Dark sensibility and deep vulnerability
By Bradley Storer
Comedic writer/performer extraordinaire Ash Flanders returns with his latest work, END. OF. Beginning in the doldrums of police transcriptions, Flanders moves down the river of memory in a journey that spans childhood, death and the eternal quest to be the funniest one in the room. Looming over proceedings is the long shadow cast by the indomitable Flanders matriarch, Heather Flanders, whose bombastic catch phrase gives the show its title.
Flanders’ usual mix of caustic camp and neurotic melancholy is underlaid here by a darker sensibility. Acid trips gone haywire and a trip to the slaughter house provide imagery bordering on true horror, Rachel Burke’s lighting and Tom Backhaus’ sound design combining with the text to create some deeply chilling moments.
Flanders is, as always, an effortlessly charismatic performer, needing little more than Nathan Burmeister’s simple (but quietly effective) set, his own comically lithe physicality and incisive turn of phrase to carry the entire show. The loveable narcissism of previous shows is tempered here by a deeper vulnerability in later sections and a beautifully realized joy that draws the work to its conclusion.
In a show that searches to unpick the meaning in making story and structure, Flanders wryly comments: ‘It’s hard to know what to hold on to when you believe in so little.’ Even as the show leaps through time and place within seconds (and it could be argued that some sections of the piece could be trimmed slightly), it is a credit to both the strength of Flanders’ writing and the canny direction of Stephen Nicolazzo that the whole flows together in emotional seamlessness.
A wonderful new work from an established comic performer that solidifies his continuing artistry, as well as expands his range into gorgeously new and beautiful territory!
Venue: Northcote Town Hall, 189 High St, Northcote Town Hall
Date: 11 – 22 March
Times: Wed – Saturday 8:30pm, Sunday 6pm
Prices: $28 – $35
Bookings: www.darebinarts.com.au, firstname.lastname@example.org, (03) 8470 8280
“A Trivial Comedy for Serious People”
By Margaret Wieringa
How can a farce from the late 1800s be relevant over two hundred years later? Perhaps because politics and society seem to be as farcical as ever, with world leaders shunning education and humanity and instead using confounding language to say very little. Or perhaps it’s just that we need a break from it all and to really laugh.
If it’s a laugh you need, this is certainly the show to go to. This interpretation of the Importance of Being Earnest by Ridiculusmus has the magnificent talents of Jon Hayes and David Woods playing all of the characters. Being the work of Oscar Wilde, comedy is in almost every line, but Hayes and Woods manage to elicit humour even from the silences. Each costume change brings titters of laughter from the audience, as much from the action itself as the anticipation of what is coming next. The timing is perfect, starting with long pauses filled with slight movements as we wait for a character to reappear, and then moving to fast-paced, frenetic changes as the play reaches its climax.
Even the set was humorous, with every surface (including the leaves of an indoor plant) covered with busy wallpaper and Persian rugs. While the magnificent costumes were practically characters of themselves, the set was used delightfully for the performers to do some of the more complex character changes.
The show plays with the concept of theatre itself, with the actors using remote controls and the like for sound and lighting cues (supported by lighting designer Stephen Hawker and sound realiser Tom Backhaus). They play with conventions, use modern music to add humour to scenes, and enjoy letting the audience in on the joke when things start to go off the rails.
Perhaps the greatest joy of the show is that the audience feels as though they have joined the actors on a magnificent journey and reach the end victorious and fulfilled.
Venue: Malthouse Theatre
Dates: 14 Feb – 8 March
Time: Varies between 5pm and 7:30pm starts
Bookings: https://tickets.malthousetheatre.com.au/production/5676 or call the box office on 9685 5111
Photography by Pia Johnson
An intriguing time piece
By Caitlin McGrane
An intriguing presentation as part of the 2015 Midsumma Festival, the drama is uneasy and disquieting in The Fastest Clock in the Universe by Phillip Ridley. The play opens as Cougar Glass (Robert Ricks) lounges luxuriously in only his briefs under a sun lamp; his friend/man-servant/lover (?)/lackey Captain Tock (Ian Rose) appears as the portentous messenger to remind Cougar about his birthday party. The unsettling narrative continues apace as Cougar has invited only one person to his birthday, a boy of 15 named Foxtrot Darling (William Freeman). The obvious comparison is to The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the first act is certainly reminiscent of the young man who cannot bear to accept responsibility, while remaining perpetually 19. When Cougar’s age is alluded to it is only Cheetah Bee (Brenda Palmer), the landlady who lives downstairs, who can soothe him. Inside the tiny apartment, as the wind screams outside, Foxtrot arrives with an uninvited guest.
Each individual performance was excellent, but Scout Boxall really stole the show as the hilarious yet bonkers Sherbert Gravel in the second act. Ricks’ increasingly deranged Cougar almost became part of the furniture while she dominated the stage with her handbag, and Foxtrot, in tow. Rose’s Captain ratcheted up the tension; his glee mirroring Cougar’s insanity. It was clear the play was set in London, so I found Palmer’s Australian accent slightly out-of-place.
While the first act was dynamic, interesting and dark, the second act failed to live up to expectations. It is difficult to pin down exactly what didn’t work, but it felt like scenes ran on for too long, and after a particularly affective split-stage scene, the mood of the play shifted into absurdity as Foxtrot and Sherbert remained in a desperately uncomfortable situation. Was that the intention? One cannot be sure, but by the time Cheetah Bee delivered her final monologue, it was clear that something had gone awry. A moment that should have been poignant became somewhat clichéd.
However, overall this production is gripping and edgy; Director Robert Chuter has managed to create something both wildly funny and thrillingly tense. Robert Smith (Set Designer, Graphic Designer and Producer) has done wonders with the small space; the set is imbued with a sense of unwilling decay. There is similarly excellent work from Tom Backhaus (Sound Designer) whose soundtrack is almost reminiscent of Blade Runner. It may need some creases ironed out, but The Fastest Clock in the Universe certainly gives audiences pause.
The Fastest Clock in the Universe is showing until 31 January 2015 in The Loft at Chapel off Chapel. Tickets are $38 Full, $32 Concession, $30 Group 5+ (+ transaction fee) and available from http://chapeloffchapel.com.au/melbourne-comedy-theatre-art/melbourne-events/midsumma-festival/the-fastest-clock-in-the-universe-21-31-jan/.
Be advised: The Fastest Clock in the Universe does contain some nudity and scenes of violence against women.