Maximum meditation

Maximum (La Boite Indie and Natalie Abbott)

La Boite Theatre, La Boite Studio

November 25 – December 5

Sometimes shows are so physical as to make audiences easily appreciate their compact running times. This becomes the case early into the 50 minute marathon that is “Maximum” as its two performers, Natalie Abbott and Nathan Daveson, begin its strict choreography, including running in circles and then floor patterns around and about the room. Although they wear matching outfits of black singlets, silver shorts and colourful runners, this is where the similarities both begin and end. She is a lithe dancer and he is a beefy bodybuilder. As the comparative study of bodies with vastly different training and forms continues, her dancer stamina becomes clear; she is barely breathless while the sweat soon pools from Daveson.

maximum

The duo repeat unison of the simple circuit almost unrelentingly before finally continuing on a series of other acts of physical endurance. Pattern and form are explored though fitness drills of lunges, toe taps and a final 10-minute lift sequence in which Daveson attempts to hold Abbott aloft, with her standing on his thighs as he swivels about in a circle, each attempt more slippery, sweaty and precarious than the prior. While there is a definite rhythm to the work, it is difficult to watch, demanding a unique patience of attention.

Although billed as “a duet between a female contemporary dancer and male professional bodybuilder”, “Maximum” is far from a dance show. While its soundscape is sharp, without dialogue beyond the military-like shout of sports drills, it is difficult for an audience connection to be engendered. In this case, engagement is of the intellectual kind, and there are lots of opportunities to ponder its purpose during the pockets of echoing silence that creep into the experience.

“Maximum” is far from a traditional theatrical work and, as such, will automatically provoke mixed audience reactions. It is most curious in the lack of clearly-imposed metaphors in its minimalist extremes and contrasts. As its performers are pushed to the limits of exertion, some comment is clearly being made on gender and human vulnerability, but in a manner that allows each audience member to independently meditate upon its message. Indeed, its ambiguous themes and confronting platform for their exploration, are perfect fit for La Boite Indie which serves to nurture independent theatre.

Although “Maximum” represents the last ever La Boite Indie show, there is still anticipation to its replacement Hwy program, as the company moves from the presenting platform to one of more centralised, increased involvement, with six diverse artists-in-residence showing work in a two week festival in June with the aim of engaging audiences in the artistic process.

Motion’s bold notions

The Motion of Light in Water (La Boite Indie and Elbow Room)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

November 4 – 21

La Boite Theatre Company’s Indie program is not continuing into 2016, it was recently announced. Before it goes, however, there are still some last 2015 works, including “The Motion of Light in Water” from Melbourne-based contemporary ensemble Elbow Room. Science Fiction fans will recognise the work’s title from the autobiography of celebrated American author of “Babel-17” Samuel R. Delany, “The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village”, in which he recounts his experiences growing up as a gay African American, as well as some of his time in an interracial and open marriage with Jewish poet Marilyn Hacker.

And so the audience is taken in an introductory scene to 1960s America, where 18-year-old Delany (Chip to his friends) and Hacker are on a bus ride to Detroit, discussing alien possibilities as they travel to be wed. Although narrator of sorts Jewel reminds us that they are imaginative constructs based on real events, there is a realism to these historical scenes that make them engaging beyond the futuristic visions anticipated by its reduced Roundhouse Theatre space’s gleaming cubist and minimalist staging, shadowed by imposing image of a giant red star.

stagibg

Fast forward to 1964 and Delany (Ray Chong-Nee) hears his future protagonist, linguist, poet, and telepath Rydra Wong (Ngoc Phan) for the first time. Fast forward much further to 2114 and the audience is also introduced to the starship captain, on mission to crack a linguistic code to prevent an alien invasion. By its own admission, this is a complicated story as the two stories interweave. “Strap in,” the mysterious Jewel (Emily Tomlins) tells us from the outset. At times this impedes audience appreciation, necessitating excessive character explanation about hyperspace battles and weaponry and the nature of the Babel-17 language. While precise and interesting (the dialect of Babel-17 includes the absence of a pronoun or any other construction for ‘I’), language is sometimes shared in cumbersome combinations of excellent but difficult questions.

