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.

Escape from the Breakup Forest

Escape from the Breakup Forest (directed by Claire Christian and Ari Palani) is the Brisbane debut for Toowoomba’s Mixtape Theatre Collective, who formed in 2011. The show’s cut-out-and-colour-in forest set pieces take root in the Judith Wright Centre’s Shopfront.

The Shopfront is a good space for Mixtape’s intimate offering. The border between stage and audience is just a line of masking tape. We share the casual cabaret seating with a fellow critic, whom I hadn’t seen years, and a traveller who bought a ticket on a whim.

Steve Pirie, as Josh, takes the lead in a plot as simple as “boy loves girl; girl leaves boy; boy meets puppet.” The collective take their time telling the story of Josh’s romantic youth and eventual delirious five-year spin with Emma (Ell Sachs) — which ends in three years of red wine, Special K, and Friends re-runs. The real action starts when our mopey protagonist wakes up in a mystical land, the Breakup Forest, and meets Curly (puppeteering by Dan Stewart).

Escape from the Breakup Forest is one part Boy Girl Wall, one part Scott Pilgrim, and one part fresh-but-relatable comedy. In the mystical Breakup Forest, Josh must battle the memories of his exes and others who’ve hurt him. The narrative style (even some sound effects) seems heavily influenced by the work of Brisbane’s Escapists. Regardless, this production — along with the collective’s proactive attitude to making and funding theatre — suggests there’s more to come from Mixtape. And I’ll be watching.

Escape from the Breakup Forest

Pirie is one multitalented chap: he wrote and designed Breakup Forest, as well as performing the central role. Suitably pitiable as Josh, he embodies the role with just the right amount of charisma. Despite lingering on Chapter One, the scriptwriting is sharp. The cast has our motley table of viewers laughing together — and frequently.

The monochromic set design, along with projected animations, brings to mind “Elmo’s World” or, for a more grown-up audience, Don Hertzfeldt’s “Rejected”. Coloured lighting works really well in this regard, but could be harnessed more often. The cast, wearing white tees with details gaff-taped on, use cardboard props as costumes and weapons as they flit between roles. Sachs proves herself to be a versatile actor as she plays a series of Josh’s challengers: the female friend who dotes on him, the “slut” who rejected him in grade nine (a problematic character), and (signal boss fight) the memory of his ex-girlfriend Emma.

Unfortunately Curly’s simplistic design is limiting. Despite Stewart’s best efforts, Curly lacks the individual spirit we’ve come to expect from Muppet-like hand puppets — a pity, as he proves to be a major player in Josh’s story. But perhaps Escape from the Breakup Forest’s fatal flaw is optimism; in the end, the play takes a saccharine and all-too-easy escape route. While it might be a common fantasy, few dumpees as dedicated to red wine and re-runs as Josh can tap together their ruby slippers and vamoose; this particular wood is dark and deep, and there are usually miles yet to tread — on foot.

The Mixtape Collective’s Escape from the Breakup Forest plays at the Judith Wright Centre until 23 March 2013.

Dancing with Bach

Judith Wright Centre, March 6

Bach’s Cello Suites were amongst the first suites of classical music to work their way into my bones. Lucid Dance Theatre’s Dancing with Bach project, choreographed by Louise Deleur in collaboration with cellist Louise King, aims to evoke the feeling of the suites as well as to paint a portrait of the composer’s life and work through dance.

But first, before Bach, we are shocked into a short piece called Surge — a lightning storm of a dance piece, performed by two sinewy figures upon a beach. The visuals are engrossing, with the dancers silhouetted against shoreline. We can almost smell the salt in the air.

There’s a 10-minute break that is determinedly not an interval: house lights go up, pop music hums, the stage is set for the main event — but we can’t leave our seats. At last, lights go down and bow meets cello. King’s performance is fluid and captivating. It’s easy to focus on her body language, but the dancers too are worthy of attention. They do more than dance to the music; the aim is to perform the suites with the body.

Dancing with Bach

Dancing with Bach is a work developed through the Judith Wright Centre’s Fresh Ground program. It’s an interesting production in this theatre space. With cello the only accompaniment, the thud of dancers’ feet on stage reverberates. In some ways, this focuses us on the dancers’ visceral movements; in other ways, it’s distracting. (You could hear a pin drop — or the sound-techs whisper.)

I always try to state my biases: dance is something I’m only learning about. For me, Dancing with Bach is an unsubtle piece — a little heavy-handed, heavy-footed. Rikki Mason dances the role of Bach himself, with Melissa Tattam and Elizabeth Barnard. Their danced relationships are intimate and tense, yet perhaps it is the sonic-emptiness of the space that makes communicating this intimacy to the audience difficult. Projections on a tall, thin screen illuminate stories from Bach’s life and, in this manner, we are unnecessarily told that we “find a world of emotions” in the suites — something the performance itself inherently seeks to show. The show don’t seem confident that the music will guide the dancers’ movements and our reactions and, as such, Dancing with Bach never seems to get the timing just right.

 

Dancing with Bach played at the Judith Wright Centre from March 6 to 8, 2013. 

For a different point of view, I liked this review at SameSame.com.au.

Can’t Be Artsed #3: Mini-Reviews and Some Mini-Films

It’s summer in Brisbane, and I’m going on a lot of movie dates just to escape the heat. Here are a few mini-reviews of recent offerings: film Chronicle and film festival FLiCKERFEST.

Film: Chronicle

This sci-fi thriller, in which three ordinary teens score alien superpowers, is the directorial debut of Josh Trank. Chronicle is a fairly short film, at 83 minutes, but it takes a while to get going — so long we wondered if we were in the wrong theatre. The protagonist, Andrew (Dane DeHaan), holds the handy-cam for most of this found-footage-esque flick, and for the first quarter it’s a gritty urban drama. Continue reading