It’s opening weekend of Fringe World and Summer Nights 2016, and we have a long road ahead. Summer Nights is host to 35 shows this year (and more if you count all the shows happening in the Grr Nights yurt), so Perth Arts Live is doing its best to bring you coverage of just about all of it.
First off the rank is Hobo, written and directed by emerging artist James Taylor, making his writing/directing debut. He’s off to a good start. There is some fine writing here, and I think with some further training, workshopping and dramaturgy, he will be able to distill the material down to its essentials. It’s a good idea to go into this knowing it’s a work-in-progress (well, isn’t all artwork just that to some degree?), and Taylor has the great fortune to be able to present Hobo again as part of NAIDOC week later in the year. I expect by that time we might see a few alterations to the piece being performed this weekend, but that’s not to say it’s not already in good shape. As a first effort, it avoids clumsiness and naivete to a good degree, and there are some really solid ideas brought to life with clear intention, though they may be interspersed with some muddiness.
Maitland Schnaars plays the central character, Tank, and he is our Touchstone. Tank is a homeless man who uses alcohol to ease the pain of his past failures as a father and husband. We don’t learn the depth of his pain and the extent of his troubles until the end, when all the pieces fall into place. He’s joined by James Hagen, a formidable scene partner if ever there was one. Hagen has one of the most distinctive voices you’ll ever hear, and probably have heard in plenty of ads, if you haven’t seen him on stage. He growls and grumbles and shouts, shaking his fist, lamenting his fate, and just generally being a force to reckon with. He plays Fred, another homeless man who comes to stay on Tank’s small plot of land, giving him hell all the time. A third person joins the story in the character of Fred’s son, Terry, played by first-time actor Chris Bell. He is noticeably overshadowed by Schnaars and Hagen (but many experienced actors would next to those two, let’s be honest), and was difficult to hear much of the time due to not projecting. He had some terribly poetic lines to deliver which unfortunately lost their impact due to the manner in which he was directed to deliver them.
Taylor includes an interesting sequence with pre-recorded dialogue during which the actors light their faces with cigarette lighters, which creates a nice effect, though it does go on a beat or two too long. The play has something of a false ending just before the final scenes, so that may need to be mitigated somewhat in order to make sure there’s an easier flow, but ultimately Taylor has a lot to be proud of in his first produced work. I look forward to seeing what it looks like again in July.
Next up is We May Have to Choose, by Emma Hall. This show is not part of Summer Nights, but it has seen a great deal of success and accolades at Adelaide and Melbourne Fringe. Hall’s one-woman “monologue of sorts” is unique, and certainly thought-provoking in a very good way. Hall makes 621 opinions in 45 minutes, often in quick succession, but sometimes with significant pauses after certain declarations. It’s an odd little work, in that we spend much of our time wondering just whose opinions and declarations these are – are they Hall’s? Her character’s? Her parents’? Her neighbour’s? The check-out girl’s? Her Facebook feed’s?
Some opinions seem to contradict each other philosophically, but most of the time, they seem to follow a general lefty tide; I hope I can be forgiven for using that term, as I am myself a lefty, and recognise my own views when I see them. Some declarations, opinions and observations are downright silly, or absurd, have no politic or agenda; some are surprisingly conservative, some are purposefully outrageous. If you can keep your brain engaged right to the end, you’ll be doing well, as Hall takes us through many twists and turns, so it’s important to follow along. She uses gesture, and lights herself in interesting ways, but most of the time she delivers everything straight to the audience, standing centre against a white paper backdrop. She never relents, and though I did long for some relief from the piece’s style around the 30-minute mark, I can definitely say that I felt like Hall led my mind on a darn good workout. Maybe she should set up a studio and give 45-minute mind-spin classes. It might do us all some good.