Pirates, Kings and Who Knows What Else?: THE ORACLE

Pirates, Kings and Who Knows What Else?: THE ORACLE

4 Stars

The Actor’s Studio returns to the Perth Fringe with their improvised theatre show, THE ORACLE. The fate of the characters and the direction of the story is shaped by the audience in a show where no two performances are alike.

The production begins with the oracle, a tarot reader and guide who interacts with a volunteer from the crowd to select an object from among a collection on stage. From here cast members are chosen at random by a member of the audience and must create a short scene centred around the object. One of several scenes is then chosen to be the night’s story.

However, as the show progresses the oracle has a few more twists up her sleeve. She actively manipulates the scene on stage and hands control of story’s future to willing participants in the crowd.

All the action is improvised, including the lighting and the sound effects. The actors had to think fast and play off each other to create a cohesive tale. The performances were strong with a few absolute standouts that had the audience rolling with laughter.

With some excellent characterisation, genuine wit and a sense that everyone in the room is in on it, THE ORACLE delivers and riotous, fun and light-hearted night out. It is a delight to watch the actors on stage twist, turn and sometimes writhe, as they construct an impromptu story on shifting sands.

… : ELLIPSIS

… : ELLIPSIS

2 Stars

ELLIPSIS is a production with an identity crisis that dithered between surreal farce, straight-laced comedy and the suggestion of philosophical introspection. Set in the apartment of siblings Terry [1] and Terry [2], it is immediately clear that time doesn’t flow in their world in the usual, predictable way. The Terry’s, however, are comfortable with the logic of their lives.

The Terry’s world is changed when Jay ‘falls from the sky’ (a concept that is obliquely explained later in the show) and Terry [1]—as a loose approximation of a paramedic—brings him back to their apartment to recuperate. Once awake, Jay finds the two Terry’s peculiar and often literal ways of speaking and thinking difficult to parse. The interactions of Jay and the bewildering Terry’s are further compounded when a second man, Garrett, also falls from the sky and into their lives.

The construction of the apartment and use of space on stage worked well to build the imaginary world. However, the multitude of scene changes, that saw actors exiting the stage with questionable finesse, broke the immersion of the audience with the world they were working to construct.

Terry [2]’s performance was an appealing portrayal of an innocent and guileless character who accepted the world around her without question. The actor who played Jay did well under difficult circumstances, following, what was presumably, a last minute cast change. The other performances, however, felt underprepared with the excessively fast and verbose dialogue difficult to make out.

There were tantalising glimpses of potential in ELLIPSIS. Some jokes elicited appreciative laughter from the audience and the romantic scene where ‘opposites attract’ was genuinely sweet and funny. In some moments the audience could almost grasp the meaning, the larger message ELLIPSIS had to offer, only to have it slip through their fingers again in a baffling and non-sensical jumble of speech and farce.

ELLIPSIS was a show that had all the promise of an absurd and mind-bending experience but sadly missed the mark. Reminiscent of Salvador Dali, Franz Kafka, Monty Python and maybe even a dash of The Naked Gun, ELLPSIS skirted the fringes of these offbeat greats without settling into its own rhythm.

Fame at All Costs: TALK BACK

Fame at All Costs: TALK BACK

3 stars

TALK BACK is an on-stage thriller by debut playwright Hannah Cockroft. This eerie play is set in the graveyard shift at the local radio station where the host, Margie, pretends to communicate with the dead. The audience is presented with a figure clinging desperately to a career that has long ago faded into the distance.

The show begins in the studio with Margie and her producer sitting in silence, waiting to go on air. When Second Chance Farewells begins, the two scrabble through the familiar routine of crank callers, lights shorting out and the necessity of driving ratings to keep their job.

The relationship between Monica Main’s Margie and Mararo Wangai’s producer is the familiar mix of fallen star and up and coming professional. However, the Second Chance Farewell’s formula is disrupted when it seems Margie really can talk to the dead.

The staging creates an effective dynamic between Main and Wangai as they attempt to communicate across the space while on air. Lighting and audio work well to create the haunted atmosphere and the sense of an ‘other’ presence in the room as Margie is confronted with the truth of her past.

TALK BACK builds to its climax in steady increments but is let down at times by repetitive dialogue, and a narrative that, while well presented, is predictable. Main and Wangai’s performances are patchy as their characters are forced to face the reality of their situation.

The strength of TALK BACK lies with the effective use of space, audio and light to create the physical experience of a haunting in contrast to the flat, clear light of normality. This is a solid play for those who love thrillers.

Sexy and Delicious: BITE ME

Sexy and Delicious: BITE ME

3.5 Stars

 BITE ME is a bittersweet romp through the world of desire, body image and self-worth from the perspective of an avocado, a chilli and a steak on the shelf at the local supermarket. This sounds like a setup for a joke, and BITE ME delivers on that promise.

