Reflections: end of year catch-ups

ReflectionsImage: Josh Johnson

Dear Greenroom readers,

It’s been a while … at least it feels that way … a while since a post here on Greenroom, and I’ve been feeling the guilt at not reviewing at least three, new, local shows which, due to the generosity of the producers, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in the past few months. Greenroom is a labour of love for me; I have no editor whacking the timeline stick, and sometimes the labour can get on top of one. The end of year pace and the pressure that creates have been a bit overwhelming to tell the truth. Sound familiar?

I’ve been involved in a few productions, performances and general end-of-year activities that have left little time for anything other than collapsing in a heap in what’s seemed like all too brief snatches of downtime. One fallout from the energy drain has been something new to me: a complete disinterest in writing. I’m going to call it ‘burnout’ for want of a better term, and I know it’s only temporary. At least I trust it will return in the New Year. So, my apologies at the outset to the individuals, companies and groups to whom I am indebted.

Whilst reviews after the fact are less useful to marketing units in production companies, I do know that some appreciate a reflection. Indeed, these memory pieces can be interesting in their own right. What is it that stays with one a week, month, year after seeing a play? I know I have vivid snatches of memory of plays seen over 40 years ago. How these productions made me feel then continues to affect me now.

One of the reasons I started Greenroom back in 2009 was to try to capture an individual slice of the experience of theatre-going. During doctoral research during the 1990s I was shocked to find so little had been captured of Australian theatre over the years. I made a promise that I would try to do my bit to redress the balance if I could. With the internet being a monster archive, it may well be that these posts are also letters to the future. Indeed, if you are reading this (if the technology holds up) many years from when I am writing at the end of 2013. I hope you find it interesting.  But, I digress.

It is with this in mind and having wrapped all the Christmas presents and finished my shopping, having run around malls and sites trying to find the perfect gift for my outdoorsy nephew, finally settling on one of the top 10 EDC knives. Now I finally have had time to reflect on: MOTHERLAND by Katherine Lyall-Watson; PREHISTORIC by Marcel Dorney, and CONNECT FOUR – a new musical theatre piece with music and lyrics by Alanya Bridge

With thanks for your interest in reading Greenroom during 2013 and a special hug to Sita Borhani for helping to keep Greenroom engaged. All the best to you and yours for a joy-filled Christmas and a safe and relaxing summer.

Onwards!

Kate (Editor)

Continue reading Reflections: end of year catch-ups

Review: The Harbinger – La Boite Theatre at the Roundhouse

Image: Kathleen Iron – Photography: Al Caeiro

It seems the Dead Puppet’s Society’s success was written in the stars. In just a few years they’ve leap-frogged from independent stages to their first main house production. During that time they’ve managed to build an unmistakable aesthetic and style, and (I would guess) a sustainable audience as well. Their latest outing, a revised mainhouse production of The Harbinger for La Boite Theatre Company, is almost a guaranteed success.

The Harbinger was part of La Boite Indie last year. I attended that show as well, and while I appreciated the mastery of the puppets, the show had a lot of problems. I was pleased to discover this version of the show is very different. It has similar genetics, but it’s almost an entirely new play.

It’s a beautifully choreographed ensemble, with frequent staging surprises. A rich and lush design makes this production a delight to watch.

Chased by an anonymous and dark figure, a young girl (Kathleen Iron) takes shelter in an old book shop. It’s owned by local curmudgeon Old Albert. The girl is amazed at Old Albert’s books (objects that are no longer found in this decaying world), and pesters him for stories.  Slowly, Old Albert’s past unwinds itself, and we discover the romance at the heart of his bitterness. As with the company’s past works, it’s a a dark and predictable fairytale. But the real joy of these shows is, of course, in the puppets.

Old Albert is a gigantic puppet, handled by four actresses, led by Barbara Lowing. Old Albert spends the majority of the play sitting in his wheelchair. He is the absolute star of the show. While he’s no doubt a spectacle, I found him extremely difficult to connect to. His head (from what I could see) was only moveable at the neck, jaw and eyelids. Old Albert is called upon to express many nuanced emotional states, and his size and mechanics seem to restrict him from doing so. I found myself looking to Barbara Lowing, placed just behind the head and providing Old Albert’s voice. I’ve worked with Barbara extensively before, and found her performance to be predictably astute and generous.

Old Albert is the pinnacle of an absolutely sumptuous and gorgeous design. Led by David Morton and assisted by Noni Harrison (costume design), this is a beautifully defined world. This play is consistently wonderful to look at, supported by rich lighting and sound. (Provided by Whitney Eglington and Tone Black Productions) Co-directed and co-written by David Morton and Matthew Ryan, the staging is frequently ingenious and surprising, and is completely integrated into the design.

The five local actresses (yay!) are a tightly synchronized ensemble that deliver fantastic performances. Kathleen Iron is comedic and cute as the young girl, and plays off Lowing well. The remaining three cast members (Niki-J Price, Anna Straker and Giema Contini) are given full voice in Old Albert’s memories, where smaller and equally spectacular puppets come out to play. Price and Straker are particularly accomplished as the young, doomed lovers.

There are some core problems at the heart of The Harbinger. The piece lacks enough forward momentum to keep an audience fully compelled. The tension of the piece is reliant on the anonymous and dark dystopia outside, personalised by a cloaked figure. This is terrifying at first, but the stakes are never raised, and as the play goes on it is barely mentioned. So we come to rely on the young girl’s curiosity to keep us interested. Her suspicions are occasionally dark, but these threats are never realised, and so lengthy interactions between her and the enormous puppet seem to repeat themselves and lack direction. It’s a shame, because a thrilling narrative is all that’s stopping this show from being a truly wonderful night out.

Nevertheless, you should go see it. It’s a beautifully choreographed ensemble, with frequent staging surprises. A rich and lush design makes this production a delight to watch. It’s another exciting development in the growth of the unmistakably recognisable Dead Puppet Society.

The Harbinger plays at The Roundhouse. For session times and dates, check La Boite Theatre’s website.