Saturday 20 April 2024

THE KING'S PLAYER - Theatre Review

WHAT: The King's Player
WHEN: 19 - 26 April 2024
WHERE: Alex Theatre (Studio)
SCENIC ART BY: Jen Ellis Stevens

Tref Gare - Photo supplied

It is Comedy Festival season so our stages are chockers with stand up and cabaret artists, but if you look deep enough you can find some theatrical gems which are belly-achingly funny, yet taught and complex enough to please the most erudite of theatregoers. The King's Player, being presented by Victorian Theatre Company in the Alex Theatre Studio space is just such a delight.

Set in Elsinore, the King's player (Tref Gare) let's us tag along with him as he tries to find employment to feed his terrifyingly hungry belly. Along the way we learn about his dad, his willingness to imbibe in unknown substances, and his lack of knowledge of theatrical standards. We learn he is also the inventor of the single link chain much to his blacksmith father's disappointment and our great amusement.

The King's Player is having a 30 year revival and yet it seems as fresh and full of life as if it had only been devised on the rehearsal room floor last month. Early in his career, Gare trained in physical theatre and mime in Europe and then joined the touring company The Medieval Players. From these experiences he created this hilarious and insightful play. 

What surprises me, more than anything, is how an actor with this incredible level of skill in clowning and physical theatre is not appearing on mainstages regularly. We all know Tref's work featuring in the very many indie Shakespeare revivals around town such as Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It but none of these give him the scope to really show his incredible talents in the realm of physical theatre. You will know what I mean when you go and see this show. I recently said Andre de Vanny's work in Swansong was a masterclass in acting. Well Gare in The King's Player is the second in the series and every young actor in Melbourne should come and see this show to really understand what their craft is/should be.

In The King's Player Gare takes us down a maelstrom of Medieval conditions which juxtapose that Shakespearean representation of royalty. We see poverty, love, and sacrifice - things nobody in Hamlet's world seem to ever truly understand. We learn about the destitute and desperate life of a thespian in a time of plague and patronage, where the only way out is to be favoured by the monarch - a truly double edged sword as the King's player discovers for himself. Thank goodness for the magic of theatre ;) Somehow Gare has us laughing all the way!

All of this happens in just over an hour through the efforts of an indefatigable actor, naked hand puppets, and a magnificent backdrop created by Jen Ellis Stevens for the original season back in 1994. This work of art parodies the Bayeux Tapestry created back in 1077 and tells the tale of William the Conqueror's conquest of England. Stevens' 'tapestry' tells us the tale of the King's player's journey to conquer his vocation and if you look close enough, you can follow our protagonist's story as the events unfold. It made me think of the Graeme Base storybooks, and The Eleventh Hour in particular.

The King's Player is a magnificent piece of comic theatre. It has everything - canon, comedy, mime, puppetry, pathos, history, dreams, hope, hunger, starvation, panic, love... How on earth has Gare done this???? And how is it so side-splittingly funny????????

The King's Player is one of the best hours you will ever have in a theatre and this show is perfect for touring. It would be an amazing thing to take to high schools too - a great learning tool about history and theatre for those poor HSC candidates in desperate need of laughter and exposure to great contemporary art.

5 Stars

Sunday 14 April 2024

#SWIFTOK - Cabaret Review

WHEN: 11 Mar - 21 April 2024
WHERE: The Motley Bauhaus (Cabaret room)

Dean Robinson - photo by Elyse Batson

The Comedy Festival is here and our stages are full of everything silly and fun. Dean Robinson's one person cabaret #SWIFTOK is very silly fun indeed and is playing at The Motley Bauhaus, upstairs in the cabaret room.

The premise is simple. Dean is a 14 year old 'Swifty' and is livestreaming from his bedroom his complete obsession with Taylor Swift. As quick as we might to disregard Swift and her fans it is important to remember just how important this woman who appears so unassuming actually is. 

