Fringe: Intimate Exposure, The Event, Dances with Worms ~ theatre notes

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Fringe: Intimate Exposure, The Event, Dances with Worms

Ms TN's second week of Fringe demonstrated her craft and guile in negotiating the program: I enjoyed all three shows. There were a couple of regrettable TN misses - I intended to see Uncle Semolina & Friends' mega one-night-only production of Peter and the Wolf at the Collingwood Underground Carpark, but the Australian sent me to the bling opening of Hairspray instead (print review here). And a temporary brainfreeze meant I turned up an hour late for Mothlight, a circus show that I'd been greatly anticipating (shows at the Fringe Hub start an hour earlier on Sundays - doh!) Any reports on these shows, or others worth noting, are most welcome. Also, keen theatrenauts should keep an eye on Neandellus, Capital Idea, Sometimes Melbourne and Cameron Woodhead's new blog, Behind the Critical Curtain, for more reviews of more Fringe events.

My Fringe blogging is now all done, but the Fringe proper continues until October 10. I'm attending From Somewhere Underneath, Part 2 at the Donkey Wheel tonight. But that, like the MTC's offering next week at the Melbourne Festival, Life Without Me, (written, for those few who don't know, by my husband Daniel Keene), will be a family affair: courtesy of Platform Youth Theatre, my son Josh, along with a number of other young artists, is making his writing/directing debut. Then the Melbourne International Arts Festival officially opens on Friday night, although I'll have already seen two MIAF shows by then. I'm looking forward to it: I missed most of last year's festival, Brett Sheehy's first, because I was unexpectedly awarded a Poetry Tour of the UK and Ireland. One shouldn't look a free overseas trip in the mouth, but I was a bit sorry about missing the fest. (Only a bit, mind.)

But now, without further ado: Notes On What Ms TN Saw At The Fringe, Part The Second:

Intimate Exposure

Intimate Exposure takes place in what is surely the most notable new space in Melbourne: The Substation in Newport. The Substation is a magnificent early 20th century industrial building, built in 1915 by Victoria Railways to convert electricity supply for Williamstown. After it closed in the 1960s it was derelict for years, until it was restored to become Hobsons Bay Community Arts Centre. Upstairs at present is the Fringe Furniture Exhibition (my favourite piece being a steampunk gentleman's valet). And downstairs, in the catacomb-like rooms which once housed the rotary converters, is Intimate Exposure: three short dances especially created in and for these spaces, punctuated by two dance films by Dianne Reid.

There's an organic feel to how the event is structured. The audience members wander downstairs to see Dianne Reid's film she sleeps, a brief meditation on chronic illness featuring Jaye Hayes, which is on a loop in one of the basement rooms. In our own time, we reassemble in the central corridor, and the crowd is then divided in two for for the first dance, Soft Targets [solos], danced and choreographed by Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal and Amelia McQueen. The audience is reunited for the next three dances: Carlee Mellow's Simmer, in another room; Dianne Reid's gorgeously lyrical film Magnificent Sadness (Luke Hickmott), in the corridor; and the final part of Soft Targets, a duet this time, with William Bilwa Costa manipulating the sound live.

As the live performers are all women, the dances made me especially aware of the female body: vulnerable, manipulated, assertive, comic. This is especially the case in Simmer: that which bubbles away beneath the surface. The dancers perform the soundscape, at first singing wordlessly, exploring their voices as instruments. The dance is a witty exploration of feminine inhibition: the dancers wear pink gumboots and strangely crocheted dresses that makes them seem to be parodies of femininity. They ask nervous questions of the audience without waiting for answers, and dancers Madelaine Krenek and Paula Lay end up shouting through plastic tubing into a paddling pool, literalising the piece's title, while Sarah Black's rebellious body neurotically articulates the rage beneath feminine obedience, until her apologetic smile or her tears no longer seem to be part of her face.

