Saturday 17 November 2018

Rock Bang - Musical Theatre Review

What: Rock Bang
When: 15 - 25 November 2018
Where: Merlyn Theatre, The Coopers Malthouse
Created by: Circus Oz and Die Roten Punkte
Performed by: Casey Bennetto, Shannon Bourne, Robbie Curtis, April Dawson, Dean Matters, Alyssa Moore, Tamara Murphy, Kyle Raftery, Astrid Rot, Otto Rot, and Rockie Stone
Musical direction by: Casey Bennetto
Set and props by: Michael Baxter
Costumes by: Laurel Frank
Puppetry by: Lynne Kent
Lighting by: Richard Vabre
Sound by: Jim Atkins
Stage Management by: Anna Pidgeon
Rockie Stone, Robbie Curtsi, Astrid Rot, Otto Rot, Kyle Raftery, Alyssa Moore, and April Dawson - photo by Mark Turner
Rock Bang is the mockumentary circus rock opera spawned from the minds of Circus Oz and Die Roten Punkte and playing for two weeks in the Merlyn Theatre. The show is destined to pare down to a touring version but before it leaves town Melbourne audiences are getting an amped up power show the likes of which will never bee seen on stage ever again!

We have all experienced, or heard tales about, the incredible musical mastery of the brother sister punk rock duo Astrid and Otto Rot (Die Roten Punkte). In Rock Bang we get the origins story and boy-oh-boy is it a cautionary tale for children!

The sudden death of Astrid and Otto's parents (by train or lion...they can't agree on the details) has left them orphaned young children. Alone in their house eating only twigs and the cat - er, no, not the cat, Otto! - an aunt and uncle come to look after them. Forced into a life of exhausting child labour Astrid (the older child) decides it is time for them to run away. They are better off fending for themselves. Thus begins a dystopian and surreal tale of life on the streets of Berlin.

Astrid's skills in the art of theft - er, no, very generous people and amazing coincidence, Otto! - are sufficient to keep them alive and keep Otto's innocence and sweetness intact. Astrid has already discovered a taste for debauchery and the 'lucky' discovery of a drum kit and electric guitar becomes their vehicle to stardom for better or worse. It is all fun and games in the punk rock era, but the train really goes off the track when they start exploring electro-punk!

Rock Bang is a beautiful parody of the rock opera genre. If you loved We Will Rock You you are going to adore Rock Bang. In some respects it may almost be too good to be parody!

Of course Astrid and Otto always have the right sound but Bennetto has filled out the back line with the perfect blend of fuzz, wah wah, and hum to start any bar fight. The lighting truss arching over the stage takes us right into the concert arena and Baxter has done just enough to replicate the 'wall of sound' phenomenon in the great era of rock'n'roll. Atkins' system design packs all the punch of the good old days of rock with enough ear splitting Db for anyone with concert deafness to still have a great time. Add Vabre's audience blinders and smoke smeared light beams spearing the stage and Rock Bang really is the best rocking great time you'll have in a theatre for a long time to come.

I said the parody is too good, but it is hilarious nonetheless. Playing not only on the rock, punk, and electro tropes, Rock Bang explores and pokes a whole lot of fun at the musical theatre structure. My favourite moment was Otto and Astrid arguing over whether they should have an interval even though they were only a half an hour into the show because they had just played the song with emotional climax.

The Circus Oz acrobats were amazing of course. Amidst all the noise and trauma of the Rot story, Moore's aerial routine as the moon on the night Otto and Astrid get lost in the woods was so intensely beautiful it seemed as if the audience didn't even want to breathe in case it broke the magical spell she was weaving. Raftery's unicycle work was wonderful as always and I saw him do something with it I haven't seen before which I always love!  Juggling is an eternally fraught art form, but I was lost in a spell of wonder at the skills and precision demonstrated by Curtis in the pizza shop.

Not everything was perfect. I am not convinced the shadow puppetry added to the experience very much. Having said that it was stunning work, especially in "The 4:15 To Spandau Will Not Run Today" and it did provide the key to understanding the surrealist nature of the journey we were embarking on with the performance.  I think my reservations come because of the smallness given the largeness of the show and I suspect this part of the show had to exist in touring scale rather than full concert scale. It could be integrated into more parts of the show though I feel.

I (and everyone I spoke with after the show) also have reservations about Astrid's rehab scene. Given the commitment Circus Oz has to diversity they might want to take a look at that scene and reconsider the representations being made there before Rock Bang goes on tour.

Now back to speaking about parts of the show which are too good , don't be surprised if the song "Rock Bang!" hits the ARIA charts. People all across Australia are going to be rock banging in the streets, the schools, and the malls across the country - and perhaps across the world!

A magical mix of bad 80's song lyrics, outdated fairy tales, valve amp sound, and boundless energy, Rock Bang will send everyone home with a smile on their lips, humming the "Rock Bang" chorus and rock banging with their fists until everyone is driven mad. Rock Bang is family friendly but perhaps just bring the older children and make sure they have adult supervision because there are some adult themes and an orgy... Rock bang!

4.5 Stars

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