Swift is one of the world's best-selling music artists. She is the highest grossing female touring act, and the first billionaire with music as her main source of income. Her music spans a wide range of music genre and (as Dean tells us and impressively demonstrates) her lyrics have been compared to the writings of William Shakespeare and the truth is her songwriting skills really are impressive. She writes all her own songs and is rerecording early releases to reclaim her IP. In case you want to deride her music, her grandmother was an opera singer and Swift has never used autotune to correct her vocals.

Robinson explains how TikTok works, and the range of Swifty's who inhabit #SWIFTOK including the conspiracy theorists, the lip synchers, and the clowns. Along the way he lament's Swift's poor record dating men with names starting with the letter J and seems to have undertaken a mission to get Swift back together with the infamous Harry Styles. Robinson talks about the derision Swift receives for writing from personal experience when that is exactly what all the male artists do too. This reminded me of the flack PINK got when she brought out 'I'm Not Dead'. 

All of this is accompanied by Robinson singing excerpts from Swift's playlist. My biggest criticism is how pitchy he is and how by the end all of the excerpts started sounding like the same song. Maybe that is a deliberate commentary too? In his defense though, the venue had a VERY loud jazz band downstairs on the night I went which was very distracting.

Interspersing the Swift obsession there is some reference to reality with Robinson not speaking to his best friend Brittany because she has a boyfriend now, and there is someone called Troy who is a classmate. All of that got a bit lost for me and I wonder if this was aged right. My recollection of being 14 was a great desire to become an adult. It sounded to me like Brittany, Dean and perhaps Troy were still playing primary school games... 

#SWIFTOK is a bit unpolished right now, but it is harmless fun and Robinson has a natural childish charm which makes you want to smile whenever he does and the props are so much fun. If you don't know much about (or have never heard of) the TCU you will learn a lot, and if you are a Swifty you will have a good time. Robinson even leaves us with a prediction into the future and now all I can do is wait and see...

3 Stars

Sunday 7 April 2024

DUCK DUCK GOOSE - Theatre Review

WHAT: Duck Duck Goose
WHEN: 3 - 13 April 2024
WHERE: Theatre Works
WRITTEN BY: Catriona Daly
DIRECTED BY: Timothy Wynn
DESIGN BY: Mikailah Looker
AV DESIGN BY: Lachlan van der Kreek
SOUND DESIGN BY: Morgan Francis
LIGHTING BY: Arielle Roberts
PERFORMED BY: Emily Carr, Matt Domingo, Mitchell Holland, Rachel Nutchey, Jeanda St James, and Ilia Swindells

Ilia Swindells and Matt Domingo - photo by Darren Gill

What a play Duck Duck Goose is! Irish playwright Catriona Daly has written the play which needed to be written for men today. Being presented at Theatre Works until the 13th April, Ipswich based That Production Company is bringing us a story about what it is to be men in a world becoming intolerant of 'boys will be boys' behaviour. 

The party of all parties happens. The play begins the next morning. Chris (Mitchell Holland) finds himself waking up on his mates' kitchen floor and is startled by the appearance of Jane (Rachel Nutchey) who is playing on her phone. She appears to be doing a walk of shame after boozy sex with Davey (Matt Domingo) and has a strangely tense and confusing conversation with Chris before leaving. Davey and housemate Andy (Ilia Swindells) emerge and have another confusing conversation with Chris about deleting a toxic male What's App groups they belong too. 

Eventually it emerges that Jane lays charges against Davey saying he raped her, and Andy tried to join in. The men deny it, of course, and Chris is put in the position of choosing to stand up with his bruvs. When he does actually go ahead and delete the What's App group, he becomes complicit, and they all face legal trial. 

Chris, in particular, faces trial by media and social media. Chris is constantly reminded he didn't see what happened so why does he insist it didn't happen? The recurring theme becomes the refrain 'if it talks like a duck, 90% of the time it is a duck'. If all of the chat talk is misogynistic and violent, there is a strong likelihood someone in the group is going to be exactly that type of person.

This is what makes Duck Duck Goose so important. It is not about rape or guilt. It is about perception and loyalties and probabilities. This is Chris' story, not Davey's or Andy's. Chris wasn't in the bedroom and didn't see or do anything, but he becomes socially crucified because of his staunch support for his friends. On the other hand, he is absolutely sure it didn't happen because Chris saw Jane immediately afterwards in the kitchen and she didn't 'look' traumatised. Sitting alongside this questioning of unsubstantiated loyalty is the question what does trauma look like? 

