I need to start this off with the confession of a cardinal sin of Brisbane theatre. I haven’t seen a Zen Zen Zo show in a very, very long time. My omission hasn’t been deliberate. Nevertheless, the years have slipped by without visiting this Queensland cultural institution. In truth, it was my assumptions about a ‘physical theatre company’ that kept me away. These were fairly predictable. While displaying admirable and impressive physical skills, these productions too often leave narrative far behind, creating works that are inaccessible. I’m very pleased to say that this is not at all the case for Vikram and the Vampire, the first production overseen by the company’s new Artistic Directors, Michael Futcher and Helen Howard.
Indeed Vikram and the Vampire is all about narrative. The show’s essence is from The Twenty Five Tales of a Baital, a collection of ancient Sanskrit tales from India. The company did a version of this back in 1995, called The King and the Corpse.
Re-imagined by director Michael Futcher and a large ensemble, Vikram and the Vampire is a nod to story telling at its bed-time best.
These are fantastic fairytales largely unknown to Australians, and are an absolute joy to visit.
The story opens on King Vikram (Sandro Colarelli), who longs for power over all the earth. He is visited by a monk, Shantil (Chris Beckey), who promises to grant his wish. But first, the king is instructed to collect a corpse, and walk it back to the burning grounds that Shantil inhabits. The corpse is inhabited by the mischievous spirit Vetal (Lizzie Ballinger). With Vetal strapped to his back, King Vikram begins the lengthy journey back to the burning grounds. Vetal makes a wager with the king. If he should speak, then Vetal will return to where Vikram found her and he will have to begin the journey all over again. And so Vetal distracts the King with stories, played out to us in full colour and spectacle, inevitably provoking a response from King Vikram, who seems unlikely to ever reach his goal.
There are a lot of things this production does right, and the treatment of the narrative here is a big accomplishment. Michael Futcher and Helen Howard are credited as the writers and adapters, with additional credit given to Danny Murphy for material that survived from the 1995 production.
The show manages to straddle both a linear and episodic structure simultaneously, and it works. At an hour and forty-five minutes, the show is a little long, with the first ten minutes seeming to be slightly extraneous. But the magic and beauty of what follows makes this slight indulgence easily forgiven. Continue reading Review: Vikram and the Vampire – Zen Zen Zo at the Old Museum Building