Expecting the unexpected

Kathryn Kelly: La Boite Indie Season; Judith Wright Centre, Fresh Ground

Sons of Sin, Danger Ensemble,

Sons of Sin, Danger Ensemble,

Sons of Sin, Danger Ensemble,

Compare your last night of theatre with your first. Like internet dating, the consummation is the same, but the rules of engagement have changed. A decade of ‘independent seasons’ nested within our mainstages has littered the moat-like foyers of our state-funded theatres with couches, reshaped their intractable prosceniums into new configurations and collapsed many of the traditional artform hierarchies.

La Boite Indie Season

The La Boite Indie Season 2013 (parts 1 & 2) is illustrative: three mini-festivals across the year, each with multiple small shows, often playing simultaneously to tiny audiences, snaking through the La Boite complex into rehearsal rooms and out into the surrounding precinct.

Part 1 kicked off with The Séance by Melbourne-based company NO SHOW, one of those breathtakingly simple ideas that ought to have been done before. A dozen spectators cluster around a Ouija board with diva Sophie Webb. Tantalisingly, she is both our medium and the dead celebrity we are trying to reach. Spooky things, including some awkward audience participation, ensue and the show climaxes with Webb belting out Whitney Houston’s evergreen 90s pop standard “I will always love you” in her gorgeous contralto as she exits, lit by a bank of white lights. The natural performativity of the premise never quite lifts into genuine eeriness, I suspect because we are not seated around a table, eliminating many of the possible stage ‘tricks’ of a psychic. Instead, the piece is an exploration of fame and ambition, with a fairly traditional ‘stand and deliver’ performance mode, despite the potential of its intimate scale.

In contrast, This is Capital City strains at the edges of its own form to deliver a spectatorship that is driven by interiority. After instruction about your iPhone/headphone, you are led into the silky night of a Brisbane that has transformed itself into Capital City, a vista that is yours alone, marked by the techno-lullaby of the soundscape. You walk through bars and parks, following markers in the landscape and instructions from your virtual narrator, who becomes increasingly agitated and paranoid, as he cannot remember if he has committed a murder. At various points performers emerge. This is one of the most intriguing aspects of the show as the dialogue runs straight into your ears through the headsets while the performers engage in a looping dumb-show, precise and difficult as they cue their performance through your reactions. This reinforces the sense of control and destiny in the spectatorship as you investigate and re-image the familiar landscape through the noir and dystopian tropes of the plot.

Also deeply mediated by technology is Blindscape by Skye Gellmann and Kieran Law, an interactive circus work performed in the dark, with the audience using smartphones and a guided soundscape piped through headphones to navigate the wine-dark world. Again, a blinder of an idea, pardon the pun, but the compelling promise of all three works was never quite reached. Part 1 felt more like a creative development festival than a season, with each work just an iteration or two away from spectacular.

Joy Fear & Poetry, La Boite Indie 2013

Joy Fear & Poetry, La Boite Indie 2013

Joy Fear & Poetry, La Boite Indie 2013

Part 2 was much more traditional, starting with Natasha Budd’s Joy Fear and Poetry where the 7-12-year old cast declare, “We are going to be the artists and you can be the kids.” Despite this rallying call, the work relies on tried and true montage drama favourites, with a mix of movement sequences, short scenes and personal stories, interspersed with drawings and reflections projected onto the gorgeous set, an architectural cardboard house with rhomboid dormer windows and matching screens on either side.

Part 2 finished with Tim Spencer’s Show me yours, I’ll show you mine, a clever and original exploration of contemporary Australian sex work. Literally just two performers, two chairs and a projector, the piece is structured around the six interviews that occurred (perhaps?) between an anonymous male sex worker ‘Not-Nick’ and the playwright/performer. The performance from Charles Purcell as ‘Not-Nick’ is disciplined and elegant; his controlled intensity gives Spencer’s witty and reflexive script its plausibility and tension.

Part 3 is yet to be announced, but one of the joys of the Indie this year has been the sense of risk-taking and experimentation, so I am expecting the unexpected.

Judith Wright Centre, Fresh Ground

Like La Boite Indie, the Fresh Ground Program at the Judith Wright Centre has been deconstructing its own institutional bulwarks with edgy programming, and it was also one of the first local spaces to fully embrace cabaret seating, with patrons free to move in and out of the space to buy drinks. Walking into the Danger Ensemble’s new work, Sons of Sin, I was struck by the warehouse formation, with five-storey scaffolding on one side of the empty theatre and, on the other, a beautifully framed white box, whose front side slides up to reveal a stage.

The Danger Ensemble’s visual and performatively charged works never fail to provoke and disturb and this show is no exception. With a cast of nine young alpha males (think the Brisbane equivalent of the cattle calls of Coppola for his movie The Outsiders) baring their souls, their cocks and their white-boy dance moves, it is a tour-de-force of masculine crisis. For women in the audience like myself, safely coupled in middle-aged suburbia, my response to the explicit content was maternal concern rather than horror, but I could see the sense of disquiet and genuine shock in many of the younger women.

The truth or dare format, where the show is structured by a set of over-sized cards laid out in a circle on the floor to trigger certain sequences (short scenes, monologues, improvisations and audience requests), gives the show an air of barely contained chaos that supports the thematic of the young men’s disintegration into alcohol-fuelled despair. However, it has been put together with a great deal of care. The set pieces, riffing off classical representations of masculinity that are presented on the ice white stage, anchor the free forming, roaming sequences on the floor. The scaffolding provides a frame for both the satirical pop culture montages and the final moments of the performance, where a tortured man-angel descends, Tony Kushner via Anne Bogart, our own little piece of New York City in downtown Brisbane.

La Boite Indie Part 1, This is Capital City created by Sandra Carluccio; NO SHOW (Mark Pritchard & Bridget Balodis), The Seance; Blindscape, by Skye Gellmann, Kieran Law, Thom Browning, Gareth Hart & Dylan Sale; 8-25 May; Indie Part 2: Joy, Fear and Poetry, Natasha Budd, 10-20 July; Tim Spencer, Show me yours, I’ll show you mine; La Boite, 10-27 July; Judith Wright Centre, Fresh Ground: The Danger Ensemble, Sons of Sin, director Steven Mitchell Wright, Performance Space, Judith Wright Centre, 7-25 May

RealTime issue #116 Aug-Sept 2013 pg. 39

© Kathryn Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

19 August 2013