Saturday 3 December 2016

Mr Phase - Theatre Review

What: Mr Phase
When: 1-3 December
Where: La Mama Theatre
Written by: Christopher Brown
Performed by: Christopher Brown and Solomon Brown

Mr Phase 2002 - photo by Tao Weis
Mr Phase is showing at La Mama Theatre as part of their current Explorations series. You may have a dim memory of this work prodding at your brain and you would be right to think you have seen it before - or a version of it at least.

Christopher Brown first developed Mr Phase in 2002 with the Next Wave Festival and then presented it in 2003 as part of the Melbourne International Festival. Over a decade later he has decided the world has shifted enough to bring Mr Phase out of the closet and take another MRI for a health check.

The Explorations platform at La Mama is not about finished work. It is about artists developing ideas and exploring concepts and showcasing work which they may go on to sculpt into fully formed performances.

You might think this is not the right place for a pre-existing work, but as with all health checks, whilst Mr Phase has the 2003 version to look back on, the current state of health is a completely independent examination requiring a new set of images and a new diagnostic analysis. 2016 is a very different world from that at the turn of the century, and we are being bombarded with 'the smearing accumulation of disparate, unconnected and disconnected experiences...' as the program tells us.

Why do I keep making medical references, I hear you asking. MR Phase is the term used in medicine which refers to an MRI imaging technique which looks at the flow of fluids through the body. As you probably know, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a high contrast technique which allows radiologists to see extraordinary detail in the internal organs of the body and is the favoured tool for diagnosing neurological cancers. It generally detects fat and water - a detail reflected in the costumes of the show - white and blue.

I don't want this review to become some sort of crazy physics lesson, but to truly understand what Christopher Brown is doing, there are some ideas you need to know. A phase is a distinct stage in a process of change, and these stages can be simultaneous, or overlap. They can also be sympathetic (in phase) or contradictory (out of phase). You may have heard of this in terms of sound and music of which there is a lot of in this show - DJ turn table, sampling, playback, live microphones, etc.

MR phase is the use of spin to create a 4 dimensional image (the fourth dimension being time) to detect the velocity of change. MR phase captures two images at the same time and separates them to explore their unique identities and how they work upon each other. This is the limit of my understanding of this technique so I hope it is enough to make the rest of what I say make sense.

In Mr Phase Christopher Brown begins by playing records on a turntable with a sampler on top - it is a dj set up. He is half dancing around wrapped in a huge white terry toweling bath robe with a red light stuck in his mouth and a huge visor over his eyes. This suggests he is about to reveal something, something hidden, a form of nudity, something deep inside.

It is a very modern image but then out of nowhere he changes the record and we get Pachelbel's Canon in D major, the robe comes of and there he is in a blue polyester sweat suit reminiscent of the 70's. This is the beginnings of an exploration of the influences which have worked on him over time. As the show progresses we see the influences of targeted marketing, and the randomness of information overload working on a soul of odd generosity.

Mr Phase is hilarious. It is something more than stand up comedy, yet something slightly less than dramatic monologue. It is participatory, yet not immersive. It is natural,yet not naturalism. Christopher Brown spins discs, and Solomon Brown spins Christopher (when not playing a mean bass guitar), and both are surrounded by spin as the show goes on.

There is a gentleness and generosity to Mr Phase which is surprising - especially given the content. The audience are invited to slip into something 'more comfortable', and a communion of crackers joins the audience in a moment of gentle worship to the great gods of spin - the advertising gurus.

This iteration of Mr Phase is still in development but the bones are interesting and a strong and engaging piece of unique and thoughtful theatre is about to emerge. Transitions are complicated and unclear at this point, yet the ideas are clear and the points already hit home. I can't wait to see this show fully redeveloped.

4 Stars

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