Monday 19 June 2023

GRAND THEFT THEATRE: Theatre Review

WHAT: Grand Theft Theatre
WHEN: 17-24 June 2023
WHERE: St Ambrose Hall
CREATED BY: Ponycam and David Williams
PERFORMED BY: Claire Bird, Ava Campbell, William Strom, Dominic Weintraub, David Williams, and Hugo Williams
Ava Campbell, Claire Bird, Dominic Weintraub, and William Strom - photo by Wild Hardt

When someone asks you 'what is the best show you have ever seen' does a name instantly spring to mind or does your mind stutter and flutter as you try to sort through the jumble of memories and half formed recollections, struggling to land on a single event? Ponycam and David Williams put this question under the microscope in their show Grand Theft Theatre which is having a reprise season at St Ambrose Hall this month.

Commissioned by Melbourne Fringe Festival in 2022, the premise of Grand Theft Theatre is simple. The ensemble literally got together, everyone shared the moments in theatre, dance, and some film which left them with the strongest images or touched them on the deepest level - either emotionally or viscerally. All of these recollections have then been mashed together with a strong dramaturgical eye. The result is a loving, touching, and hilarious ode to contemporary performance making and performance makers across Australia and internationally as well.

With the breakneck pace and moral ambiguity of the video game Grand Theft Auto, 2 hours of our lives speed away as we laugh, groan and applaud the spoils of this creative team's heist. Nothing is off the table and nothing is sacred. Pina Bausch, Gob Squad, DV8, and Forced Entertainment are mashed in with Ridiculusmus, Nicola Gunn, Post, and Cam Venn - and sooooo much more.

Just about every post-modern acting/dance trope is covered in Grand Theft Theatre. I did love the mashed choreography of the opening sequence and, in that very Forced Entertainment way, we are helped to identify the movement with the troupe/artist who made it iconic through prompt cards. The re-enactments of Oedipus Schmoedipus and the opening sequence of Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! had me almost falling on the floor with laughter. The best thing about this laughter is you can be both laughing at the troupe but also laughing with them. 

I tend to get grumpy about theatre for theatre people, but I am giving Grand Theft Theatre a hall pass because it is theatre for theatre goers. As an audience member you don't have to have seen all the shows to have a good time, although your best connections will be with those you have seen. You will also have a great time if you know the artists' works even if you don't know the show itself because the whole point is what makes these works (or etudes is perhaps the more correct term) memorable is their identifying distinctness. One fun little easter egg is the performance is in 5 acts so even Shakespeare gets his little nod of acknowledgement.

You will have fun regardless. There is the opportunity for completely pointless audience participation. If you are quick you can literally get 'The Best Seat In The House' but it won't matter because as with all good post-dramatic theatre, you will be moved about willy nilly. Good luck finding your original seat after each of the 6 minute intervals. If you have a committed Jessica Fletcher attitude you could read through the names of performance greats on the back of the chairs to find yours, but somebody else may already be sitting on it, sipping a gin and tonic and munching on a warm pretzel... Did I mention the free tequila shots at the final intermission? 

Grand Theft Theatre is a hoot. I haven't had so much fun in a long time. One of the things which makes it funny is there are few boundaries. The ensemble are willing to go almost as far as the original artists, regardless of the cleaning required by the end of the show. Grand Theft Theatre is a multisensorial feast which titillates mind, memory, and gag reflex. 

Most importantly, Grand Theft Theatre is an act of love and awe. Every in-joke the audience was left with after watching the original artists becomes an out-joke shared by the community who remember it whilst watching this show. We probably were never in the same room at the same time, or even the same country when we saw it, but it is an experience shared and an idea communally contemplated.This is the genius and incredible significance of Grand Theft Theatre. The show is a gift for the audience and all of the audiences from all of the shows referenced.

Oh, and it's bloody funny!

5 Stars

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