future

Delany’s science-fiction is stereotypical of its time, which is reflected in the 22nd century segments of camp silver and lycra (this is a future world in which spaceships are powered by threesome ‘marriages’) set against sometimes chaotic visual projections and soundscapes. In contrast, costuming, lighting and performances combine to create an authentic 1964 context within the surrounds of the Babel-17 stage set.

couple plus one

Cast members all offer assured performances in a multitude of roles, often changing in a flash before audience eyes. In particular, Chong-Nee is charismatic in his portrayal of Delany and Tom Dent is memorable in role as an ex-con drifter and fling Bob, brought home by Delany. The performances are not enough, however, to distract focus from the laboriousness of the 110-minute show’s later sections which could see the narrative ending many times over. While there are some wonderful moments when the two stories intersect, for example when author meets character, judicious editing could help to maintain audience interest. There are times too when the simultaneous beauty and intellect of its tightly-packed language and ideas are diluted by base comic lines like “he’s really old; he’s 25.”

It is rare to see science fiction on the theatrical stage lest it may seem absurdist or overcomplicated. And “The Motion of Light in Water” sometimes serves as testament to this. However, as Jewel wisely notes to audiences, to progress, we must learn to simultaneously see multiple points of view. Just as different people generate different thinking, different theatre can usually generate diffident audience interest. In many ways the notion of ‘The Motion ‘ is a provocative tribute to the power of speculative sci-fi fiction  and, as promised under the La Boite Indie label, bold, new and surprising. Like the genre it re-imagines, however, it will not be to everyone’s liking.

Sunny suburban surrealism

Sunnytown (La Boite Indie and Shot in the Dark)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

October 14 – 31

“Sunnytown” is an interesting, quirky and odd little play, entirely befitting its place as the first work of La Boite’s 2015 Indie series, which aims in its presentation of a collection of four independent plays to nurture a sustainable independent theatre culture in Brisbane, create more rigorous theatre and cultivate new audiences.

With only 90 audience members at each performance, the show’s intimate atmosphere certainly suits this agenda, although it perhaps belies the complexity of the show’s themes. From entry in the no-longer-roundhouse space, it is clear that the stage is set for a party. It is Danika Hart’s 13th birthday and as her overprotective mother fusses over its details, the birthday girl is more focussed on spending time with her best friend Miranda, at the expense of the other (unseen) guests.

birthday surprise

With overbearing mother Marg (Caroline Dunphy), daggy dad-joke father Jim (Ron Kelly) and apathetic teenager, the show seems set to take a naturalistic course, however, there is soon an escalation in gravity from its simple beginnings. As her parents begin their bickering, Dani (Olivia Hall-Smith) ‘glimmers’ to another realm as she attempts suppress their battles into a imagined Wonderland-esque world.

spaces out

While to others, she appears to be in a trance, internally she is immersed into an imaginative world, from which only Miranda can urge her back to reality. While this provides an ultimate, perhaps predictable plot twist, up until this point events are chaotic and difficult to follow. The work is not always effortless in its realisation and initially enigmatic references to things like Dani’s ‘glimmering’ make it hard work for the audience, who is then confronted by a work that alternates between her troubled, dysfunctional home-life and the escapist subconscious retreat in which she must navigate the complex layers of the Sunnytown Municipal Extravaganza Mall. however, it is not always effortless in its realisation.

surreal bits

The fragmentary nature of these surreal scenes impacts upon cohesion as, for example, characters strip to the underwear while scratching away at themselves or Dani’s mother proclaims herself as the Queen of France. Of greater effect than the bizarre physical theatre, Guy Webster’s sound and Jason Glenwright’s lighting work well together to capture the hyper subconscious experience, presenting a clear contrast from the production’s other, domestic world.

Each of the show’s four performers does an admirable job, however, of most note is Vanessa Krummenacher as Dani’s fierce and free-spirited friend Miranda, always eager to push Dani’s limits. Not only is she convincing in her teenage bravado, but in interaction with Hall-Smith as Dani, she crafts a performance that in entirely credible in its adolescence, down even to finest details of posture and interaction.

teenagers

“Sunnytown” takes an everyday suburban story and energisers it with exploration of the cycles of the domestic, alcohol and emotional abuse that disturb the childhood of so many within contemporary families. Despite its subject matter, it is quite comic and a weirdly uplifting and empowering experience thanks to its use of art as an avenue for societal comment and bold exploration of potentially close-to-home conflict.