The avocado and chilli present themselves for sale as shoppers walk by, performing a provocative dance. The avocado accentuates her voluptuous curves, while the chilli shows just how hot she can be. However, once the shoppers are gone, the fruits relax and the audience is treated to their real-life personas.

The overwhelming need to be ‘chosen’ and taken off the market is shown through the avocado’s repetition of empty mantras, self-affirmations and relentless exercise. Culminating in that too-often heard question: ‘Does my bump look good?’

When a steak is set down in their section, the avocado and chilli enter into a competition to be chosen first. Through this interaction, BITE ME comments on the way women are conditioned to seek male validation and acceptance through their physical image. A drive that is often detrimental to their relationships with each other.

The audience was appreciative of the many quirks and observations BITE ME offered. The performances were solid as the three women danced, wiggled and dreamt their way around the stage. At times, the antics of the three characters risked delving too far into caricature and losing the potency of the ‘meat-market’ metaphor. However, the podium and spotlight were used to great effect to both highlight the women in ‘display mode’ and focus on their inner wishes and desires.

The analogy of the supermarket brings levity to the serious issues of female body image and the male gaze. In a world where women are seen as commodities for male consumption, this delightful production brings a quirky and funny twist to a serious problem

Memory, Myth and Metaphysics: STYX

Memory, Myth and Metaphysics: STYX

5 stars

 STYX is a true story about two grandchildren seeking to recover lost memories from their grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s. Using the talents of eight musicians, STYX is an evocative experience combining music, history, myth and neuroscience to recreate the myriad ways in which the mind constructs narrative and memory.

As the audience enters, the band is already in full swing playing a joyous piece reminiscent of a bootleg drinking hall. Above them, a large, floral lampshade hangs in the centre of the stage. When the music stops, the light flickers and fades and a disembodied voice begins to speak. It is a beautiful, whimsical voice­­—a recording of the creator’s grandmother—and she guides the audience through her love, loss and fears for herself.

Mirroring the real-world love story that underpins this production, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is interwoven with the audio recordings via the musical score and short bursts of speech. However, as the journey through Alzheimer’s progresses, the details of the myth become distorted and difficult to hold on to.

The use of space and light serves as a visual representation of the show’s themes, blending seamlessly with the concepts of memory creation and loss. The eight musicians signify a different region of the brain, each with their own function but acting in concert to produce the overall effect. The lighting assists with this concept as various members of the group are lit, or left in darkness.

Memory, it becomes clear, is the illusion of cohesion. A narrative contortion undertaken by the brain to construct and hold on to the world around. Given that music is the one activity that is experienced in all sections of the brain, it is the perfect vehicle for triggering memory and celebrating a love that endures across generations and beyond the pain of loss.

Above all, STYX is an act of profound love that is impossible to resist.

Speaking the past in CLARA: SEX, LOVE AND CLASSICAL MUSIC

Speaking the past in CLARA: SEX, LOVE AND CLASSICAL MUSIC

4 Stars

Too often historical narratives of women’s lives are overwritten by those of their more famous husbands. Elena Mazzon works to redress the omission of Clara Schumann nee Wieck’s life, accomplishments and humanity in her one-woman show, CLARA: SEX, LOVE AND CLASSICAL MUSIC.

Mazzon plays Clara, a brilliant concert pianist and composer whose father has raised her to shun domesticity and seek instead the career of an artist. As a young woman she falls in love with composer Robert Schuman. Their love is embodied in the music they compose for each other and eventually Clara defies her father’s wishes and marries.

The tension between Clara’s domestic identity and her craving to pursue her musical career drive the heartfelt and, at times witty, exploration of Clara’s inner thoughts and passions. Mazzon leads the audience through not simply the historical details of Clara’s life, but the duality of her role as mother/wife and artist, to present a woman of passion and ambition, guilt and despair.

Central to the experience of CLARA are Mazzon’s bittersweet interludes at the piano. She punctuates the pathos of Clara’s tragedies and triumphs with the music that cemented yet ultimately destroyed her marriage. The intimate candlelit staging, with the piano at the heart of the room, makes this performance feel more like a Nineteenth Century parlour concert than a theatrical production.

As Clara’s life descends into obscurity, consumed by scandal and the demands of raising seven children, the audience is left with a sense of loss. Exceptional in her own right, Clara Schumann nee Wieck is lovingly resurrected, fleshed out and given a voice after 124 years in her husband’s shadow. While the title alludes to a light-hearted experience, this production is far from flippant. Mazzon’s performance is constructed with admiration, respect and the fierce recognition across time of a contradiction that is yet to be resolved.