Fauna funniness

Naturally Confused (Maybe Mad Theatre Co)

Cudo

May 9 – 26

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It is perhaps rare in the arts to have a show premise with anything even resembling a unique concept, yet amongst all of its silliness, the basis of Maybe Mad Theatre Co’s “Naturally Confused” offers exactly this as animal expert host Boris (George Harris) desperately attempts to unload his infinite knowledge of flora, and more significantly fauna, on his audience and fans, only sans animals!! Cue the chaos promised by the Anywhere Festival show’s blurb and its wackiness which comes largely from assistant Blain’s (Bridget Ward) faux pars and tomfoolery.

The show stays true to its title too; there is much deliberate confusion in the initial frenzied dialogue between the presenters, full of malapropisms and repetition that does drag a little. Anywhere Festival shows, by means of the festival’s premise of presenting performances anywhere but a theatre, typically have minimal staging, so must rely heavily on their performances. Thankfully, in this regard, “Naturally Confused” is immediately engaging. Ward, in particular, is a very funny performer, making for a hysterical walrus, tusks and all (amongst other animals). She can make even standing alone on stage doing nothing hilarious, thanks to just the slightest of sidelooks and most well-timed of pauses.

The show paces along nicely as the duo banter between themselves while presenting different animals and their associated facts to the audience, however, the momentum slams into a seemingly abrupt ending. Still, this is an Anywhere Festival show that is well worth a look. It’s light-hearted and funny from start to finish in that madcap kind of way. There is song and dance, and even a ukulele number… plus some random facts about nature… like a David Attenborough documentary, but not really.

Cautionary comedy

Tragedy! (Ease Productions)

Room to Play Independent Theatre, Paddington Substation

May 8 – 16

When writer, director and performer Elizabeth Scales takes to the stage in “Tragedy!”, toga-glad and statuesque as she parades about, the tone is set for her attempt to save the modern world from self-destruction. The, in-effect hour-long monologue begins with Sophocle’s “Antigone” recognition of the wonders of man and the need to honour the laws of the land and justice of the gods. She is the Godess Artemis, daughter of Zeus, sent down to the summonsed audience member mortals of Brisbathenia. Clearly, the gods are angry at our affluence, given her shrill chastise about the obsolescence of gods in the modern, first world. Or perhaps this is just her dissatisfaction at having to act as messenger, rather than attend the important meeting going on to restructure the gods.

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Content-wise the work raises many valid considerations about the continued existence of humanity into the next millennium and modern day mortal consideration of fate, as evidenced by memes that claim ‘your future is as yet unwritten’, which are clearly ignorant of the reality of predestination at the hands of the gods, she points out.  And as Artemis laments the irrelevance of gods in a climate in which OMGs are thrown about far too easily, there are many funny moments. Of note, particularly are sections which see her interacting with projected images of her slaves, whose disobedience in not feeding her, brings new meaning to the phrase ‘grapes of wrath. But some overly-lengthy pauses and repetition of lines beyond for effect, indicate that some more judicious editing could have been beneficial and ironically, given that the she comments on how the modern day mortal doesn’t like a shouter, there is little light and shade in delivery of early dialogue.

Conceptually this is an interesting piece, but it takes some time to signal its destination about it being time for Godly changes. It gets there eventually, but it is care of a random Dolly Parton number and bit-too-long Tina Turner clip dance along (and no Bee Gees number is sight.)  To sustain the energy of an over-hour-long one woman show, is no easy task and unfortunately, in this regard, “Tragedy”! ebbs and flows through its sometimes strange sequence of events.  With a clearer focus and snappier pacing, its intent could be more successful realised, because there is indeed validity in its commentary and cautions of pop culture saturation, narcissism and vanity.

You can find all of my Anywhere Festival reviews on the festival website.

A fine five farce

One Was Nude and One Wore Tails

Room to Play Independent Theatre, Paddington Substation

May 5 – 14

A garbage man, a flower seller and a policeman, meet on the street. It’s not start of a joke, but it still has a very funny outcome, along with its comment on the pretensions of social class, identity and status. This is the beginnings of the premise of Dario Fo’s one-act farce, brought to life by independent theatre company, Room to Play. Throw in a naked ambassador who has taken refuge in a rubbish bin and you have the ingredients of a very funny show.

