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new recipes in theatre making

jonathan marshall enters the city of cake


COMPOSED MOSTLY OF VETERAN'SOF EDITH COWAN UNIVERSITY'S CONTEMPORARY PERFORMANCE COURSE, THE NEW GENERATION OF PERTH THEATRE-MAKERS EMPLOY A STYLE DRAWING ON POP CULTURE AND SCHLOCK (NOTABLY WEEPING SPOON PRODUCTIONS), A BLEND OF POETIC MONOLOGUES AND CHOPPY DIALOGUE TOGETHER WITH A STRATEGIC USE OF INNOCENCE FOR CHARACTERISATION AND NARRATIVE VOICE, FELT HERE IN CITY OF CAKE. THE INNOCENT REPRESENTS THE BEST OF SOCIETY, AS WELL AS ITS TRAGEDY, PROVIDING AN AMBIGUOUS OUTLET FOR SOCIAL CRITIQUE AND DRAMA.

City Of Cake deploys the innocent alongside two other female characters arrayed against the megalomaniacal midget, Mad Pattie. Three, it seems, is the magic number for these shows, the tripartite division of space suiting the Blue Room’s shallow stage, with pairs flanking a central monologist or occasionally engaging in song-and-dance routines, moving in a triptych. For all of City Of Cake’s pop-cultural fluff and colour (literally rendered sometimes as garish cabaret-like lighting and costume), this was a work rich in recurring poetic motifs and themes.

A city proffered to the audience through dense culinary imagery, Cake was home to three lost young women: Jam (our innocent), Honey (an eye-patch wearing detective) and Vegemite (a willowy, legs-and-arms-akimbo bad grrl, with a history of partying and given to fantasmatic readings of her surrounds). Jam had remained in Cake, frozen in her childlike state but for intermittent sexual fantasies (gorgeously realised using her naked, male doll, Broccoli). Vegemite had become a “drugged out ghost of the city”, lost in dreams and shadows, while Honey returned, hopeful to reunite with her estranged father. As these characters became reacquainted, their narrative was interspersed with crazed monologues from Pattie, a diminutive, hunched, perpetually angry figure in massive boots and sporting an ever more delightful collection of garish toys (a kid’s ride-on truck with a Mickey Mouse head and glowing eyes; a phallic, soft unicorn’s head on the end of a hobby horse stick which whinnied disturbingly).

Much of City Of Cake’s appeal came from this careful balance of childish play between sexual knowledge, resonant with the presence of those childhood 'traumatic scenes' involving parents which Freud insisted usher us into sexuality. In one comic highlight, Jam recalled how she had mistakenly had internet sex with her father. Cake’s major theme was absent fathers and the character's desire to go beyond trauma and blame to reunite with those who, in Freud’s account, were their first loves. Amidst this mix of cabaret themes and moments of abject performance art (a wonderful scene where a drugged Vegemite was forced by Pattie to create a globular, phallic cone of shit-like chocolate), these classic tropes of feminist aesthetics were refigured in a work deeply ambivalent towards much feminist rhetoric.

Pattie emerged as the ultimate ‘feminazi’ (although far too amusingly portrayed to echo such rightist caricatures too closely) who purged the city of males and dreamt of a Utopian society based on female parthenogenesis. As Pattie observed: “The women of this city were merely condiments and the men were the bread on which they were spread…no more! Let them eat cake!” Pattie, Honey and Jam all died an appropriately gooey death in this world where feminine production (food, children, menses) had become monstrous. What then is one to make of the politics of this production? Cake was too much fun—and too artfully constructed, especially in its scripting—to be dismissed as anti-feminist backlash. Its aim was to go beyond the Electra myth to amusingly depict women’s love for their fathers. A difficult recipe, and the political opacity of Cake’s soup made it intriguing to savour—yet potentially alarming as an indicator of contemporary gender politics.


City Of Cake, director, deviser Sharney Nougher, performers, devisors Oda Aunan, Natalie Holmwood, Andrea Jenkins, Natalie Pinnock, sound Jeffrey Jay Fowler, lighting Steve Warren, Blue Room Theatre, Perth, March 15-31

RealTime issue #80 Aug-Sept 2007 pg. web

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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