Boys will be boys

Hedonism’s Second Album (La Boite Indie, David Burton & Claire Christian)

The Loft

August 13 – 30

Having found fame and fortune, Brisbane-based band, Hedonism is now faced with the anticipation of second album syndrome. After a decade together rocking the pub circuit, the band has become family, but as they meet in a suburban recording studio, it is soon clear that it is a family that is falling apart, with things culminating in a hedonistic weekend bender of booze, bikies, girls and an Australia Zoo wombat. With a media scandal ensuing, it is up to hot—shot, feisty-female producer Phil to get the album (and thus the band) back on track.

10563074_889419351086673_4257547808681194365_n

As much as the boys’ behaviour lives up to the Rock n Roll lifestyle cliché, “Hedonism’s Second Album” is about so much more than just this. Rather, it is the story of a group of mates trying to steer their collective course through some testing times, struggling with their own demons. The vocab used by the boys is frequently crude and offensive (second only to “A Clockwork Orange” as a sweary stage experience for me), however, probably accurately reflects a younger person’s vernacular and the changing nature of linguistic acceptability. And there is more to David Burton and Claire Christian’s script than just this. Much of the show’s rapid-delivery dialogue relies on sardonic humour, yet is also contains a number of well-scripted conversations and even some touching monologues to bring out the nuances of character.

And there are certainly some characters within the group – from gay bass player Michael (Patrick Dwyer) to party-hard drummer Sumo (Nicholas Gell). In terms of performances, the standout comes not from Thomas Hutchins as newly-clean front-man Gareth, but Gell as Sumo, a man who is abrasive and loud, but also lost in the ruin of himself and his experiences of always being dismissed by the others. If a playwright’s job is to pierce the clouds that obscure human behaviour, then Burton and Christian have done their job well.

One of the most appealing elements of Burton and Christian’s writing is that it deals with people with whom we can probably all identify and that their stories are set within an equally easily identifiable local setting. Like their “Brisbane(A Doing Word)”, “Hedonism’s Second Album” includes a number of geographic references, from explanation of the origins of Boundary Road, to a sly dig at skinny-jean-wearing Melbournians.

use

Far from traditional theatre, as a tale of men struggling in search of their identity, “Hedonism’s Second Album” is a welcome addition to Brisbane’s cruisy arts scene. Apart from some distracting pseudo-fighting mis-hits, it is an enjoyable, lively show; the writing is witting and the performances are all assured.

4000 miles of joyous journey

4000 Miles (La Boite Indie and Mophead & Catnip Productions)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

April 30 – May 17

La Boite Indie’s “4000 Miles” is a show is about journeys; its title refers to the length of the trek from coast to coast America, a journey that protagonist Leo has taken on his way from Seattle to New York City. But more than this, it also represents a metaphor for his coming of age.

The story begins with young and angry Leo, (Stephen Multari) having finished a cycling trek across the country, arriving at the rent-controlled West Village apartment his grandmother shared with her late husband. It is 3am and Leo is carrying a heavy burden as he tries to escape his emotional demons and avoid a family confrontation.  A widow of 10 years, Vera (Diana McLean) considers Leo’s unexpected arrival to be both a disruption and a welcome opportunity for human contact (she is the last of a group of elderly friends), and as one night turns into a month, they develop a special bond as the play’s complications build to revelations about Leo’s trip, the recollection of which unfolds in a monologue that he shares with Vera one night. It is an engrossing scene that encapsulates the emotional truth of this tender evocation of the endurance of family.

Image

Although contemporary in nature, “4000 Miles” has a traditional, Chekhov-ish feel in the realism with which it explores the nuances of the rapport between Leo and Vera; theirs is a relationship not so much of grandson and grandmother, but of good friends who happen to be related. Indeed, despite their differences, they share a lot in terms of regrets and frustrations. And the surprising parallel between the two generations is a delight to discover courtesy of the sincerity of Amy Herzog’s writing. In 90 minutes (without interval) of intimacy, she captures the essence and language of the family unit in a way that resonates in both its comedy and pathos.