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It begins with two council workers, played by Matthew Filkins and Colin Smith, passing the time with an in-depth discussion about divinity. While one is being charmed by a woman (Elise Grieg), the other discovers a naked man (Jack Henry) hidden inside his rubbish bin, forced as the stowaway has been to take refuge during rapid escape from the scene of a love affair. All sorts of silliness ensues when an oblivious policeman comes upon the scene in the form of Ben Warren, complete with pig snout and snorts to punctuate his dialogue.

Each of the five cast members is impressive in performance, particularly as things progress to all sorts of crazy chaos, never missing a beat in their banter. Colin Smith anchors the show as the most everyman of the over-the-top characters, playing particularly well against Ben Warren, who is, himself, notably impressive in his physicality and necessitated over-the-top characterisation.

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Although it starts with philosophical ponderings about how being a nothing, makes one the beginning of everything, and thus divine, don’t be fooled that “One Was Nude and One Wore Tails” is not going to provide anything but mayhem in its tightly-woven 50ish minutes running time (a palatable length even for non-farce-fans). From its opening ocker moments of song to cement it within its Australian context, this show is out outlandishly out of control (#inagoodway) and while consideration of its themes about the role of clothing in definition of our treatment within society can result, this focus in not necessary for its appreciation and enjoyment. Indeed, with its clowning, slapstick and vaudeville sensibility, the show has much to offer all range of audience members and, as such, serves as an Anywhere Festival highlight.

You can find all of my Anywhere Festival reviews on the festival website.

Train tea time travel

The Train Tea Society (Flowers Theatre Company)

Swanbank Rail Station, Swanbank

May 6 – 7

It sometime during World War One and under leadership of the deceptively stern Mrs Eliza Cameron (Julia Johnson), the TTS, aka Train Tea Society contributes to the war effort by sending care packages of socks and soaps to Australian troops serving overseas. More notably, for it from this that it has gained its name, when troop trains transit through Ipswich, its members are there to serve the returned men tea. Excitable Nellie (Samantha Bull) and her outspoken twin sister Nora (Aimee Duroux) love being able to make contribution in this manner, however, when their cousin Margaret (Olivia Hall-Smith) arrives by train from Toowoomba, she shows scepticism about the society’s value. Meanwhile, Millicent (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) longs to be a member and is determined towards revenge after her apparent application decline.

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As the plot unfolds audiences are shown some interesting perspectives as to philanthropic value, especially through Margaret’s determination to become an auxiliary nurse to help troops like her brother in Belgium. But, despite these sometimes weighting considerations, “The Train Tea Society” is also filled with humour, most notably through Samantha Bull’s Nellie. Clearly relishing the role, she brings the wacky but loveable character to life down to the finest of facial expressions and her interactions with Aimee Duroux, and also Wendy Spencer as fellow society member Edith, are wonderfully engaging in their irreverence.

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Of note too is the on-stage interaction between Madison Kennedy-Tucker and Casey McCollow as almost frienemies Millicent and Bertha, especially when the usually put-upon Bertha shows that she does have it in her to speak her mind and put Millicent in her place. And certainly worth a mention is Olivia Hall-Smith as Margaret, delivering dialogue with such unwavering conviction as to have audiences believe that when she departs by train determined to make a difference, she really will.

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Everything is authentic about the experience of “The Train Tea Society”. Jaymee Richard’s staging is era-evocative, seeing ladies sipping tea from delicately-patterned china, atop lace-clothed tables, making the best of wartime rations. And period costumes are perfect in showcase of ladies of a certain stature, yet appropriately devoid of opulence in representation of wartime wear. The biggest and most memorable prop, however, is the live steam train that appears on the platform right on cue to deliver and later whisk Margaret away from her Ipswich family.

Staging a show on a railway platform is not only an ambitious undertaking, but one that epitomises Anywhere Festival’s mission is to reconnect audiences and communities with theatre performance… anywhere. And the provided snapshot of local history based on the lives of real women ( “The Train Tea Society” is based on a real society of Ipswich women from the First World War), realised by an all-female cast and creative team is fascinating.

Flowers Theatre Company clearly know how to bring historical stories to interesting light; this was shown in last year’s hugely successful “The Mayne Effect” and “The Train Tea Society” cements that the company is certainly one to follow in the future. Two successive years of Anywhere Festival shows sold out ahead of their seasons, speaks volumes as how unique and special their shows are.

You can find all of my Anywhere Festival reviews on the festival website.