Felix Listens to the World ~ theatre notes

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Felix Listens to the World

Felix Listens to the World, devised and performed by Joseph O'Farrell, Miles O'Neil and Glen Walton. Suitcase Royale @ Gertrudes, Fitzroy.

Gentle reader, sometimes to be a critic - even a self-appointed creature such as I - is a question of commitment. Commitment and resolve. Commitment, resolve and guts of even a Quixotian nature. So it was recently, when one evening I sallied forth, via the peripatetic Melbourne public transport system, to see Felix Listens to the World.

Picture, if you will, the said critic (me), miserable with the depradations of a particularly vicious virus, venturing forth from her cosy fireside into the snow and sleet - oh, all right, into the somewhat brisk breezes of Fitzroy. Glamorously garbed in hat, scarf, gloves, coat and thick woollen underwear, the red-nosed one shivers her way across town, pathetically clutching cough lollies and her copy of the London Review of Books, her major defence against unreliable timetables.

And for what? An inextinguishable curiosity? A heroic desire to bring the word back from the Olympian heights of art? Sheer idiocy? All of the above? For as theatre goers know, theatre is a perilous enterprise...all this effort could have left me sulking soggily for an hour in a dark room, wishing I was home filing my nails.

But this, reader, was not one of those occasions. (Yes, I'm getting to the theatre now). I was to be translated out of my quotidian existence, by an enchantment particular to theatre; and since that existence was at the time fairly pitiable, this seemed to me an unalloyedly good thing. The sign that greeted the audience on their way to the assortment of cushions and couches that was the auditorium said: "Please turn off all links to the real world". I, for one, was only too happy to oblige.

Felix Listens to the World is the first work made by Suitcase Royale, a new company of three young performers, Joseph O'Farrell, Miles O'Neil and Glen Walton. They describe what they do as "junkyard theatre". The discarded objects of the not-so-distant past litter their stage: manual typewriters (remember them?), gramophones, lamps, fishing rods, battered suitcases, film projectors.

These objects are refugees from the 20th century, drenched with a nostalgia as gentle as the yellow lamplight that illuminates them, and they form the materials for the performance. The fear of giving an erroneous impression makes me hesitate to say that this show is child-like: it has a naivety that properly lives in the heart of all theatre, the "let's pretend" factor, but it rigorously avoids any sense of the saccharine. And this work draws on some sophisticated influences: in particular, European puppetry and physical theatre.

The story is as simple as possible: they enact a fable about the lovelorn Felix searching for his wife Rose, who has for unknown reasons sailed away in a teacup. Felix is played interchangably by the three performers, who are each dressed identically.

A large part of the delight of this show is in its ingenuity: Suitcase Royale employs performer-operated lighting, puppetry techniques, sound and clever inventions to continually surprise you with a shift in perspective. These techniques, like the comedy, depend on sharp timing and placement for effect, and the performers unobtrusively get it right. I especially loved all the changes in scale: a suitcase might open and reveal a tiny city, or a lamp suddenly transform into the moon.

It is enchanting in the best sense. The performance is suffused by an amiable comedy that strikes me as peculiarly European: the same kind of pleasure in the absurd that infuses films like The Triplets of Belleville or puppetry shows I've seen in Paris. Behind its charm is a tremulous sense of the mystery, unpredictability and absurdity of love. But there's a roughness in it I liked too, that stems from the insistence on using found objects, on noticing the humble and discarded aspects of our world.

This show won, deservedly, the 2004 Malthouse 3D Festival, and Best Performance in the 2004 Fringe Festival. Now Suitcase Royale are taking it to tour Canada. If it gets another showing in Melbourne, mark it in your diary. And watch these boys: it's hardly rocket science to predict that we'll hear more of them.

Picture: Joseph O'Farrell, Miles O'Neil and Glen Walton in Felix Listens to the World

Suitcase Royale

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would definently agree. this was an excellent play and everyone should watch out for anything the suitcase royale do in the future!