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entertaining perplexities

astrid francis: fringe world 2013


Bron and Jim Batten, Sweet Child of Mine Bron and Jim Batten, Sweet Child of Mine
photo Max Milne Photography
WITH TENTS ERECTED, POP-UP BARS BUILT AND CITY GARDENS TRANSFORMED INTO NIGHTSPOTS, FRINGE WORLD IS A WELCOME SUMMER CARNIVAL.

With fresh and affordable shows, it neatly dovetails with the mainstream Perth International Arts Festival. As one of the youngest but rapidly growing festivals on the international fringe calendar, this year’s program attracted diverse and savvy works from Perth artists, the national fringe circuit and international acts. Here’s a small sample from a very large program.

sweet child of mine

Bron Batten’s parents don’t exactly know what their daughter does for a living, so she made a show with them to explore her art-making process. In a hybrid performance of dance, stand-up and film, Batten explores her life as an artist with self-reflexive satire while her Dad provides fatherly advice to the audience and admits his daughter’s work is still something of a mystery to him.

While Melbourne-based Batten’s stand-up observations tend to be insubstantial, she does have a knack for ironic setup; her lightning-fast overview of ‘deconstructionist’ theatre—blithely referencing Foucault, Derrida and Jamieson—is juxtaposed with filmed segments of her parents’ droll perspective as they try to categorise something as abstruse as contemporary art. Batten has a wicked sense of the ridiculous, which is highlighted in a sketch where she dresses as a beaver and recruits an audience member to play the artist’s role in a scripted exchange with her mother. This adds distinctive insight into that relationship without sentimentality. While occasionally trite, Batten’s self-deprecating wit and her parents’ roles as unwitting comics provide a refreshing and playful approach to the perplexing nature of art.

the wives of hemingway

Tim Watts, Adriane Daff & Josh Price, The Wives of Hemingway Tim Watts, Adriane Daff & Josh Price, The Wives of Hemingway
photo Skye Sobejko
Ernest Hemingway’s oeuvre brimmed with stoic male characters on magnificent, grisly adventures. If his literary output is anything to go by, he was obsessed with death, violence and love. Drawing inspiration from his texts and love life, The Wives of Hemingway is a satirical reimagining of the writer’s tumultuous marriages. Newlyweds Catherine and Wilson go on safari, a surreal journey complete with big game hunting, rampant heroics and sordid sexual exploits. The advent of Helen joining their call to adventure turns the hunt into a brutal battle for love.

Perth writer-director Zoe Pepper and her team of co-devisors capture imperial idioms of the romantic adventure genre exquisitely. Performers Tim Watts, Josh Price and Adriane Daff sit on the razor edge of parody before tumbling into the dark Hemingway psyche: where fear of emasculation and the feminised male materialise in the guise of female grotesques. Homely Helen and sexually audacious Catherine are played interchangeably by Price and Daff. Price taps into the fragility of both women with extraordinary black humour, while Daff exhibits a restrained delirium throughout. The quintessence of the piece is realised in Watts’ portrayal of Wilson. His is a most ironic yet beguiling portrayal of the Hemingway model: dashing, combative, passionate yet heartless.

Pepper has deft control over the material, which could tumble into a “Carry On” nightmare in the wrong hands. Instead, this achingly funny show induces much compassion for its outlandish characters.

birdboy

Ian Sinclair, Birdboy Ian Sinclair, Birdboy
photo Samantha Hughes
I felt less empathy for Birdboy’s Miss Nightingale, who lives with her caged son and dozens of birds. She sings nightly for him and her feathered fans, reliving her fleeting glory as a radio star. Upon his mother’s sudden death, the boy is discovered by a neighbour who takes him in, and he discovers life beyond the confines of his enclosure. Inspired by a factual account of a seven-year old Russian boy who was raised as a pet bird by his mother, The Wet Weather Ensemble’s latest work struggles to get airborne. Wavering between drama, satire, musical parody and soap opera, Birdboy is tonally unsure and uneven. Ian Sinclair’s performance as Miss Nightingale enlivens the piece with his “Baby Jane”-meets-“Mommy Dearest” theatricality. St John Cowcher as the boy is sweet, and yet his enigmatic portrayal prevents any insight into Birdboy’s emotional journey, while the introduction of romantic interest between him and his rescuer is particularly incongruous. Not without charm, Birdboy, a creation of Perth’s The Wet Weather Ensemble, could benefit from a return to the development room and firmer directorial vision.

