Tools for fantasy

Virginia Baxter: is this yours? EX MACHINA

Lydia Nicholson, Nadia Rossi, You Wanna Talk About It?

Lydia Nicholson, Nadia Rossi, You Wanna Talk About It?

Lydia Nicholson, Nadia Rossi, You Wanna Talk About It?

Local Adelaide company isthisyours decided to stage their Fringe production, You Wanna Talk About It? in the no-nonsense atmosphere of the Carl Linger Hall above the rustic German Club. For a minute I thought I’d wandered into a set by German stage designer Anna Viebrock.

Assured there’ll be no spamming, we surrender our phone numbers to strangers and thence our personalities. Once in we’re divided into roughly equally sized groups and instructed in the roles we are to assume in the unfolding event—members of the band, fans, media, emergency workers and so on. In my group we’re urged to behave as much like fans as possible, take pictures and to go wild after the third song.

Audience playing band members arrive, take up the instruments laid out for them and mime to an abbreviated version of “London Calling.” Snap happy fans do as instructed, and go crazy after the third song. A sudden blackout. Emergency workers appear wearing white paper suits and herd us to our seats. Media play at taking notes. Our attention is drawn to a black briefcase that has mysteriously appeared centre-stage.

The news team moves in. Anchor Lydia Nicholson sits at a laptop computer while on-the-spot roving reporter Nadia Rossi attempts to relay the news of some as yet undefined ‘event.’ The audience is invited to volunteer their observations and images till they start to fuel the reports. A message arrives on my phone. Something has happened at the German Club. Tapping in to my inner performer, I text back, “I know, I’m right here. It’s scary.” The team rhythmically ‘throws’ back and forth whenever words dry up or observations dwindle and that’s how the invention of the ‘non-event’ unfolds. Text messages, tweets and images from the audience’s iPhones are flying through the air, scooped up by Nicholson in the ‘studio’ and projected onto a screen on the back wall. We move imperceptibly from Rossi’s desperate observation that the floorboards she’s standing on do not appear to have changed since the ‘incident’ to the wild speculation that someone in the crowd wearing a yellow shirt might be implicated in some as yet unnamed terrorist act.

The performers are easy in their roles, the interaction playful and unforced and the lesson to do with media invention pertinent. Only when the commentators drop their own personas and enter into meta-commentary with the audience does the momentum flag. In an email Nadia Rossi describes the Fringe experience as “a wild ride” and the night I saw it the largely 20-something audience enthusiastically rode with it. It’ll be interesting to see how the idea develops.

Marc Labrèche, Needles and Opium

Marc Labrèche, Needles and Opium

Marc Labrèche, Needles and Opium

On the other side of town, watching Robert Lepage’s Needles and Opium is a thrilling experience. The execution of its impressive theatricality is faultless today. A couple of nights ago and 75 minutes in we were required to leave when the stage mechanism failed. This was not so surprising as the stagecraft required looks unbelievably difficult to pull off. Principally, it involves a large cube that occupies centre stage, revolving regularly on its end to reveal a variety of miraculous scene changes including the heavens. The room effect is magically enhanced with black and white film projection. The performers move deftly through the space, sometimes suspended from harnesses or gripping the floor in their soft shoes and appearing to cope quite naturally with an, at times, fierce rake.

Principal performer Marc Labrèche plays a character based on Robert Lepage himself, who premiered Needles and Opium in 1989 and performed it for many years after. The impetus for the work for Lepage was apparently the end of a relationship. Finding himself down but not quite out in Paris Robert attempts unsuccessfully to concentrate on his film voice-over work. When this tactic fails he turns to Jean Cocteau, transforming into the poet to deliver observations from Cocteau’s journals, Letter to Americans (written in response to his time in New York in the late 40s) and Opium, Diary of a Cure. Simultaneously we are transported to the era when Miles Davis (played by Wellesley Robertson III) is visiting Paris, falling for Juliette Greco, the lovers sleeping in the same room in the same hotel that Robert regularly reserves for himself.

No doubt about it, the theatrical legerdemain is mesmerising (at show’s end 10 or so exhausted mechanists took a well-earned bow along with the actors), the choreography of scenes elegant and often sensual. Labrèche is a stylish and engaging performer and Miles Davis’ music is sublime especially his improvised soundtrack for Louis Malle’s Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (1958). I’m not sure that amid all the heavy theatrical machinery I quite heard the program-noted “echo” between Lepage’s “emotional torments and Cocteau’s dependence on opium and Davis’ on heroin.” In his attempt to repair the emotional damage of a broken relationship Lepage constructs a three-dimensional representation of the turning world. It’s another exhilarating ride.

Adelaide Fringe: isthisyours?, You Wanna Talk About It?, German Club, 4-12 March; Adelaide Festival, Ex Machina, Needles and Opium, writer, director Robert Lepage, Dunstan Playhouse, 28 Feb-16 March

RealTime issue #120 April-May 2014 pg. 23

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

22 April 2014