icons, puppets & perspectives

diana klaosen on new works from terrapin and is theatre

Tony Osborne, Ten Wonderful Years

Tony Osborne, Ten Wonderful Years

Tony Osborne, Ten Wonderful Years

TWO VERY DIFFERENT SHOWS ABOUT TWO VERY DIFFERENT AUSTRALIAN ICONS. BOTH CHALLENGING EXPECTATIONS AND IMMENSELY ENTERTAINING. THE ‘HEROES’ ARE NED KELLY AND PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD.

In both instances I thought I knew what the performances would involve—the dramatisation of the well known aspects of Kelly’s life and a partisan sideswipe at the ‘achievements’, platitudes and hypocrisies of John Howard after 10 years in power. I should have known better: press releases alerted me to some promising aspects of both productions: Terrapin Puppet Theatre had negotiated the use of Sidney Nolan’s Kelly series with the National Gallery of Australia and Ryk Goddard, artistic director of is theatre, had just returned from a Churchill Fellowship working abroad with major figures in improvisation.

Whatever side of the political fence you sat on, you could enjoy the ‘theatre restaurant cabaret’ of is theatre’s Ten Wonderful Years (with a beer and a very good curry thrown in). The show comprised non-stop skits, the compere Tony Osborne tying it all together, sometimes with just a bit too much ‘are-we-having-fun’ enthusiasm. There was sexual innuendo, a deliberately silly and transparent magic act involving a woman in a bunny suit, a thought-provoking if a little laboured (pardon the pun) sketch about working for Labor and voting for Howard, and the astute Howard litany—‘alert but not alarmed’, ‘comfortable and relaxed.’ The show also featured the astounding Rotating Rhonda-Felicity Horsley twirling 10 symbolic hoops, keeping everything moving using some extraordinary arm moves while partially disrobing—nothing sexist, though! There had been a major competition prior to the show’s season to find a theme song for it—won and performed by the extraordinarily talented 17-year old singer-songwriter Alex Duncan with a fine voice and subtly ironic lyrics.

Terrapin’s The Legend of Ned Kelly was, of necessity, more cohesive, and no less interesting. Performers Gai Anderson, Clinton Barker, Laura Purcell and Sam Routledge sing and mime their way through the less familiar earlier stages of Ned Kelly’s life. Large scale puppets in the Nolan style, are used to great effect: Kelly’s mother complete with numerous babies seamlessly ‘born’ from beneath her skirts; two-dimensional near life-size figures in serried rows on moving frames, whirling across the stage as a posse of police officers. Against black tabs, seven large mobile panels fill the stage in various configurations in the unfolding of the story and provide screens for the digital projections (by Cazerine Barry) which extend the narrative. Poetry and text by Finegan Kruckemeyer and music by IHOS’ Constantine Koukias hit the right historical note and mood in an hour crammed with action and detail. Director Annie Forbes, cast and crew are to be congratulated on creating a strong, moving entertainment, suitable for youthful and older audiences alike.

In 2007, The Legend of Ned Kelly is touring to the Come Out Festival, Adelaide, May 14-18, Arts Centre Melbourne, May 29-June 1 and the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, July 1-15 [Melbourne and Canberra dates to be confirmed].

is theatre, Ten Wonderful Years, Backspace Theatre, Hobart, October 3-7; Terrapin Theatre Company, The Legend of Ned Kelly, co-devisor, director Annie Forbes, co-devisor Richard Jeziorny, animation Cazerine Barry, composer Constantine Koukias, lighting Daniel Zika; Theatre Royal, Hobart, September 7 -11

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 38

© Diana Klaosen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2006