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.

YOOF ARTS NEWS

I nearly called this YOOF ARTZ NYOOZ and I’m sorry. Maybe it should have been “They Have It Coming”. Anyway. It’s been a fortnight of arts-work by the young and the restless. This is definitely more of a discussion than a series of reviews. I especially welcome input from others who’ve seen or are involved in these shows.

BRISBANE (A DOING WORD)

Brisbane (a doing word)

Vena Cava has outgrown QUT’s Woodward Theatre; the student theatre company launches its new season in the Judith Wright Centre’s intimate Shopfront space. Here, we meet Matty (Patrick Hayes) and his share-housing frenemies, negotiating their place and purpose as 20-somethings in Brisbane. This coming-of-age story unfolds in pieces, benefiting from writer David Burton’s structural experimentation.

Burton’s characters are painfully relatable but never sterotypes. Claire Christian directs a strong cast; we’ve all lived or studied with these eager, energetic, argumentative people. We’ve probably been them. Overall, a little more polish and restraint will allow Brisbane (a doing word) to deftly handle the sensitive topics it tackles without losing its sense of absurd humour.

BRISBANE (A DOING WORD) ran at the Judith Wright Centre from 20 to 22 March 2014.

PERSPECTIVE/WOOLF PACK

Khalid Warsame at Brisbane's VOICEWORKS Launch

Express Media (or its Queensland representative … me) launched Voiceworks #96, the Perspective issue, at Avid Reader. Voiceworks Mag publishes and offers professional development of the work of Australian writers under 25. This was such a great night with superb readers (pictured: Khalid Warsame). Avid put on the ritz for us — what a wonderful venue. Wine all round! We also launched Woolf Pack, a new feminist zine edited by super-cool Brisbane ladies. Good times.

VOICEWORKS and WOOLF PACK launched at Avid Reader on 28 March 2014.

HOMOS IN KIMONOS

Homos in Kimonos

James Halloran and Will Hannagan’s double-bill cabaret (Melbourne Festival Comedy) has come under fire this week regarding its title, which some feel appropriates Japanese culture in a way that is racist. I’m hesitant to weigh in personally — as a white person I realise my privilege means I have blind spots — but I felt the creative team gave a measured, respectful public response in which they apologised and clarified their intentions. It was disappointing to see uncritical responses on both sides of the fence (personal attacks on the young performers and, on the flipside, tiresome attacks on “the PC brigade”).

I rarely feel qualified to comment, but I think there’s space right now in Australia for lots of context-based, critical discussion on cultural intersection in art. I hope that the show’s run stimulates more thoughtful, respectful discussion and fewer facebook shitstorms.

HOMOS IN KIMONOS runs at Melbourne Comedy Festival until 13 April 2014.

BOY&GIRL

Boy&Girl by Oscar Theatre Company

Oscar Theatre Company presents “a steamy cabaret of musical theatre, contemporary and pop where gender is bent and rules are broken” at Brisbane Powerhouse, after a season at Lightspace. Boy&Girl features 25 talented and diverse cast members with a Broadway/contemporary jazz vibe. Jason Glenwright’s moody lighting sets the right tone for a trip down the Weimar rabbit hole.

Now, I can’t call these thoughts a review, as I did not stay for the full show. For me, the highlight of the first half was a 40s wartime swing rendition of “Call Me Maybe” by three charismatic male performers, followed by an emotive solo covering Rizzo’s “That’s the Worst Thing I Could Do” from Grease. Overall, though, Boy&Girl only flirted with the idea of gender-bending: pronouns were swapped, sure, and the boys (but, curiously, not really the girls) dabbled in drag. The jokes were about as cheap as the lingerie. All up, a pretty conservative affair, with the cast unable to nail the sense of sexy-grotesque integral, in my opinion, to queered cabaret.

But none of this would be a fair reason to walk out. Generally, I think it’s pretty poor form to leave a show’s opening night midway. However, just before the interval, 10 men (plus the male host and four men in the onstage band) performed Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango”. This is a song that deliberately subverts language used against female victims of intimate and sexual violence; its power, humour and sense of the uncanny succeeds because, in the context of the song, women have what is normally masculine power. In Boy&Girl, “Cell Block Tango” becomes a deeply unsettling song about domestic violence. In Australia, where one woman a week is murdered by an intimate partner, loosely “gender-bending” the song puts the power back in the hands of those who already have it. I left because I couldn’t sit with an audience that found that funny.

