|Kelly Doley, Six Minute Soul Mate Brown Council|
photo Alice Gage
As performers, Brown Council embrace an over-the-top theatricality but with a consistent sensitivity towards the audience’s experience. I saw Six Minute Soul Mate, a show for 12 people per 55-minute performance at Next Wave 2008 in Melbourne and the 2009 Imperial Panda Festival in Sydney—two very different experiences.
A glass of bubbly and friendly greetings upon entry are a nice prelude to seating instructions, “bunch up, get to know one another”, that come from our guide and chaperone for the evening, the Love Bear. Think Cupid with attitude, an oversized bear head and a stopwatch instead of a bow and arrow. Speed dating is the premise for Six Minute Soul Mate, the conventions of this modern phenomenon adopted to introduce the audience to three obviously desperate singles. Blue Lady, Pink Lady and Allen are played interchangeably by the members of Brown Council—Fran Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley and Di Smith. Meanwhile, cheesy love-pop asserts its irritating presence. Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” is looping in my head, still, as I write this.
We meet the characters three times each in a series of six-minute exchanges, each signalling a further descent into the grotesquerie and folly of wretched singledom and of romance gone wrong. Desperation is taken to a new level when Pink Lady (Doley) stands in front of us pleading for someone, anyone, to kiss her. This night a willing audience member volunteers. When I saw the show in Melbourne, she stood in the dark pleading for four minutes to no avail.
Brown Council parade the tired symbols of romantic idealism in this critique of modern dating services—enterprises that exploit loneliness and desire, offering a ‘quick fix’ to lonely hearts. “My ideas of romance are simple”, sighs the Blue Lady, “flowers just for no reason, trails of rose petals leading to the bedroom.” She is perched in front of a painted scene of a snow-capped winter wonderland, framed as if seen through a heart shaped window. The backdrop suggests the artifice and emptiness of such pre-packaged romantic sentiments.
The loose script aims straight for parody, immediately establishing the comic tone that prevails for most of the show. Audience members are invited into cumbersome interactions with the characters. For six minutes Di Smith as Pink Lady tries to pickup an audience member, who happens tonight to be Charlie Garber, another performer whose group, Pig Island, are also featured in the Imperial Panda Festival. “What’s your name?” she begins. I have this weird feeling that the two are enacting a dialogue, and wonder how come Barrett as Love Bear knows most of the names of the audience and Pink Lady does not? Slight inconsistencies aside, the interaction is suitably awkward evoking patterns of intimacy and embarrassment that often go hand in hand.
Interactions are repeated as variations on the theme and the audience are drawn into differing levels of participation. At times clichéd questions are turned towards audience members. What would your friends describe you as? What is your idea of an ideal date? What is your profession? Age? What are you looking for in a partner? Unsurprisingly, these superficial questions yield little revelation about the person answering them, just as the constant use of this device in Brown Council’s dialogue limits us to a two-dimensional view of the characters. The entire audience, at times, becomes a blanket potential lover or life partner subjected to gushings of the characters’ wants and desires. At other times we play silent witness to things we may prefer not be involved in, but are now implicated in by our presence. We watch on as the Pink Lady (Blackmore) enacts an auto-erotic-asphyxiation fantasy submerging her head in a bucket of water as the pop classic “Take My Breath Away” provides the soundtrack. The vignettes all end the same way. The bells and time is up. A stopwatch-wielding Love Bear ushers the players off the stage.
In Melbourne, Six Minute Soul Mate came together as a playful response to the Next Wave theme “closer together” while embodying many of the provocations and contradictions of the theme. The performance played out as it moved through three small rooms above the Carlton Hotel. Each had its own sink and the whole scene was seedily reminiscent of a brothel—appropriate, given the love-for-sale ethos under examination. The work could have been described as ‘site-specific’, especially viewed in light of the Next Wave curatorial focus on non-conventional spaces. But in Sydney the siting of the piece in a gallery emerged as slightly problematic as the work failed to really inhabit the space. An awareness of large sections of the gallery not in use at any given time detracted from the type of forced closeness that had been achieved in Melbourne. The movement to three different locations around the gallery now seemed quite an arbitrary device for the change of scenery, and I was left wondering if this could have been achieved in a way more appropriate to the venue.
These are minor gripes though. The essence of the show I loved in Melbourne was undeniably still there. It lulls you along with gentle parody, and when it arrives at its poignantly striking images it does so with abrupt revelations amidst pity and laughter. The descent into grotesque seems complete in the last six minutes as I.T. funny-guy Allen (Barrett) lies trance-like on the ground rubbing his crotch and breathing “rub it rub it rub it” into the microphone. He is beyond expecting any of the “ladies” in the audience to oblige. I am disgusted and in stitches.
Brown Council, Six Minute Soul Mate, artists Fran Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley, Diana Smith, Imperial Panda Festival, Cleveland St, Surry Hills, Feb 14-16; Carlton Hotel, Melbourne, May 16-23, Next Wave 2008; http://browncouncil.blogspot.com
Megan Garrett-Jones is an honours graduate in Performance Studies from the University of Sydney and a performance maker. She has worked with collaborative performance groups Team Mess and Tiger Two Times.
RealTime issue #91 June-July 2009 pg. 41
© Megan Garrett-Jones; for permission to reproduce apply to email@example.com