uta uber kool ja

Prima donna peevishness is more palatable in the guise of Uta Uber Kool Ja. Having thrown parties in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne in 2012, Uta and her manager George celebrate a new year with Uta’s comeback tour in Perth. Uta invites guests to her hotel room for an immersive performance comprising diva antics and drug-induced flashbacks. The story of Uta’s discovery, her (sort of) fame behind the Iron Curtain, celebrity love affairs, tormented marriages and her life alongside Vivienne Westwood are all laid bare. Meanwhile, George ensures the champagne and flattery flows, enlisting the party-goers to keep Uta’s ego afloat.

With dress-ups, dancing, party games and more spandex than this side of 1985 has seen, Uta celebrates the launch of her remixed single. The guests revel in the sheer hedonism that is Uta—a blend of Eddie and Pats with a touch of Marianne Faithfull. As the party draws to a close, the act of stripping back her character to reveal Georgina Symes (the Melbourne-based actress) is a little capricious. After being so immersed in the world of George (Nic Dorward) and Uta, her exposure as a mere character was a paroxysm of reality I couldn’t accept – lang lebe Uta!

the three little pigs

Rob Van Vuuren & The Pink Couch’s The Three Little Pigs is a well-oiled, South African political comedy-thriller take on the traditional children’s tale. Inspired by the daily newspapers and drawing its gritty aesthetic from TV shows like The Wire, it dissects the politics between media and government and the corruption within law enforcement in modern South Africa with an Orwellian sensibility. Distressed and terrified by the slaughter of his two brothers, the last little pig turns to the cops—notably a chicken and a goat—to investigate the brutal murders in a world teeming with sly and desperate personalities, where morality is eschewed.

The actors play multiple roles, but James Cairns stands out with menace and frightening exactitude as the chicken heading the investigation; Albert Pretorius’ goat is weary and bitter within the political machine, and Rob Van Vuuren’s many hapless and wretched characters, including a piggish security guard, a raw-boned rabbit who owns a gym and an erotic dancing cat, are delivered with fine physical humour, providing welcome relief from the ominous tension. Director Tara Notcutt transforms the action with ingenuity; however, the demise of the Big Bad Wolf plays out rather softly for a play that touts Tarantino as an influence.

The Three Little Pigs renewed my faith in theatre as a potent medium for telling stories of our time: its observations on and satire of contemporary South African society and politics give it immediate currency, yet it is also a play that stands up in any number of contexts as a comment on the abuse of power. To paraphrase Orwell, it is a rare beast that can fuse political with artistic purpose into a cohesive whole


Fringe World 2013: The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights, The Last Tuesday Society & PICA, Sweet Child of Mine, directors Bron Batten, Gerald McCulloch, PICA, Feb 4-8; Side Pony Productions & Weeping Spoon Productions, The Wives of Hemingway, writer-director Zoe Pepper, North Perth Bowls Club, Feb 8-16; The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights, The Wet Weather Ensemble & PICA, Birdboy, director Moya Thomas, Ian Sinclair, PICA , Feb 11-16; Army of Love, Uta Uber Kool Ja, creative producer Nic Dorward, performers Georgina Syme, Nic Dorward; Riverview Hotel Feb 12-23; National Arts Festival South Africa, Rob Van Vuuren & The Pink Couch, The Three Little Pigs, director Tara Notcutt, The Courtyard State Theatre Centre of WA, Perth, Feb 12-24

RealTime issue #114 April-May 2013 pg. 48

© Astrid Francis; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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