Call to climate arms

Kill Climate Deniers (That Production Company)

Metro Arts, Sue Benner Theatre

May 15 – 22

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If you haven’t heard of “Kill Climate Deniers” you probably should have. The hyperbolically titled play’s controversial take on the contentious climate change debate in Australia saw it hit the headlines in 2014 when its playwright David Finnigan received $19 000 from Arts ACT to write a play exploring climate change and Australian politics. The resulting script was nominated for the 2014 Max Afford National Playwrights Award, but its initial staging was postponed due to a backlash by conservative columnists. It’s initial and subsequent drafts compositing the scandal into the work, are discussed amongst the show’s many meta-theatre mentions, mostly by Finig (a pseudonym for playwright David Finnigan), played by Caitlin Hill.

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It does not take too long to move into the show’s narrative call to climate arms of sorts; embattled Environment Minister Gwen Malkin (Jessica Veurman) is being interviewed on talkback radio about her intricate $75 billion climate scenario option plan to blot out the sun by using helium balloons that spray light-blocking gasses into the atmosphere. The interviews continue that evening when she arrives at Parliament House with her social-media savvy press advisor Bekken (Charleen Marsters) for a classic rock band’s concert.

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As everyone settles in for the evening’s entertainment a militant cell of radical eco-activists, led by passionate spokeswoman Catch (Julie Cotterell) takes the audience hostage with demand that Australia immediately cease all carbon emissions and coal exports. Malkin and Bekken, however, have gone to the bathroom so are oblivious to what’s happening… until they start running into terrorists in the halls and the action really begins (Fight Choreographer Jason McKell).

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So many aspects combine to ensure the inventive satire’s on-stage success. Its boldness beyond just its political themes is reflected in its perfectly-pitched performances. The duo of Veurman and Marsters as Malkin and Bekken make for a wonderful comic team of the “Absolutely Fabulous” sort. Together, they craft some hilarious scenes. Veurman is captivating in conveyance of her character’s nervous energy, and Marsters injects energetic humour into every movement, gesture and facial expression of hapless personal assistant (more than just press advisor) Bekken. Caitlin Hill is brilliant as the narrator/author Fing, presenting an explanation of the work that paces along despite its scientific dabbles and balances this beautifully with the absurdity of her play of ‘Fleetwood Mac’ if Fleetwood Mac was a character in and of itself. Of particular note, too is Clementine Anderson who presents a perfectly pitched performance in over-the-top media personality caricature.

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“Kill Climate Deniers” is dynamic in both form and execution. Its clever staging sees characters even performing a scene from with the stalls, projected to the alongside audience. Video projections (Projection Designer Justin Harrison) feature throughout as a key component of the show’s vibrant realisation. Words and images are projected on a curved back-of-stage wall, both to progress the narrative and provide additional statistics, quotes and visual jokes, often accompanied by a soundscape of either deliberate doom or satirical merriment (Composer & Sound Designer Wil Hughes).

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A scene in which an overhead projector is used to illustrate our envisaged personal potential futures 30 years from now, however, represents the show’s only unsatisfying section, when its presenter’s shadow blocks out most of the images, overwhelming its message. Colourful and camp in costuming, staging and music, “Kill Climate Deniers” is also, surprisingly irreverent, which makes its two hour experience fly by in what seems like the shortest of time. This is helped too by its fast and furious soundtrack of classic techno dance tunes of the C+C Music Factory and Black Box sort.

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“Kill Climate Deniers” may not be good politics, as some have claimed of its previous productions, but good art is not necessarily good politics and “Kill Climate Deniers” is very good art. The complex, multi-layered thought-provoking political comedy showcases clever writing (not clichéd as so easily could have been the case), artfully infused with pop culture call-backs and even a Fleetwood Mac concert segment of sorts.

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This is must see theatre, not just because of its Queensland premiere status. Director Timothy Wynn has delivered first-rate, full throttle independent theatre of the sort rarely seen executed to this level of expertise. It is an exhilaratingly playful experience to take from and discuss what you will and it not only represents the best that Ipswich’s That Production Company has offered up thus far, but my most-loved show of the year yet, and favourite even experienced at Metro Arts.

Photos c/o – Adam Finch

Maid for murder

The Maids (Mad Women on the Shore)

Woolloongabba Art Gallery

May 9 – 13

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“The Maids” is a show of the sort that everyone should see at least once, but maybe only just once. The 1947 French play about domestic servitude is hard work at times, but offers some intermittent reward with some funny scenes.

It beings with the incessant screeching of one of the titular characters, Claire (Amy Hauser) as she stomps about in what are clearly someone else’s too-big heels. By contrast, her sister Solange is understated in her acceptance of the scolding, with Re’anne Duffy conveying as much with just one look of nuanced facial expression than any amount of dialogue. But all is not as it at first seems and as Solange begins to shape into rebellion from faithful servitude, it becomes apparent that the interaction is just part of a ritual role-play in which Claire adopts the role of the their wealthy young mistress, known only as Madame, while Solange pretends to be Claire.

On this occasion, the well-rehearsed ritual is disrupted by news that Madame’s criminal lover, whom Claire has secretly reported to the police, has been released on bail. So Claire and Solange have finally decided to exact their ambition to kill the Mistress whom they simultaneously (and obsessively) both love and hate. Their resulting, sometimes-ambiguous, bickering power-play is repetitious and verbose, making for a lengthy precursor to when Madame proper (Caitlin Hill) makes an entrance. And what an entrance it is! Swathed in a black and white David Jones print ensemble, she appears with almost Cruella de Vil cartoonishness, which she relishes in her every movement and glance down her nose at servants she loves like she does her furniture. As Hill turns comments into insults with passive-aggressive insincerity and insensitivity, she is magnetically melodramatic, which not only makes her scenes an absolute highlight, but causes others to drag by comparison.

As one of the great works of the Theatre of the Absurd, “The Maids” is an energetic and physical show. Yet despite only ever having a maximum of three actors onstage, it’s an intimate play that is well suited to the Woolloongabba Art Gallery space, which allows audience members from all sides to voyeuristically observe as dialogue volleys back and forth between characters sometimes at other ends of the room. Indeed, it makes excellence use of the space to create the window, wardrobe and even costumes to which the dialogue refers. And the paintings along the gallery walls work well to take the place of the room clutterings and flowers mentioned in the text.

Against this intimate space, the actors give big performances. Duffy’s climatic unleash of oppression is of martyrdom-like magnitude and while Hauser is most dominant in her mockery her Mistress’ narcissistic distain, she is at her best when of smaller presence, literally shaking in her shoes in response to Madame’s intimidating presence.

As a work of heightened reality and theatricality, “The Maids” is certainly not for everyone. Though it may have been 70 years since it first caused a scandal, there is still a wicked lure to its sadomasochistic games, especially considering its horrific inspiration in the real-life 1933 gruesome murders of two French provincial bourgeoisies by their maids. And for those who like to see theatre pushing the boundaries and are ‘willing to play the game’, it is sure to be a rewarding investment of time to ensure acquaintance with the modern classic.