Tungall and McQueen's dances work specifically with the Substation spaces, focusing on the body's vulnerability in the graffitied shadows of the industrial brick walls. I thought their solo pieces more successful - McQueen writhing to a sinister heartbeat score in an enclosed space so small she can barely stand up, while we peer down a tunnel like voyeurs, or Tungall, her mouth covered by a strange crocheted mask that looks as if it were made of internal organs dyed in day-glo colours, retching as if her body were poisoned, before she plunges all of us into total darkness by switching off the light. Until October 9, Newport Substation.

The Event

John Clancy's meta-meta script, The Event, is given a spare and intelligent treatment by director Daniel Clarke and performer Nick Pelomis. It is, basically, theatre in the third person: the actor stands in the pool of light, and informs us that he, the actor, is standing in a pool of light, speaking words written by the author, and making gestures as rehearsed, in front of a bunch of strangers (us). Clancy's text is a smart and detailed deconstruction of a particular type of theatrical event. Because it is so smart, the pedant in me wants to point out that there are many kinds of theatrical events, employing or breaking different sets of conventions to those fondly satirised here, but it is only a minor point, since what Clancy's describing is the most conventional conventions.

I spent two days trying to remember what it reminded me of. For what it's worth, it reminded me of the clip below: Charlie Brooker taking the piss out of television news.

The Event could get a bit cute for its own good, but mainly stays a leap ahead of us. The most effective moments are those where the text cheats, leaping out of its meta-self-consciousness into sometimes quite moving meditations about contemporary life (that then snap back to reminding us that this is performance - haha, that wasn't me - a device technically known as "having one's cake and eating it").

But it all works: even though The Actor pauses at several points to tell us exactly how many minutes have passed, and how many more there are to go - a risky strategy, because it immediately makes the audience aware of time in a way that theatre seeks to defeat - it doesn't drag. Pelomis's performance is very likeable, making us intensely aware that, for all the skill and distancing techniques employed in the performance and the script, he is a living, breathing human being in the same space as us. Well worth a look, although I think this kind of theatre finishes where work like last year's Fringe hit Yuri Well begins. The Loft, Lithuanian Club, Fringe Hub, until October 9.

Dances with Worms

Which brings me to Dances with Worms - like Yuri Wells, a collaboration between Stuart Bowden and Benedict Hardie. I have no idea how to describe this one, without making it sound desperately unfunny and deeply infantile. The fact is that this show is very smart, and very funny indeed. But it is, perhaps, more than a little infantile: its scatalogical jokes and, most of all, its forlornly comic hero, Stuart, seem to place it in an adulthood that is crippled by nostalgia for its own past.

I don't think it was just Bowden's red velour dressing gown that made me think of Barry Humphries's Sandy Stone, a similarly lugubrious character nostalgically washed up on the edges of suburbia. When the audience enters, we see on stage an old-fashioned electric organ topped by an aspidastra pot plant, a large amplifier and a beige lounge chair on which is seated a worm (a long brown sausage with goggle eyes, glasses and black wool hair). Stuart emerges clutching two mugs, a skinny, slightly stooped, shy-looking man, and drops a kiss on the worm. Which he continues to embrace with increasing passion - until, with a start, he becomes aware of our gaze and stops, embarrassed. The worm, it turns out, is his wife; their relationship, we obliquely discover, is undergoing some kind of crisis.

In between, to the accompaniment of Stuart's ukelele, the odd skirl from the organ and some nifty sonic layering with a loop pedal, we are treated to some scatalogical and surreal fairytales and songs. They work just on the hilarious side of what would be otherwise searingly painful explorations of sexual humiliation. Performed with po-faced exactness by Bowden, it's worth the price of admission for its evocation of the Savannahs of Melton alone, let alone Bosley the Pencil's disastrous encounter with a lustful balloon. Highly recommended. Old Council Chambers, Trades Hall, until October 9.


richardwatts said...

Mothlight was fantastic, as expected. Skye Gellman is a modern circus genius.

Alison Croggon said...

Grrr. Thanks for rubbing salt into the wound, Mr Watts! I'll triple check next time...