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Mirabelle Wouters, Bargain Garden Mirabelle Wouters, Bargain Garden
photo Heidrun Löhr
RECENTLY A TWO-DOLLAR SHOP APPEARED AT THE END OF MY STREET. INITIALLY I RESOLVED NOT TO ENTER THE PLACE, BUT THEN I NEEDED SOME STRIPED LAUNDRY BAGS. NOT LONG AFTER THAT I NEEDED SOME COAT HANGERS. SOON AFTER THAT…WELL, YOU SEE WHERE I’M GOING. IT’S PRECISELY THIS COMBINATION OF REPULSION, SEDUCTION AND REGRET THAT THEATRE KANTANKA, WITH THE HELP OF ENSEMBLE OFFSPRING, SET OUT TO INVESTIGATE IN THEIR LATEST PERFORMANCE PIECE, BARGAIN GARDEN.

The show begins outside Carriageworks’ Track 8, where Katia Molino delivers a poetic monologue in which she is spruiker, ringmaster and seducer all at once. When she finally permits us to pass, we find a mid-sized black box theatre with concrete walls that has been transformed into an immersive installation. Ethereal noises emanate from a number of unseen speakers, pinging left and right, front and back, luring the audience in to explore all parts of the room. To my immediate right is a ramp, which mirrors another on the other side of the room; further in, a large cube, which also serves as a screen; opposite is a raised platform, on which stand two musicians.

From here, the performance proceeds through a series of scenes that seek to evoke a mood rather than tell a story. In one scene, performer Kym Vercoe incants a list of toxic chemicals with increasingly long and complex names in a ritual that falls somewhere between spell and spelling bee. In another scene, Teik-Kim Pok embarks on an explicit monologue about his lust for white plastic chairs, the sort you see in suburban backyards, at school fetes and outdoor weddings. Here they hover above him in a striking sculptural installation that recalls Wang Zhiyuan’s Thrown to the Wind (2010, RT98) and Tara Donovan’s styrofoam cup clouds. Later, the naked cast walks through a forest of items dangling from the ceiling. Dressing themselves in dog mats that become Elizabethan collars, plastic steaks that become breastplates etc, eventually all are bedecked in a pile of trash. They finish the scene standing in the cube, like some strange royal family readying itself for the crapocalypse.

Kym Vercoe, Bargain Garden Kym Vercoe, Bargain Garden
photo Heidrun Löhr
Sandwiched between these theatrical moments are more subdued ones where our attention turns to the screen and we watch the hypnotic images of colour, text and animals. Sometimes the screen rises to reveal a tableau. This could all be too chaotic were it not for the unifying structure of Ensemble Offspring’s soundscape. Throughout the piece, synthesised sounds rise and fall as talented instrumentalists (Claire Edwardes, Jason Noble) employ a series of toys, homemade and professional instruments, plastic dishes, whistles, keys and effects, all manipulated with sensitivity and style. But the sound is more than mere enhancement for the performance—from the cheerful opening “welcome shoppers” announcement to the haunting final chords, the music here is an equal partner with the text, actors, movement and space, weaving the elements together into an at times almost overwhelming sensory experience.

In one of the final scenes, a woman (Mirabelle Wouters) gets down and dirty with an enormous teddy bear. On the one hand, it’s a neat inversion of the Hollywood cliché where the guy wins an oversized stuffed animal for his girl at the fair (Ferris wheel scene optional). On the other hand, it seems a rather literal comment on how we’re going to be screwed by our love of crap. This could be said of the performance more broadly, but in the end it is too funny, clever and self-conscious for the complaint to hold much weight. Excess begets excess and it would be impossible to craft a performance about it without in some way capitulating to it. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to write a review without succumbing to this fever, as I discover when drafting this review, my mind full of alliterated headlines along the lines of “a tsunami of trash” and a “carousel of crap.” Bargain Garden is infectious stuff, in every sense of the word.


Performance Space: Theatre Kantaka with Ensemble Offspring, Bargain Garden, direction and original concept Carlos Gomes, performers, devisors, designers Katia Molino, Rodney Nash, Justin Shoulder, Kym Vercoe, Carlos Gomes, Mirabelle Wouters, Teik-Kim Pok, devisor (creative development) Brian Fuata, musicians Claire Edwardes, Jason Noble, musical director Damien Ricketson, film director Yana Taylor, sound engineer Bob Scott, text Katia Molino, Carlos Gomes, video photography Heidrun Lohr, video programming Nick Wishart, video documentation, editing Marin Fox, lighting Mirabelle Wouters; Performance Space, Carriageworks, Sydney, Nov 1-5, 2011

RealTime issue #107 Feb-March 2012 pg. 36

© Caroline Wake; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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