “Captain Kidd” Winmill return to the Powerhouse with a fresh posse: Tom Flanagan, Dallas Dellaforce, Louis Biggs and Ben Lewis. Their chemistry… Read more.

Briefs: The Second Coming (photo by Sean Young)

Briefs: The Second Coming (photo by Sean Young)

The Birdmann in The Events of Momentous Timing

“The queen of Highgate Hill,” Tigerlil opens for the Birdmann with The Unrehearsal, a show that revels in the art of practised incompetence. Tiger Lil falls, spins, tangles and trips with perfect comic timing through a series of routines: whip-cracking, hooping, and puppetry. Tigerlil is always a pleasure to watch; however, each segment of The Unrehearsal feels overlong — if only by a little. From hooping to hoop skirts, she brings us to her stunning finale: a dextrous, devilish puppet climbs the skeleton of her undergarment to the boneyard tune of Waits and Burroughs’ “‘T’ain’t No Sin”.

We refresh our wine glasses and it’s time for the Birdmann’s Events of Momentous Timing. Billed as a one-man mystery, we join the Birdmann — in tails, tie, and tight black pants, with a plastic bag sticking out of one pocket — as he awakens from unconsciousness. Just how did our hero find himself handcuffed to an ironing board, holding one gorgeous black stiletto?

The Birdmann

The show follows a loose narrative through several events that help the Birdmann recreate that fateful night of the blackout. His mannerisms — simultaneously awkward and suave, and indeed birdlike — are the key to his comedy. The Birdmann shifts between cabaret-style one-liners (in the Aussie-noir tradition of Paul McDermott, Flacco and friends) and comedic circus feats. He defines this stylistic divide by dragging his plinth — the ironing board — to and from stage right.

It’s hard to take your eyes off the Birdmann. There isn’t exactly one word to describe him — and even the ones I’ve had to settle for don’t quite suffice. He has an eerie command of the surreal, but combined with that, an endearing — almost heartrending — dorky lonesomeness. As an example, this singular artist manages to have us screeching with laughter as he serenades and face-mashes a cupcake — his favourite comfort food and dietary supplement — but he tugs at our heartstrings too.

I won’t spoil the show for those yet to see it. The Birdmann’s mysteries are better unravelled in person. But he brings together a tenuous narrative with surprising cohesion and concludes with what can only be described as a stage spectacular worthy of Cher.

The Events of Momentous Timing, supported by Tigerlil, ran at the Judith Wright Centre from 23 to 24 March 2013.