A selection of the (positive) reviews I have written for Total Theatre
Review: ‘Bruce’ by The Last Great Hunt
Aug 6th, 3.15pm, Underbelly (Cowgate)
Created and Performed by Tim Watts and Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd, part of the Perth based collective, The Last Great Hunt, this show follows the award-winning and much-travelled, ‘The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik’. Utilising fewer props and effects than that show, ‘Bruce’ features two performers using a roughly hewn block of foam and a pair of white gloves to deliver a fast-paced and dynamic tale of love, loss and space travel. This one puppet figure is manipulated to quickly transform into a variety of characters, wonderfully voiced by Tim, whilst Wyatt performs the hands and provides atmospheric sounds such a creaking doors and gun shots. What might have been enjoyable enough as a vehicle for the puppetry/mime skills on display, is rendered more completely absorbing by the finely crafted plot, full of clever flashes backwards and forwards.
The opening scene shows an astronaut preparing for re-entry and a return to his pregnant astrophysicist girlfriend, also his communications link down at mission control. A flashing red light signals imminent catastrophe, and the stress of the situation sends the girlfriend into labour. Much of the rest of the piece shows the events that precede this point in the narrative, after which it veers off along a wholly unexpected twist, which I won't spoil the surprise of. Much of the humour comes from the frequent signalling to the audience of how the various plot points are imminently to be achieved, and the piece is pitched and paced such that its always one step ahead of the audience, cleverly anticipating our comprehension. The first minute of action put a smile on my face that stayed there for the duration, and frequently broke out into happy laughter at the ingenuity and wit of its delivery.
In style, there seems something quite characteristically Australian about the production. It’s clearly been very cleverly and painstakingly put together, but these skills aren’t ‘shown off’, so to speak. Rather, the maker’s effort is translated into the ease of our enjoyment, and the humour is similarly jocular and warm rather than self-consciously ‘clever’ or acerbic. The fast paced scenes are augmented by quick changes to the soundscape and lighting, giving the narrative structure a cinematic quality. The tricks and techniques always serve the narrative, which is so well-constructed its not hard to imagine it being actually made into a live-action movie.
It may not provide insights into the nature of the human condition, but it does deliver a wholly entertaining performance full of charm, wit and invention, and as close to a sure-fire fringe hit as may be theatrically possible. It’s difficult to imagine there can be many people who wouldn’t emerge feeling easily pleased to have to seen it.
Review: ‘Nautilus’ by Trygve Wakenshaw
Pleasance, Aug 8th, 10pm.
Following the award winning Kraken, this show delivers another helping of the same delicious dish. This is not a reference to Wakenshaw’s boyish good looks, but his singular expertise in the art of divergent thinking. Over a number of routines he elaborates simple visual starting points into highly imaginative stories using his virtuoso skills as a clown / mime. It sounds and looks simple enough, like child’s play in fact, but the hilarious results frequently lead people to ‘lose it’ to such an extent one wonders if a medic should be standing in the wings next to the fire extinguisher.
A chicken lays an egg-shaped egg timer to time himself boiling his own eggs. The egg timer hatches into a chick, which he immediately blends in a food blender. It just sounds stupid in print, but in the flesh it is delightfully funny. Wakenshaw’s extreme physical and imaginative dexterity allows him to lead the audience on ever-evolving associative journeys. The merest flicker of an expression across his face leads us to anticipate the next realm of possibilities, and these new ideas often bubble up so quickly that missing a moment can result in losing the trail. After scribbling a brief note I looked up to see him engaged in some meaningless abstract gesticulations, whilst everyone about me were laughing their head off. (Later I realized that what they were seeing was a lamb spinning his own public hair into a noose with which to hang a man who had stolen the suit of woollen clothes the lamb had made for himself. Oh, what’s the point in trying to describe it!)
At other times the pace slows and it’s his sheer persistence in a one simple idea that brings the audience to the boil. He gives a mimed stand up routine, and with very few obvious gags that is much funnier many stand up comedians. At other times he leaves us hanging just long enough in order to sett up a knockout punchline, and after the lip-syncs to the song ‘You make me feel’ it seemed he had totally won us over.
Between the routines he returns to variations on an ambiguous image of himself in a spotlight, grinning and crouching like an entertainer caught escaping from prison, accompanied by a tune on the zither (?). This is the one clear element that distinguishes the show from his previous one and I’d be interested to see how he might intertwine the narrative arcs more across the length of future work. For now I was happy enough to see more of the same because this is a performer who has developed a distinctive style of work through which he expresses a real comic virtuosity, which could easily make Trygve Wakenshaw a household name that people know how to pronounce.
Review: Jamie Woods - ‘Oh NO!’
Assembly Roxy, 7pm.
Jamie Woods’ comedic tribute to the work of Yoko Ono re-enacts a series of her most famous ‘pieces’, interspersed with his reflections on romantic love expressed through his own odd, poetic happenings. From the outset he exudes an air of playful generosity, staring deeply into one person’s eyes and telling them, “I love how thoughtful you are” and another, “I love the pattern on your shirt”. It's a kind of live art clown show, referencing Avant Garde art history whilst remaining highly accessible, and his warmth and silliness wins the audience over into participating in all manner of eccentric ‘actions’.
