Winging it with style

Eleanor Brickhill: Tony Osborne & Andrew Morrish, Relentlessly On

When faced with reviewing Tony Osborne and Andrew Morrish in their improvised solo works, I remembered the idea that life is like being in a play where you missed all the rehearsals. Because that’s what these impros are: performances with no pre-arranged content, no prepared topic, no rehearsed steps to take or ideas to develop, just ‘naked’ performers with nothing between us and them but their capacity to grasp, unravel and then reshape a moment into substantial and intriguing form. Sometimes they unfold like high tragedy. Or stand-up comedy. Or I’m reminded of a clown, vulnerable and potentially foolish, helpless in the face of ridicule except for the redeeming features of his own struggling humanity. All you have are the props—the chairs and tables, the coats and ties of life.

The wintry Performance Space is engagingly transformed into 2 intimate, child-sized theatres, complete with stage and raked seats, one for each performer, and the small audience fits the newly arranged seats like kids at a puppet show. Having set the stage, you make the rest up as you go along, ideas and action arising out of the context of the performers’ individually felt lives, the flesh that clings to those material bones.

Tony Osborne shows us various guises—stand-up comic, old Cockney lady, dirty old man. He lounges deeply in an armchair, waiting under shadowy underworld scaffolding. He has a frayed, grasping Dickensian look; he plays with stepping out from under, into the space; he shows us fleetingly a range of possibilities in his face and demeanour—fashion queen, theatre tragedian (the John Cleese school of dance) and other fantasies of his own making. There’s much talk—from his characters, about himself, slipping in and out of their skins—about fear, the audience, the material, whether it works. He is the butt of all his jokes, his own foolishness a source of inspiration. He asks the question himself, prancing around in front of us, we who’ve paid money and expect quite rightly to be entertained: who is he anyway? He risks becoming impaled by his own set-up, compelled to continue in the character of ‘entertainer’, slipping inevitably into the stand-up comic who has run out of jokes, and from there, sliding into the clown. Finally, on leaving the stage, he returns to himself, breathing and whole, releasing the audience.

Andrew Morrish’s performance shows us the possibilities of a clown at nobody’s mercy. He allows us to think, momentarily, that we are there to be amused or diverted or bestow approval, but quite soon other possibilities emerge.

It’s simply not possible to remain aloof and unaffected by the light-handed charm with which he leads us through his performance, with such certainty about his material, his stories, the shape of their telling, the beginnings, middles and endings of each phrase, the impromptu jokes he invites us to share, the subtly ironic buffoonery of his dance. He creates a cosy warmth, a pleasant intimacy in which we are trusted co-conspirators. He lets us in on one or 2 professional secrets, and demonstrates, by his gentle and compelling irony, the art of theatrical exposé—fake blood, fake danger, fake falling, fake choices. On this night, there was little tragedy in Andrew’s performance. He is not the clown open to ridicule; more like the host of a very select party, offering each guest entrée into his elite circle. The joke we secretly share is that, having been shown deliciously that this privileged status is a complete illusion, it nevertheless has the power, for a few moments at least, to be self-fulfilling.

Relentlessly On, Tony Osborne & Andrew Morrish, Performance Space, Sydney, May 17

RealTime issue #44 Aug-Sept 2001 pg. 37

© Eleanor Brickhill; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2001