DANCE REVIEW: Deluge

Motherboard Productions break away from the rambunctious structure of their previous work (you may have heard me gush about JiHa Underground…) in this meditative contemporary dance piece.

As we file in to the Powerhouse’s main theatre, performers move back and forth between the audience and a kitchen hutch that stands centre-stage. Person by person, we are offered tea. It’s a ritual that grounds the tone of Deluge and sets the scene at a low-key gathering at an Auchenflower share-house.

The kitchen vanishes, the party is washed away and we’re left holding our cups. The performers re-emerge in costumes that evoke rushing water (designed by Kiara Bulley, Bianca Bulley, Noni Harrison). Dane Alexander’s electronic soundscape takes us out into the storm, lit in blue and lightning by David Walters (who — briefly — makes the best use of strobe lighting I’ve ever seen). Each sequence of Deluge builds layers of movement patterns, repeated with swelling energy.

Jeremy Neideck (Deluge)

The performers explore grief through tidal tableaux, but the show’s most haunting moments arise out of frenzy: surges of operatic song, convulsions that suggest drowning. And, in a resonant climax, a river-spirit drags itself across the stage, weighed down by a cloak of human trash (including the paper cups and serviettes in our hands).

Water is a theme that gushes through both JiHa Underground (World Theatre Festival 2014, Brisbane Festival 2012) and Deluge, yet here Motherboard takes a brave step away from previous work — in this case, from interactive musical theatre to meditative dance. The pieces haven’t quite come together yet: there’s disconnect between the distinct Brisbane note of the kitchen scene and the body of the work, which in itself often relies on repetition over depth.

Director/lead performer Jeremy Neideck and devising troupe (Hoyoung Tak, Younghee Park, Youngho Kwon, Katrina Cornwell, Sammie Williams, Amy Wollstein) have proven their talents time and again — and Brisbane is lucky to host continued collaboration between Korean and Australian traditions. No doubt, with further development, Deluge will come to further illuminate its themes: water, ritual, loss, growth.

DELUGE played at Brisbane Powerhouse from 18 to 20 September as part of Brisbane Festival.

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

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.

not that poetry is a trap but prayer

I’ve just finished reading Nathan Curnow’s half of Radar, a 2012 Walleah Press collection shared between Nathan and Kevin Brophy. (The title of this post comes from “Gently Against the Grain”.) Great way to spend a spare sliver of a Tuesday. I should be reading more. Great poetry always reminds me I should be reading more. On to Kevin’s half!

I have some thrilling news I’ve been struggling to keep quiet: a poem of mine has been shortlisted in the Overland Judith Wright Prize for Emerging Writers. It is a wonderful feeling to be included on this list, alongside 11 very talented poets, especially as this is a personally significant poem. Our house-Francis (aka Jeremy Thompson) was shortlisted for this same prize back in 2011; he’d actually forgotten until today, so now I’m doubly pleased. May the odds be ever in our favour, shortlisters!

I’ve been darting back and forth between New Farm and everywhere else this week, with World Theatre Festival on at Brisbane Powerhouse. Thus far I’ve managed to catch All That Fall (Pan Pan Theatre), JiHa Underground (Motherboard Productions) and She Would Walk the Sky (Company 2). Here’s my review of the latter for The Guardian UK (the show is on its way to London after Brisbane) and here’s my friend Nerissa’s Arts Hub review. And here’s an overview/preview of WTF14 Tahnee Robinson and I cooked up for Theatre People.

Make sure you catch at least something at this innovative festival! I’ve never experienced anything like All That Fall, which I think I’d categorise as “listening theatre”. Audience members sat together in rocking chairs (I took the photo above to show you) and listened to Samuel Beckett’s first radio play commissioned for the BBC. I’ve heard The Great Spavaldos is a unique experience, putting you in the role of trapeze artist via, I presume, immersive science-magic. She Would Walk the Sky experiments with Brisbane Powerhouse’s wonderful and challenging spaces (read both reviews above to read some contrasting thoughts on that).

In other news, I have an essay on consent and ethical nonmonogamy included in the upcoming Sex Issue of The Lifted Brow, which you can pre-purchase here (or, if you’re in Brisbane, at Avid Reader after March 1). There’ll be launches in Melbourne and Sydney early in March, too. 88 pages of awesome writing by awesome writers (and also me). Woooo!

Zen x

P.S. I have bought a stack of crafting supplies and I am super excited to start creating horrifying regresty-able works of art for friends (and maybe also some poetry crafts). Stay tuned for BROOCHBACK MOUNTAIN.

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.

Anywhere Fest: The Nightingale and the Rose

For Anywhere Fest, directorial team Jennifer Bismire, Belinda McCulloch (film) and Richard Grantham (music) will stage Oscar Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose in the Powerhouse Labyrinth. I asked Ms Bismire a few questions about their Wilde adaptation.

Q. Describe your show in under 25 words.
A. Three artists across film, music and shadow-puppetry investigate Oscar Wilde’s parable of love versus knowledge amongst the historic ruins of The Brisbane Powerhouse.