Possibly the most compelling scene is when Chris goes on a Tinder date with Marie (Jeanda St James). She talks about an incident on a bus when a guy sat beside her and exposed himself and started masturbating. Her point was that most of the people on that bus, if asked, would likely say they don't tolerate assault, but all anyone did was move away or get off. On the other hand, Marie was confused and in shock and did nothing and went to work just like any other day. She was completely traumatised but anybody looking would have said she was fine. Another regular refrain across the work is how can people stop assault when they can't recognise it even when it is happening right in front of their eyes?

Daly deftly avoids the conversation being split along gender lines though. Chris' sister Sarah (Emily Carr) sides with her brother and his friends and a male radio shock jock, Leo (Swindells), becomes a strident interrogator who exposes some deep prejudices held by Chris both to the public and to Chris himself.

Director Timothy Wynn has created a show with extremely strong visuals and the cast is strong. I had one big hesitation with the casting. It is great that it is diverse, but Wynn has accidently created a show where the people of colour actors are the sexual offenders, and the white guy is the poor innocent lost in a maelstrom of slings and arrows. I am confident that was not the intention, but it is a really big OOPS!

Mikailah Looker (designer) has created a strong visual impact with a white rectangular rostrum across the width of the stage with a mirroring border above which allows a kind of tickertape messaging which tracks the time lapse of the show across the front. The concept of nothing is black and white contrasting with the white set in a black box theatre is strong and it also has a sense of a police lineup. On the other hand, there is little depth to the acting space which makes watching the show feel a bit like watching a tennis match. The scrap heap of kitchen stuff in the corner is a tragedy and using the fridge for everything and serving wine from a dirty coffee kettle in the date scene let the show down badly.

The AV works by Lachlan van der Kreek is impressive. The stage floor becomes a mobile phone interface, the tickertape messages swing from literal to abstract ideas, and the text is projected on the back wall for comprehension and accessibility for the d/deaf community. I really did like how the captioning was done but the font is too small, and it is pointless for the first half because the lighting designer (Arielle Roberts) floods the theatre (for no dramaturgical reason - AGAIN!) which takes ages to dissipate. Even if the font had been bigger, we still would not have been able to read the words easily through all that haze. Do it or don't do it. Stop messing around with accessibility. And yes, the captions are necessary because the entire show is played with a strong Galway accent and spoken at fast pace which means a lot of people need the support of the text on the back wall to keep up and understand what is happening. 

Apart from the haze, the lighting design is crisp and effective. The sound design by Morgan Francis is strong and compelling. All of the production elements work well. Perhaps one other reservation was that Holland never changes or adjusts costumes when everybody else does. He is on stage the whole time, which is a challenge, but it is odd that he is in casual sweats and bare feet all through the show including on the date and in court. I think simple costume shifts (such as shoes, perhaps) would have been possible within the arc of the show.

The cast is impressive although I would have liked Nutchey to find more definition between the three characters she plays (Jane, waiter, Sarah's friend). Swindells was mesmerising as toxic male Andy, and also the coked up radio DJ Leo. The build-up of misdirection and constant pressure Leo applies to Chris in the radio interview interrogation is masterful and the centrepiece of this production. Holland carries his central role well and never lets the energy or tension drop in what is a really huge role.

Duck Duck Goose is one of the most important plays I have seen on stage in a long time and this production has strong visuals and performances to take it where it needs to go. It is a clever interrogation of those grey areas where we don't know quite what is going on. It asks the question how much effort do we make to look at the context to find out? 'If it talks like a duck, then 90% of the time it is a duck'. How can we stop assault when we don't even recognise it when it is happening right in front of us?

4.5 Stars

KOAL: Theatre Review

WHAT: KOAL WHERE: Theatre Works (Explosives Factory) WHEN: 22 May - 1 June 2024 CREATED BY: Jacinta Yelland and Trey Lyford DIRECTED BY: Tre...