BOY&GIRL runs at the Visy Theatre at Brisbane Powerhouse until 19 April 2014.

Interview: BRISBANE (A DOING WORD)

Writer David Burton and director Claire Christian team up for Vena Cava’s latest production, BRISBANE (A DOING WORD). I caught up with David and Claire to find out more.

 

ZENOBIA FROST: People like to denigrate Brisbane as a place to live or make art, but it sounds like this play identifies the ways in which Brisbane has much to offer. Is that correct? Tell me about the play’s relationship to Brisbane.

DAVID BURTON: The play’s relationship to Brisbane is complex. Every artist I know has a complex relationship with this city. I’m a big Brisbane fan too, and a large part of this play is showing that Brisbane has a lot to offer but that it also has a lot to overcome. Brisbane’s main challenge is the relationship it holds with its artists, many of whom are looking to book a flight to Melbourne or Sydney! I was interested in why that it is — not on a political level, because that’s discussed enough — but on a personal, emotional, creative level. That’s what the play explores.

CLAIRE CHRISTIAN: I like to think that the play metaphorically high-fives Brisbane in a way too. And that by the very making of the work, Brisbane artists are doing their thing in Brisbane and loving on Brisbane.

 

ZF: Tell me about the play’s protagonist, Matty. What sets his story apart from your average coming-of-age?

DB: We’ve all met Matty. He’s the hopelessly ambitious, idealistic artist who believes theatre can change the world. He’s loved, funny, and imaginative, but he’s sadly lacking some sensitivity. I think he’s an interesting protagonist because he’s recognisable, and not necessarily likeable. Not likeable, but loveable. I’ve been Matty, I’ve been friends with a lot of Mattys, and I’ve watched many grow up, and many stagnate in a Matty-state. It’s funny and interesting to me.

CC: I think those of us in the arts all have an inner Matty at some point of our career: the people in our lives loving us, us hating ourselves, being a wanker about our art — perhaps that’s part of the process.

 BRISBANE (a doing word)


ZF: Matty explores comedy, slam, theatre, therapy and Jesus. Which part of his adventure is most memorable/resonant for you as writer and director, respectively?

CC: Matty’s overall journey, but the people around him are also on a journey because of him and his impact on their lives. He’s a pretty blissfully unaware of the ripple effect he causes. I hope audiences just wanna give him a hug — and tell him he’s okay. I think all artists need that. Scrap that, I think everyone needs that.

 

ZF: JWC is a distinctly Brisbane venue (and definitely a doing-wordy place). How does “Brisbane (a doing word)” use the space?

CC: We’re in the shopfront space, which has its challenges and limitations, but is also forcing us to be creative. I’ve done a show in this space before — I love the intimacy it forces, the proximity of the actors to the audience. Plus, I think it’s fantastic that Vena Cava are getting away from their home turf and spreading their wings. I think it makes a great comment about how they see themselves within the Brisbane landscape and about the work they want to make.

 

ZF: Vena Cava is a student theatre company; have the play’s themes resonated with the cast? In what ways?

C: I think so, yeah. I think it is spinning a few of them into an existential art related crisis. It’s a little confronting in that Matty’s essentially on their path, in their classes, possibly them — even though I think they all hope not. It’s probably inspired a whole lot of reflection about why they do what they do, and how they talk about what they do. I think it’s nice to be reminded not to be a dickhead. I think they get that now.

 

ZF: Does the play reveal anything unexpected about Brisbane?

DB: I don’t know what people’s expectations are of our city! I think we all have different perspectives on our town, and the play looks at that. None of the characters have the same relationship with this place.

CC: I don’t know, I’d like to think the play speaks more about being a young, confused twenty something — which could be applicable in any town. I think what makes the play speak of Brisbane is the ‘plight’ of artists here and their questions about where to place themselves for success. Maybe it speaks about the perception of success as an artist and how place and space contribute to that.

 

BRISBANE (A DOING WORD) plays at the Judith Wright Centre from 20 to 22 March.