There are some beautifully sensitive moments between Multari and McLean, without resorting to clichés or playing scenes only for laughs. And the result is a work of intelligence and subtlety, and one of the most honest and essential relationships I have seen on stage in a long while. Herzog based Vera on her own grandmother, Leepee Joseph, who she describes as “funny, dry, sassy, and devastating” and although she isn’t very grandmotherly, we have immediate affection for this intriguing character.

While there are other characters within the show, both seen (Leo’s girlfriend Bec and drunken one-night stand Amanda) and unseen, this is really the story of the relationship between an elderly, old world Leftie grandmother and her neo-hippie grandson. Diana McLean gives an empathetic performance as the straight-talking Vera, capturing her frustration with her shaky memory and struggle for articulation, while Stephen Multari plays the part of cheeky but loving grandson with natural aplomb.

“4000 Miles” is an unpretentious aesthetic experience that does not yearn for audience approval. It is a small drama, confined to one room, yet it offers much authenticity in its New York apartment living room stage setting. An impressive soundtrack, too, adds to the sophistication of its simplicity through its incorporation of background noise of passing traffic, for example.

“4000 Miles” is a charming and emotionally compelling drama, without being overly sentimental. And, as such, it gives audiences everything they should want from theatre: a humble, compassionate, thought-provoking story, some comic entertainment and a wonderful display of acting talent. It is not only a joyous journey but a welcomed Indie inclusion that would be comfortably at home on any mainstage.

O brave new world

Machina (La Boite Indie and Madcat Creative Connections)

The Loft

May 8 – 24

I love listening to what other audience members are saying as they leave a show and in the elevator on the way down from The Loft, there was consensus of comment about La Boite Indie’s “Machina”; “it’s just like the movie Transcendance.”

Richard Jordan’s “Machina” (pronounced MACK-IN-A,we are told within the opening minutes, from the Latin deus ex machina – the god via the machine) tells the story of David Jordan, who makes the ultimate commitment to social media by uploading his consciousness onto the fictional Machina network, leaving behind a bewildered family and friends, including his luddite, initially technophobic mother Isobel (Kaye Stevenson).

Image

It is a concept that has been the focus of Nathan Sibthorpe’s enticing transmedia campaign (with slogans like ‘want to live forever?’), yet it does not dominate the show. It is often a struggle to warm to performances that dictate to audiences what to think by inserting a speech that instructs as to the message that should be taken from the work, so this is a good thing… until the final scenes. And from the point when actors circle the stage in a religious ritual chant to the spirit of Machina and then pontificate about the consequences of privileging the virtual over the physical, interest is reduced.

The landscape of the Machina world is anonymous, with set design of pristine white, in representation of the realm between the real and digital realms. Within the Machina experience, however, everyone knows everyone. This is seen in the snippets of interrelated social-media centred stories that make up the bulk of the show, including people’s reactions (both on and offline) to David’s suicide. Through these, the production explores what intimacy looks like in a digital world of Facebook, Gindr and Chat Roulette, thinly disguised as their Machina equivalents, in speculation of how we connect to other human beings in what is an increasingly brave new world.

Image

Although there are aspects of sci-fit to its themes, it is the characters of “Machina” that are at the heart of his story. And the ensemble cast delivers, often in double roles, with characters who come to life over the course of the play.In particular, the relationship between Scott (Jack Kelly) and Tom (Liam Nunan), who first meet (in person) at a bus stop, showcases some rich, well-timed performances, fused with strong sense of character and situation. It is through their authentic and honest, yet also subtly comic performances, that audiences are reminded of the humanity at the heart of the play’s premise. For beyond its big ideas and contemporary concerns, this is still a story of people in quest for connection.

O brave new world, That has such people in’t! (The Tempest, Act V, Sc 1)

“Machina” is an earnest exploration of humanity in the modern sense, in particular, the adage that if you’re not online, you don’t exist. It is an intelligent, thought-provoking work of much potential. Although it isn’t necessary as gripping as it aims to be, there are some astute observations amongst its layers of insight about the tyranny of transparency and the possibility of technological singularity.