Fresh Blood Festival (Vena Cava Productions)
August 8 – 9
Vena Cava Production’s Fresh Blood Festival is a creative playground of ideas across artistic platforms, presented in experimentation without the restrictions and pressures of the professional industry. And if its two feature-length works (written, directed and performed entirely by emerging theatre-makers) are any indication, the ideas of Fresh Blood in 2014 are excitingly eclectic.
Lia Stark’s “Pea Green Doesn’t Last Forever” follows the fable of Edward Lear’s 1871 poem as it takes audiences along the journey of the owl and the pussycat as they set sail to rekindle their now-lost newlywed memories. It is a happy take whose biggest strength is the simplicity of its content, format and structure; it is a perfect combination to allow the audience to be warmed by its quaintness and its message about the importance of life’s little moments. Another virtue is the energy of its writing. Indeed, it is easy to reveal in the lyricism of its poetic narrative, delivered by its author, whose characterisation adds energy and interest to the piece, beyond just that of its engaging animal protagonists, Kitty Gatling and Elyssa Patty.
Provocative in premise, Daniel Gough’s “The Suicide Show” sets out to be a challenging piece of theatre, in a manner much like the critically acclaimed “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” which appeared in Brisbane as part of the 2013 World Theatre Festival, as audiences collectively vote as to the order and manner in which performers will commit suicide on stage. Despite being given little upon which to engage empathetically with its characters, the audience is taken through a gamut of emotions as the suicides proceed in feigned realism that is often graphic and disturbing. This is itself a problem. For a work that aims to probe spectator sensibilities and tolerance, to presume to tell audience members why they have voted characters in their chosen order is estranging in a way that almost tokenises its heavy themes. Also, while there are moments of thematic and narrative interest to the show, there are also opportunities that remain unexploited, through heightened drama and verbosity of its improvisation.
This is a show of potential for many outcomes; for some it is frighteningly unnerving to the point where audience invention is deemed necessary, not only to stop the performance before any more ‘deaths’ but engage in a dialogue about the work’s purpose and goal. Disturbing or disturbed, however, this is a potent reminder of the transgressive, transformative power of theatre, which is both the allowance and beauty of student theatre, with its work on the edge of writing and dramatic experimentation.
As work that is apart from rather than part of theatrical mass consumption, student theatre such as this serves as a celebration of creative endeavour. Clearly, festivals like Fresh Blood, and the multiple artistic voices to which it gives expression, as celebrations of the arts are vital because arts are important and are worthy of celebration.