 

THEATRE REVIEW: The Mountaintop

Photos by Rob McColl

It’s after midnight on Martin Luther King’s last night on earth. There’s still work to be done — but the good doctor has run out of cigarettes.

Dr King (Pacharo Mzembe) has just given his famous and final address at Mason Temple in Tennessee — in April of 1968. We find him kicking off his shoes in his Memphis motel room, calling room service in the hope of a late-night cup of coffee.

Delivering caffeine and cigarettes to Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was not what Camae (Candy Bowers) expected of her first day on the job as a motel maid. Lonely and, after all, only human, King insists Camae stay for a cigarette. He gets far more than he bargained for.

Candy Bowers as Camae and Pacharo Mzembe as Dr Martin Luther King in QTC's The Mountaintop  shot by Rob Mccoll

In his director’s notes, Todd MacDonald quotes writer Katori Hall: “This isn’t the ‘I Have a Dream’ King. This is King, the man, not the myth. I want people to see that this extraordinary man — who is actually quite ordinary — achieved something so great that he actually created a fundamental shift in how we, as a people, interact with each other.” Mzembe, with his sonorous voice, perfects Hall’s vision of King-the-man. His ego, wit and flaws make King’s terror, in facing death, all the more moving.

The Mountaintop’s strength hangs on its dynamic leads’ playful intimacy. Bowers’ brass and sharpness keep the play on the right side of sweet as Camae’s true identity is revealed. The more fun Bowers has with her character — giving her own Dr-King-esque speech, for instance — the more she settles into her Tennessee twang.

QTCM1279

Kieran Swann’s design and Ben Hughes’ lighting combine to create a singular effect: Room 306, with its mildewed pink curtains, seems to exist between worlds. Swann subtly evokes both the wonder and terror of what lies beyond. Tony Brumpton’s sound design has us enter the theatre to the swell of King’s various addresses; in a sense, this will prepare us for the powerful sensory overload of the finale (composed by Busty Beatz).

Queensland Theatre Company is off on the right foot with its 2014 season. Ultimately, The Mountaintop celebrates King’s reverberations on Earth, but challenges us not to forget that we share his human ability to change the world.

Candy Bowers as Camae and Pacharo Mzembe as Dr Martin Luther King in QTC's The Mountaintop  shot by Rob Mccoll

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now,” says King, in his final address on 3 April 1968. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land.”

The Mountaintop (Queensland Theatre Company) runs at the Playhouse, QPAC, until 16 March 2014. Tickets $33–80.

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.

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.

WTF14: Solpadeine Is My Boyfriend

Throughout my life as an arts reviewer, World Theatre Festival at Brisbane Powerhouse has been my favourite Brissie festival. You’ll see work you’d never otherwise have a chance to see — and you’ll never know what to expect from each year’s diverse program. To kick off our series of WTF14 interviews, I asked STEFANIE PREISSNER about bringing her black comedy from Ireland to Australia.

Solpadeine Is My Boyfriend

OFFSTREET: Describe your show in under 25 words.
STEFANIE PREISSNER: It’s an Irish girl’s experience of trying to maintain relationships with people who keep emigrating to Australia. Basically.

OS: I reckon WTF is one of Australia’s most diverse and dynamic festivals. What stands out for you about the festival’s aims?
SP: Having the opportunity to be part of a festival that programmes such varied and diverse work is something that doesn’t happen often. The stakes are high and that’s always scary but I’m excited to stand up there with the best of them.

OS: Have you visited Brisbane before? If no, what are you expecting?
SP: I’m looking forward to seeing a city that I have only heard about on Facebook from my friends who have moved there. It’s a place that is idealised and sensationalised in Ireland as a destination where all the things that are awful about Ireland and the life of an Irish 20-something are answered. Also: Steve Irwin’s zoo.

OS: The entirety of the show is told in verse. What were the benefits and the challenges of incorporating poetry into contemporary theatre?
SP: I think there’s a risk of autobiographical work becoming a bit indulgent or overly sentimental and putting restrictions on the writing opens up a whole other part of my brain and stops me saying the things that I have to re-read through my hands because they are so totally cringe-worthy. So challenging myself to write in verse makes me far more creative. Also on a very basic level, I can write in rhyme and not many people can, so I think it’s a skill worth using, practising and honing.

