Off-screen primetime

Ghita Loebenstein on Prime Time

“Turn off the telly, see it live”, screams the promo for PrimeTime. And so they flock from lounge-room to theatre, mouths wide-open, remote controls in hand, ready to feed on their daily dose of primetime television trash.

Modelled on an evening of TV, PrimeTime follows the episodic structure of a night ‘in’ with the box, complete with live ad breaks and an old-school TV host, Lawrence Leung, who sits somewhere between the clichés of Burt Newton and Ian Burgess. His jokes are rehearsed and he holds up cue cards telling us to ‘laugh’ or ‘cheer’, and one where we must gasp, ‘Oh, how postmodern!’ Oh, how very post modern indeed. Except the night as a whole lacks the self reflexiveness that hallmarks postmodernity. Instead PrimeTime is a parody of the episodic nature of TV programming, providing a clever shell for what is in essence a variety show. Sourced by Lally Katz, the acts are all produced independently so the quality of performances varies greatly. On this particular night the best was left for last.

“Svila (Silk)” is promoted as a “haunting sound and song” performance by Anna Liebzeit. Centred around stories of her grandmother’s life in Novisad, Yugoslavia, her father’s immigration to Australia and her own journey to Novisad, the performance is half chanted, half spoken, half sung. Wrapping together fragments of memory, conversations with her father, stories of her grandmother and her own stream of consciousness, Liebzeit has a gift for capturing experiences and relaying them through sound and song.

Springing from beat-driven spoken word to an earthy bluesy sound accompanied by acoustic guitar, Liebzeit has a voice with the same unadultered quality as Kasey Chambers. There’s something in the way she sings that conveys recollected pain. Her voice alone could carry the show if she had the confidence to stand still and let us simply listen. Desperately in need of a choreographer, her stilted movements detract from the power of her voice.

After a slapstick ‘ad break’ by Andrew McClelland PrimeTime took a dive into serious melodrama with “Shrunken Iris” by Kamarra Bell Wykes. Captioned “fragments of an addicted mind”, the performance has Iris studying drug addiction through an addict, Lexi, and her subconscious, which constantly plagues her. Dressed as a devilish femme fatale, this ‘devil’s advocate’ follows Lexi through moments in her life from losing her mother in a crowd, to watching her father beat a wombat to death with a sledgehammer, Lexi’s subconscious entices her towards and sometimes away from self pity, blame and hatred. It provokes and damns her. Both Wykes and Suzanne Jub Clarke give strong performances although the program doesn’t make clear which roles they play. Direction by Jadah Milroy is nicely considered and there were a number of ingredients, including monologue, narration, movement and sound which blended together purposefully.

Unfortunately I can’t say anything more about Iris because of the teenage ‘domestic’ that was occurring in the row in front of me. At times their ‘performance’ completely drowned out what was happening on stage, an ironic interruption considering the domestic distractions that usually interrupt an evening in front of the TV.

If one of PrimeTime’s aims is to take postmodernism and media consciousness to the cleaners, then the star of tonight’s show was undeniably “Mr Phase”. Starring the indefatigable Christopher Brown this piece of “commercial theatre” is a collage of standup, monologue and physical theatre. Devised by Brown and Thomas Howie, Mr Phase is a vehicle for comic warfare against all that is kitsch and disposable in the fourth estate.

Brown’s performance is a complete montage of media iconography. From the contents of Nutrigrain cereal, to a meditation on love-”the reason for it all”—or the lack thereof, he is cocky, languid and brave. He performs part of his monologue in his underwear and recycles punchy media-speak in an excellently crafted script. “Passion has no volume control,” he professes during a meditation on sex, and then offers “be baked not fired” as sound ad-savvy advice. An excellent sound design by David Franzke helps to match the show’s fast pace with style and fluidity. Brown has definitely got it-Rove’s stage presence, Adam Spencer’s wry cynicism and the slapstick sillies of Adam Sandler. Keep your remotes on hand, it won’t be long before we’re seeing him on primetime.

PrimeTime, May 20 performance, North Melbourne Town Hall, Next Wave. Season May 17-25 includes other acts.

RealTime-NextWave is part of the 2002 Next Wave Festival.

RealTime issue #49 June-July 2002 pg. 5

© Ghita Loebenstein; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2002