Review: Out Damn Snot – Shake and Stir at La Boite Theatre Roundhouse

Images: Dylan Evans

Let me get one thing out of the way up front. I’m not at all keen on shows where adults play kids. The sight of 20-somethings leaping around pretending to be children can be embarrassingly awful, twee, and an insult to kids who just don’t behave the way they are often portrayed on stage. I wondered how kids felt about this and thought about sending along another reviewer to get a different perspective. However, Miss 8 was not available for the opening night of Shake and Stir’s Out Damn Snot directed by Ross Balbuziente. That left me to face my misgivings. Whilst I still think there’s a missed opportunity here to use children to play children in plays for children (some company care to have a go?) there is no doubt that this hilarious, very physical, beautiful-looking show written and created by Shake and Stir’s artistic directors Ross Balbuziente, Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij is great fun for kids and their adults.

I wasn’t sure what the kids in the audience would make of the two sisters Mackenzie (Amy Ingram), Kimmy (Nelle Lee) and little brother Heath (Nick Skubij). Given that they knew the actors were grown-ups, would they buy into the game that these were kids like them? Given their own capacity to role play on the fly, I’d say the young audience were perfectly accepting of these mad adults releasing their own inner kids and mucking about cartoon-style in a magic world. Buy this and it becomes a different experience. I really did enjoy the simplicity of the actors’ child-like (not childish) observations of game-playing and one-upmanship. My favourite is the one where we both try to tell a story simultaneously; you start and I have to join in and do it with you. Know the one? Magic! Ms Lee and Ingram release their inner-child with this lovely little slick schtick. Continue reading Review: Out Damn Snot – Shake and Stir at La Boite Theatre Roundhouse

Review: Tender Napalm – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse

What to say – what further words to add to the experience that is Tender Napalm by Philip Ridley, directed by David Berthold, choreographed by Garry Stewart and currently playing as part of the Brisbane Festival?

The built-in shock factor in this extraordinary piece of cerebral and visceral theatre lies in the words and in the way they are re-imagined and configured in tandem with the body at rest and in extraordinary motion. Sounds and energies are articulated, spun and reshaped to create the most wonderful and terrifying stories, the kind that are the stuff of a child’s daydreams and nightmares.

A reading reveals Ridley’s shocking poetical fantasies and that, in itself, is a rich experience. His writing for young people is evident in the text not just in his monsters and monkeys and battles that pepper the dialogue but also in the way the characters engage with their fantasies – improvising and blocking one another, weaving plots on the fly – playing. You can hear this approach at work in school playgrounds and backyards. It is only in performance – at play – that this text’s emotional depths and theatrical sophistication are realised.

This is a bold, energetic production that doesn’t let you slip away for a second and, as I watched, at times holding my breath, I was reminded of Jerzy Grotowski‘s words “The actor will do, in public, what is considered impossible.” That’s part of the thrill of this work. Continue reading Review: Tender Napalm – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse

Review: Colder – La Boite Indie & Michelle Miall at The Roundhouse

Images: Al Caeiro

The first of the La Boite 2011 Indie season productions, Colder by Lachlan Philpott, opened at Brisbane’s Roundhouse Theatre last week. Directed by Michelle Miall and performed by a cast of six actors, this play is a tonal poem of melancholy. Like slow, sad rain falling on the heart, Colder washes its audience in a threnody of loss.

You’ve got to love the range and confidence of independent theatre in Brisbane right now. Sure, there are hits and misses – as there must be – but, as someone said a while back, it’s indie work with its daring and devilry that’s the life-blood of the wider theatre culture in this country. The indie voice heard in productions around town can be raucous and potty-mouthed, silly or serious. Sometimes the voice is delicate and challenging – as it is in this one.

I’m a sucker for poetic theatre – the theatre of poetry – whatever you want to call it. I fell for the poetry – the beauty and un-selfconscious lyricism – of Philpott’s text in Colder. Having said that and, despite the buzz of the play’s language, the work feels too long in the playing – is this the production’s pacing or the length and structure – even the nature – of the text itself? I wondered at the number of characters in the work and the inclusion of incidental interludes and monologues. Was it these which seemed to be holding up the core narrative?

The play revolves around David (Chris Vernon) the enigmatic central character who disappeared first (and for a few hours) as a child on a visit to Disneyland, and then, never to return, as an adult in Sydney. The play’s action is contextualised within the gay community of Sydney, and was inspired by one of the writer’s friends who went missing some years ago.

The cause of David’s disappearances comes late in Colder. In direct audience address he speaks of being haunted throughout his life in pursuit of the figures of a man and a boy – the father he knew only briefly and the confident boy he could never be. It only hints – but that is enough – at how and why David remains missing.

In any case, Colder is less of a mystery than a psychological exploration of the effect David’s disappearances have had upon his friends and acquaintances (Kevin Spink and Kerith Atkinson in multiple roles), his lover Ed (Tony Brockman) – but especially upon his mother, Robyn, who is played by Alison McGirr and Helen Howard in younger and older versions of the same character. We walk in their shoes wondering why and how for much of the play. The ensemble of six are in fine form and, under Myall’s direction, handle Philpott’s lovely text very well indeed.

Colder is a play that may have some asking how a text which relies more on voice than on embodiment can be improved by staging. Is it better suited for the vocal orchestration of radio where ‘the pictures are better’ for example? Michelle Miall’s production is far from static, but characters give witness, they narrate, and they describe more often than they interact. The play is not particularly dramatic but that’s no burden. This is the nature of Lachlan Philpott’s script, of course and, anyway, hoorah for poetic theatre.

What is gained in its staging – in breathing the same air together in the same room – is the embodied experience of grief and its effects which are as uneasy to watch as any forensic investigation must be. This is what the actors’ physical presence adds.

Design by Amanda Karo, lighting by Daniel Anderson and composition and sound design by Phil Slade mesh beautifully, as they should, for Michelle Miall’s most satisfying production of the difficult and cold road of the grief-stricken.

Colder plays at The Roundhouse Theatre as part of La Boite’s Indie 2011 season until 9 July. Check the La Boite website for session times and booking details.