It’s night #2 of Fringe World/Summer Nights 2016, and we get along to two very different shows over at PICA: Being Dead (Don Quixote) from MKA and The Crossing from The Last Great Hunt.
Even though it’s only the first weekend, I’m predicting that this is likely to be one of the most divisive shows of the season. Deconstructivist, post-structuralist, feminist, transgressive, bizarre, confused/confusing, non-linear, provocative, brave, raw: these are the words that come to mind to describe this fascinating work by Melbourne artist Kerith Manderson-Galvin. My first challenge is describing just what went on during this hour that Manderson-Galvin graced the PICA stage, and I will fail miserably if I try to carve out some kind of timeline, narrative, or progression of moments. There’s just too much there to cover in one review, and to be quite honest, I’m sure there’s too much there to cover in a single show, let alone a single viewing of said show.
Manderson-Galvin has taken inspiration from Kathy Acker‘s version of Don Quixote, rather than from Cervantes, and from there, she cut-and-pastes bits from all corners of femininity and feminism, including material from Amanda Bynes’s Twitter feed. Manderson-Galvin pulls the rug out from us whenever she can, defying theatrical convention where possible, denying our expectations of comfortable consumerism, giving us only sketches when we are used to traditional portraits. Do not go into this looking for emotional theatre, though there are certainly subjects that can and will trigger an emotional response; this is intellectual theatre, and its impact is a slow smoulder, rather than a short, sharp, shock.
It feels as though we’ve been let inside Manderson-Galvin’s bedroom or dressing room, her private sanctuary where she acts out her fantasies, explores facets of herself as a young Australian female artist, and does her take on the perils and thrills of being such a creature. She grants herself freedom of expression, liberates herself from self-censorship, and nervously reveals her vulnerability. She puts on wigs, costumes, prances, pulls out a whip, sings lonely sad songs, uses voices; she’s glamorous and tatty, disheveled and graceful, scared and scary. The piece itself is both scattered and polished, yet somehow ultimately cohesive, though in a rather indescribable way.
Being Dead was a destabilising experience for the audience, and it took a while for patrons to turn to each other and begin murmuring their reactions. We needed a moment to process and come back to reality, whether we enjoyed being in Manderson-Galvin’s world or not. And the processing continues, two days later. We (I and other people who have also seen the show) are still questioning whether or not this was “good theatre,” whether it has “a point,” whether it “adds anything new to the discussion.” To my mind, there is no doubt that the answer to all three of those questions is a resounding YES.
Well, I suppose with this one, I can go back to my “normal” reviewing style, because with The Crossing, we return to “normal” theatre. There is a story, a linear narrative, a protagonist, an antagonist, a love interest, and a chorus; no rugs are pulled out from under us, it’s just good old fashioned storytelling.
Written by Finn O’Branagáin (co-creator of The Epic, also on this Fringe) and directed by Kathryn Osborne with music by Elliot Hughes, The Crossing is billed as a “sizzling suspenseful noir cabaret,” which encapsulates the piece quite nicely. It stars Taryn Ryan as Stella, a “corporate fixer,” Nick Maclaine as Cole the lovestruck barman, and Erin Jay Hutchinson as a couple of different key characters as well as the ‘chorus’ figure. Stella has been called upon by her imposing, extreme-80s-shoulder-pad-wearing boss (Erin Jay Hutchinson) to find out who’s leaking sensitive corporate information to the media. She unravels this mystery while interacting with the barman through plenty of innuendo, and her mentor/colleague Gail (also Erin Jay Hutchinson) through the stall walls of the ladies’. Stella is eventually backed into a moral corner, forced into a position that requires ruthless action. What will she choose? Will she get the guy? Will there be a happy ending?
The piece features musical numbers and sung-through dialogue, with accompaniment by Jackson Vickery on vibraphone and other percussion. Erin Jay Hutchinson also also provides comic relief as the clownish, half-drunken bar chanteuse, who comments on the action through sultry song sung into a mechanic’s work lamp that stands in for a mic. Maclaine plays 3 or 4 different corporate types in one interrogation scene, reinforcing the notion that you can always count on him to make clean work of any performance task you set him to. Ryan seems somewhat young for the character she’s playing, but she manages to gather enough steely reserve to pull it off – and in towering red stilettos at that.
I found the sung-through dialogue distracting and mostly unnecessary, as it lacked a sense of purpose both melodically and in utility, but aside from that, Osborne and company create a good story that ticks the right boxes. Perhaps it will sit on the more traditional end of TLGH’s spectrum of works, but it certainly sits well amongst it in terms of variety of form and quality of execution.
Both shows run at PICA in the Perth Cultural Centre, Northbridge. For tickets, session times and more information, visit The Blue Room website here.