OS: How do you think the show’s themes will resonate with audiences on the other side of the world?
SP: I’m scared. I’m not sure. There’s a chance that people will be offended at the message of the show. I’m hoping that a discussion might start on Twitter with people’s opinions on it, but I am not expecting everyone to love it or agree with it. It’s a challenging piece.

Start the conversation with Stef on Twitter: @stefpreissner. SOLAPADEINE IS MY BOYFRIEND runs from Feb 12 to 16 at Brisbane Powerhouse for World Theatre Festival.

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.

THEATRE REVIEW: Mary Stuart

Words: Tahnee Robinson

[At the OffStreet Arts blog, we’re launching this cool new idea: late reviews! It’s gonna take off! Belatedly! No, actually, apologies to QSE; this one got lost in the email vaults. Better late than never! — Ed.]

Under the direction of Christina Koch, the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble has tried something new with their production of Mary Stuart. The parameters of the project are simple, but daunting; they are designed to push the ensemble to their limits and explore the possibilities of pulling a production together very quickly. The actors — with their lines already down — have had one week together to rehearse.

The choice of venue, the University of Queensland’s Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio, and the limited budget initially give the feeling of a high school or university production executed by consummate professionals. Angel Kosch’s costumes are creative and effective, but up close it’s evident that they have been restricted by financial concerns — Johancée Theron’s Queen Elizabeth is, I’m sure, wearing someone’s formal gown from the late 1990s. However, the professionalism of the company quickly overshadows this effect. Belinda Ward’s set is quite basic, too: a set of steps and a throne, and a lot of space for the actors to occupy, making maximum use of the Studio’s multiple stage entrances. The choice to include live music is very wise: the violin, cello and vocals by Imogen Eve and Wayne Jennings adds a level of polish that would be lacking if they had elected to use only prerecorded sounds.

Friedrich Schiller is, perhaps, a strange choice for such a project. Peter Oswald’s Tony-nominated version of the German original is lengthy and complex. However, for a Shakespeare ensemble there is a definite logic to the choice. The play is delivered largely in iambic pentameter, and the scheming political plot contains turns within turns, and layers of betrayal. It feels somewhat like a Shakespearean farce turned terribly serious.

The commitment of the cast, as a whole, is evident; there are a couple of fumbled lines but these are handled so as not to interrupt the flow. Some of the members are veteran Thespians, and it shows: Rob Pensalfini as the Earl of Leicester is the centrepoint of all this political scheming, and he executes each turn with a baffling conviction that is key to the moral ambiguity of the play. We are never quite sure that we understand what Leicester actually wants (other than to survive the narrative with his head attached) and it remains unclear whether he really knows, either. Flloyd Kennedy as Hanna, Mary’s loyal handmaid, is another standout. A guest to the ensemble, Kennedy’s part could be mistaken as decorative; however, she is flawlessly believable, drawing your attention while remaining unobtrusive. Nick James, an apprentice to the company last year and now a member of the core ensemble, plays a commanding Mortimer, who, on Schiller’s spectrum of reason to romanticism, is perhaps the character most driven by passion. James has just come from playing Lysander opposite Rebecca Murphy (Mary, Queen of Scots) for QSE’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. During the post-performance Q&A session the actors openly speculate as to the effect this may have had on their rapport together for Mary Stuart.

The Q&A, held after every performance, is an intriguing exercise for the audience; it adds a layer to the experience of seeing the production that, under other circumstances, might be unwelcome. Instead you feel like you have become part of an intriguing theatrical experiment. The company is quite open about the potential pros and cons of doing a production this way. For a play as complex as Mary Stuart there are, undoubtedly, both. This method allows a certain rawness that might otherwise be polished off with weeks of rehearsing and workshops, as the actors come to expect the ways in which their counterparts will deliver and move. The downside is the slight suspicion that the actors are, occasionally, unsure about their characters’ motivations. While Schiller and Oswald have built a deliberate level of ambiguity into the play, if the actors are indecisive it can reveal a lack of conviction that’s not always part of the character.

MARY STUART ran at the Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio at the University of Queensland from 2 to 5 October, 2013.

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.