Q. Anywhere Festival is about making art everywhere. What makes your venue unique?
A. The old Powerhouse ruins have been a perfect venue for us. A big part of this show is the idea that the new can support, develop and bring life to the old, rather than simply replacing it. The Brisbane Powerhouse as a whole works alongside this ethos very closely, but the outdoor space has this incredible sense of the old, the new and the natural colliding — as well as an extremely intimate feeling for such an open space. We would love audiences to feel surrounded by nature, art, new technology and history whilst still feeling as thought they’re sitting cross-legged, watching a show on their living room floor.

The Nightingale and the Rose

Q. If you could stage your show anywhere in time and space (after the Powerhouse, of course), where/when would you choose?
A. Against the wall of a crumbling cottage in a grumpy elderly forest — the sort of place that time forgets. Either there or in my living room when I was six.

Q. This show has everything, from shadow puppetry to a live soundtrack from Richard Grantham. What do you think Oscar would have thought of the atmosphere you create for his parable?
A. When Oscar wrote this story, the full power and meaning of the Nightingale’s sacrifice, the discussion of love versus power, art versus intellect, was heard through his words alone. 125 years later,  audiences’ attention spans and response to storytelling have altered and developed (though you could argue for the worst).
As a group we’ve been fascinated by how many forms we have to saturate a contemporary audience with to get across the same story of a little bird and her love, which Oscar managed so powerfully with his words alone.
He once said, “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” I’d hope he might see that sense of humanity — and his original intentions — in our piece … though depending who he’s sitting next to he might get distracted by the freedoms of our modern society … or think we’re all twats.

The Nightingale and the Rose runs in the Brisbane Powerhouse Labyrinth and Ruins from 9 to 18 May, 2013.

3…2…1—Lift-off (of WTF11)

Brisbane Powerhouse put on a very fine evening of drinks and nibblies at the launch of World Theatre Festival this week. I liked the idea of WTF from the beginning because it meant Ben Law’s face was on posters all over Brisbane and every time I saw one, I remembered The Family Law and giggled. (Ben, are you even part of WTF, poster aside?) The festival itself has a great line-up from Europe, the USA, Chile and NZ, as well as home-grown talent.

While we clutched our free wine and cider (the twittersphere keeps mentioning the WTF cider!), The Rat Trap, part of the festival’s Scratch Series of works-in-progress played out on the Turbine Platform. Sure, Polytoxic’s latest work is a little rough around the edges, but the audience was enraptured. With great costumes and a fantastic soundtrack (CW Stoneking and Amanda Palmer, together at last), the Polytoxic crew showed off some very promising choreography. I particularly loved the remote-control ratties and the swinging-from-the-lampshades dance routine. I wanted more from a one-trick strip to Palmer’s Missed Me, and couldn’t help but feel that the Siamese twins with the ping-pong balls were getting a bit too close to being offensive. But that’s what the Scratch Series is about—trying things out and trying things on, and The Rat Trap hit the mark far more often than it missed. With a bit of polish and tightening up, this will probably have the same obsession-creating effect on me that Cantina had at last year’s Brisbane Festival.

Apollo 13: Mission Control is an “interactive, intergalactic theatre piece” from the Land of the Long White Cloud. I was really excited to be one of the 100 “staff” working at Mission Control to help safely launch and land the Apollo 13, so I was a little disappointed when I ended up in the Press Gallery, looking on. Luckily, the friend I brought along managed to get in right up the very front, in the middle of all the action. The set is fantastic; audience members sit at 1970s-style computer consoles with functioning phones and video and shiny buttons. The cast went around sprucing up the new staff by handing out ties and tubs of Brylcreem. We (the pretend press) were handed a clipboard to jot down questions for the astronauts. We were all ready to be lifted off into funland.

The difficulty with a show like this—a recreation of a shuttle launch—is how to turn it from a historical event into theatre. Punters at consoles were given (rather involved) manuals to read, equations to solve, numbers to ring, and questions to answer, but ultimately nothing the audience did had any effect on the plot or characters. From the press gallery, there were lots of flashing lights and goings on—and lots of shouting—but I couldn’t see much meaningful interaction. I enjoyed the chats with the newsreader (great moustache!) and the astronauts, but my favourite scenes in the control room involved my buddy up the front hijacking the set, taking hold of a microphone, and making an air filter out of a tissue box, a vacuum tube, and sticky tape. His feedback was that the play felt like it couldn’t choose between serious re-enactment and freeform play. When he steered Apollo 13 in the latter direction, faces in the audience lit up.

At its worst, it felt a bit like a dud Thank God You’re Here segment; at its best, it was a joyous and chaotic rush of actors and punters playing together whilst machines made exciting pinging noises. I saw a lot of genuinely bored and anxious faces sitting at consoles, which is certainly a pity—but I think the cheers, when our astronauts came safely back to earth, were genuine too. There were moments when we felt like we were part of something momentous. I just wish there’d been more of those.

Find out more about WTF at: www.brisbanepowerhouse.org or you can check out my previews in Rave Magazine.