A miniature field of woolly sheep coalesce into two clouds, which volunteers ‘puppeteer’ as approaching lovers, whilst another runs excitedly around with a gym ball representing the sun. He sprays a mist of water beneath the clouds, then shines a torch on a cd of John and Yoko’s last album together, which reflects the multiple colours of the rainbow onto the backdrop. The poetic inventiveness of the scene induces audible ‘Ah’s!’ from the audience and has them beaming in appreciation.
Early on he reads out a manifesto for the creation of ‘Oh No!’ including the dedication to ‘challenge the boundary between Art and Life’, and that there should be ‘No cynicism’. From the tie-dye backdrop to his mystical incantations and playful dancing, a clear tint of spoofing runs throughout, but his beard is real and so, apparently, is his desire for us all to love each other more. This ambiguous play between sincerity and silliness ensures the show is consistently engaging. “Are you allowing yourself to be touched by art?” he asks in a tone that planted a giggle inside me that just kept growing.
Given the amount of interaction every performance is bound to be different, making this palpably a live experience in which he asks the audience to take the risk of trusting him. On this occasion it included a quite beautiful conversation about love with a volunteer from the inside a very large bag. In another moment we all hold hands then very slowly letting go, noticing for the last moment of contact. The humour of his delivery enables us to actually contemplate the poignancy of the experience. At the end there is a delightful john cage inspired orchestral recital featuring many volunteers playing various sound-making objects.
Overall, its a poetic collage of actions that provides a touching celebration of the endeavour to nurture loving relationships, laced through with a playful humour; perfect as an oasis in the midst of a hectic festival, and a genuinely different experience.
Brighton Fringe 2015
Guruguru is a highly watchable and extremely likeable idiot-clown providing a truly unusual experience. He is both hugely idiotic and just simply huge. The show begins with him calling from behind the curtain for a lost friend called Happiness, and when he emerges in his Uncle Fester / jester outfit there is a collective intake of breath in mild amazement at the dimensions of the man. Like a Frankenstein’s fool with gigantic hands, he makes frequent forays into the audience, dispensing an infectious benevolence and at times encircling several people at once within the bounds of his friendly hugs.
He has a strong accent (possibly Italian), and it was sometimes a struggle to hear every word past the music bleeding in from the bar next door, but the accent and the strange poetry of his musings adds to the absurd effect. He delivers absurdist, existential aphorisms like a happy imbecile accidentally spouting pearls of wisdom, and there is a sense that beneath the idiocy there is a very warm heart and keen philosophical mind. And yet there is no hint of a separation between person and the persona, so thoroughly does he appear to have found his clown.
As with the best of Fools, you’re never quite sure if you are laughing at him or with him, but laughing we all are at his heart-warming stupidity. It does become quite, quite mad, and whilst he was pulling the limbs off a doll, and making strange incantations above a copper cauldron, I briefly imagined he was about to kill and cook us all. But by the end of the show we are all sporting broad grins and it does indeed seem we have received some effective, if highly eccentric, instruction on the way to find Happiness.
Fairy Tale Theatre: 18 & Over
I was somewhat weary and wondered as I waited whether taking a punt on this late night American puppet cabaret was a decision I would quickly regret. One hour later I was invigorated and giddy with delight, having stumbled across a performance so far up my alley it actually made me wince.
'Fairy Tale Theatre: 18 and Over' is a collection of original fairy tales with morals and lessons for adults, such as The Tale of the Bipolar Bear and the Co-dependent Eskimo. It is created by J. Michael Feldman and Lindsey Bowden
Using hand puppets, camp costumes and a few colourful props, the cast of six deliver consistently hilarious and wonderfully realised woodland tales that satirise human flaws and foibles. They are led by a curly haired force-of-nature, who plays the part of the sardonic narrator and most of the central characters. Like a smug 60’s Disney TV host he begins his introductions sat on a trunk in a pitch-perfect kitsch sweater, and within 15 seconds I was pretty sure I was going to love this show.
Much of the comic power comes from the super smart script, which is full of wit and whimsy but also constructs the surreal tales into proper narrative arcs that lead to satisfying endings. They also provide some actually quite insightful observations on the nature of our frailties and pretensions – whilst being really terrifically funny. The cast do great justice to the text, setting about their task with manic exuberance through very funny character voices, and briskly inventive choreography.
The first tale features two squirrels struggling to negotiate a very modern relationship in a world without rules. Then there’s the tale of Frisky and the Fag Hag, a kind of ‘what to expect from the gay scene’ for straight women, featuring cats. In the next tale a self-absorbed fly longs to put on a solo show, much to the consternation of his woodland friends, and features the truism: “Self-promotion; if I don’t do it, no-one will!” The final tale is of the horse whose envy of the unicorn, led to a fateful trip the surgery of Dr Alpaca. This is a mad, bad, sad, and sick treatise on vanity and self-loathing whose comedic climax is ‘I-can’t-quite-believe-what’s happening’ funny, and leaves the audience in a delirious frothy mess (Apparently, Unicorns, having cloven hooves, are Kosher. I will say no more than that)
The company alternate between two shows with a different set of tales, and I for one will certainly be back for more of this fantastic stuff.