The liberated work place

Jonathan Marshall: Buzz Theatre, The Pretender

Buzz Theatre, Pre-Tender

Buzz Theatre, Pre-Tender

Modern cinema, especially in the US, has long see-sawed between representing the office as an efficient, homogenizing institution, antithetical to the individual, and as a site of play within which individual subjectivity bursts forth, often with chaotically creative results (Playtime, Desk Set, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Working Girl, Broadcast News, Secretary). Director Felicity Bott has created a new theatrical exploration of this dynamic with her Buzz Dance production, Pretender.

Relative to these rich, cinematic precedents, Bott and theatrical advisor Monica Main have opted for relative simplicity. Bott’s dramaturgical palette is highly suggestive yet essentially static, with characters quickly identified through movement (the pneumatic robotism of Paul Blackman, the solid finality and easy weightiness of Simon Stewart), complementary pairings (the rival office leaders Katrina Lazaroff and Glenn Lo; the flirtatious couple Simon Stewart and Rachel Usher), and costume (Blackman and his complement Rachel Hare having a vaguely Goth-industrial look, distinguished by red and black, versus the others’ dominant greys).

As a dance theatre piece expressed via mime and movement, Pretender lacks the linguistic sophistication of, say, His Girl Friday, but verbal virtuosity is replaced here by an equally exhibitionistic sound score from Michael O’Brien. Each character is accompanied by a distinctive aural palette drawn from particular sound worlds—air-driven machines for Blackman; a trumpet with sneezing for girly Leanne Mason; a motorbike revving for Stewart. New elements are added (tech-disco, hip-hop vocal sampling, drum’n’bass) as the characters’ flights of fancy become increasingly abstract, and acrobatic dance takes over from mime.

Like screwball comedy, development is less within characters than in the form and the theatrical environment which they animate. They enter the space, take to their desks and then explode the office structure. Tables and other objects are constantly arrayed to create a sense of order before being spun about the stage, the office transformed into a space of dreaming—dynamic, contingent, playful, noisy and musical. The sounds of office time-keeping or email arrivals come to underwrite an exuberant dance in which fittings act as stages for a martial duel, or as racing cars, or, heaped together, make a ludicrous assemblage representing nothing but its own creative excesses, a liberation from the structures of the office and commerce, and even those of theatrical signification. The performance ends with this weird, lopsided tower: a crazy aggregate of desks, print outs, chairs, masking tape, writing pads, Texta scrawls and a blizzard of shredded paper.

Aside from its accomplished execution, Pretender is commendable for avoiding the banalities typically directed at youth audiences. Here is the joy of the unfettered imagination, giving birth to images comprehensible only according to their own bizarre, abstract logic.

Buzz Dance Theatre, Pretender, choreographer, director Felicity Bott, performers Paul Blackman, Rachael Hare, Katrina Lazaroff, Glen Lo, Leanne Mason, Timothy Rogers, Simon Stewart, Rachel Usher, dramaturg Monica Main, sound Michael O’Brien, lighting Nicholas Higgins, costumes Anna Serna, Toby Whittington. Perth Playhouse, June 1-4

RealTime issue #68 Aug-Sept 2005 pg. 40

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2005
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