Saturday, 21 November 2020

Freshly Minted - Theatre Review

What: Freshly Minted
When: 22 November, 2020
Where: La Mama Online
Written by: Fergus Black, Brigid Charis, William Foley, Georgi McLaren, Erin Miller, David Rorkell, and Alyssa Trombino, 
Performed by: La Trobe University students and alumni

The Bugs

La Mama is famed for providing presentation partnerships with the universities across Melbourne and the most recent collaboration is this year's digital festival, La Mama North Fringe, which is a presentation of works by La Trobe students and alumni. COVID 19 meant the annual La Trobe Moat Festival couldn't happen and La Mama North has the potential to become a regular part of the annual programming for both entities.

La Mama North consisted of 2 Zoom performances, an audio drama, and Freshly Minted. Freshly Minted is a collection of 20 minute Zoom performances written and performed by current students and alumni and it is a fascinating collection indeed! Between 12pm and 4:30pm a collection of 7 short plays and monologues were performed with breaks in between.

What impressed me most about Freshly Minted was the incredible variety of styles and techniques used across the program. It is true that most of the pieces were reacting to the pandemic in some form or another, but the variety of responses was intriguing and exciting.

The program began with Erin Miller's 'The Bugs' - a tense little thriller about infection, isolation, and desperation. 4 people have been sedated, kidnapped, and locked into hermetically sealed isolation chambers. Why? Who did it? What is going on? Will they make it out alive? 'The Bugs' is an intriguing new take on Satre's No Exit. I would love to see this expanded into a film.

Georgi McLaren explored the processes of grief and loss and the difficulties of maintaining relationships for a society in isolation in her play 'The Cat'. A cat is run over by a car and taken to the vet. A young woman is looking for her only friend in a world which has been difficult beyond belief. Two young lovers find communication difficult in a world where connection only occurs through Zoom and texts. In the middle stands a caring vet. Friendship, love and compassion are explored with insight in this tight little drama.

The other play in the Freshly Minted program was Fergus Black's film noir story 'All Hail The Lizardman!'. Whilst the title may put you off and the play is definitely unfinished, the confidence and competence of the film noir style is excellently executed. Characters have names like Credence, Bucky, and Jack and the Narrator does most of the story telling with the characters just saying their lines at the appropriate moments. The writing style is chock full of metaphor and simile, the lighting was shadowy and there were even the iconic louvres in place. I can tell you the plot revolved around a mayoral election and a suspicious video which turns up at the offices of The Daily Witness. What will the newspaper do with it? We never really find out but this could be a really fun and meaty story if it is ever developed.

The other 4 items in the program were monologues. William Foley presented a wonderfully lyrical piece about finding one's way through a disfunctional family to life as a gay man. Foley's writing is lyrical and evocative, if a little narratively disconnected. There is an element of stream of consciousness here. To be honest I found myself wishing he had committed to the idea of an extended poem. I hope this is the direction he takes it in the future. Having said that, the framing of his Zoom window with a real gumtree was stunning and at one point he dances along with the tree in the wind. It was magical.

There was one piece I hated - sadly it was the last one in the program which left me disappointed. David Rorkell's 'The Covid Cave: An Experimental Musical' was appalling and insulting. It is a shame because he worked with some extraordinary puppets but there was no real intent to produce something for an audience. You can call me old fashioned, but to me a musical has to have songs and perhaps some dance. Dressed in a friars hessian garb, surrounded by great puppets and a glowing orb, Rorkell proceeded to fill his time with what could easily be mistaken for a marijuana induced improvised stream of consciousness going nowhere. Every short play festival seems to have one of these things and it is almost always young white males who think they have a right to do this. They don't.

But I have to finish with what were, for me, the two great triumphs of Freshly Minted. Both Brigid Charis and Alyssa Trombino wrote and performed monologues which were truly great in both content, and performance. Charis talked about growing up mixed race in Australia and Trombino dealt with the issue of domestic violence. 

Charis is of Samoan heritage and talks about how her parents encouraged her to learn tennis as a child to help fit in. All Charis wanted was to fit in but all people could see was her non-anglosaxon skin tones. She jokes about it but eventually the rage erupts. At some point she goes to spend time on her mother's native island, Savai'i. She learns the stories and the traditions and they giver her a nickname which is the title of this piece- 'Palagi'. She feels special and included for possibly the first time in her life. And then she asks what palagi means... As well as an amazing story, Charis also demonstrated wonderful theatre craft and was the first person to perform physically, created relationships throughout the piece between herself and the Zoom frame, and thus between herself and the audience. Just because you are performing on Zoom doesn't mean you disappear into a static human bust. Charis showed us how it's done.

Trombino showed us even greater skills as she  took a long hard look at life as a woman in an abusive relationship in 'Love Or Euphoria'. Trombino careened around her house just like her character is careening around her relationship. Trombino has spent a lot of time making sure she had all of her frames worked out and although the performance was one uninterrupted stream, it was like watching those really cool ads where images slide into other images. Trombino's character takes us back and forth across time as she tries to explain her relationship with Luke. She explores young love and the traces and hints of control and abuse which start early but aren't seen until much later. I was particularly shaken by the observation, "Every bruise resulted in a gift. The bigger the bruise, the bigger the gift. My friends were so jealous." Trombino's character get's out after a near death experience. A lot of people aren't that lucky.

Freshly Minted was surprisingly refreshing and interesting. It is true that La Trobe Creative Arts students generally don't have the acting skills of the big universities, but their ideas for stories and story telling ideas are up there with the best for the most part. They have braved the digital environment with competence and I like this format too. My one suggestion would be to have a bell or something 2 minutes before each piece so that the audience have time to get back to the computer if they have used the break to do something.

I really like Freshly Minted - especially for audiences. It is much more likely I would watch something like this again on Zoom then that I would go to a live venue to see a program of this nature. On the other hand it is also a great way to test out ideas and see which ones can go further, and is a great place play with style.

4 Stars

2 comments:

  1. William Foley here, loved the review and I will be sure to take on board what you have said. This performance was originally staged in my parents living room, however I was caught out camping without a lift to get me home in time. Had to make a quick decision and deliver the piece sitting in under a tree in a park at Pottsville. The idea came from my Dad encouraging me to approach the flexibility of Zoom. It was truly a fascinating spontaneous experience that felt much like a happening. I’m glad you enjoyed the program a big thank you for you words and for watching all the performances, it is much appreciated.

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    1. Hi William, I have discovered with my own writing into performance projects that most of the things I think are going wrong end up being things which create a kind of magic which reveals something I didn't see in the work. We often talk about how irruptions of reality in performance bring something special - well I think irruptions of reality in producing do the same thing. For example, my fringe show, Samsara's Sing Sing, crashed during the live stream but we salvaged recordings and pieced together a very surreal human animation which has it's own level of crazy for people to enjoy on demand pmsl.

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