REVIEW: Blue Cow | The War on Food

By some quirky coincidence, we’ve found ourselves having a Two For Tuesday with two shows that have themes involving contamination in one way or another. Alice Mary Cooper’s Blue Cow at The Blue Room “explores what it means to be contaminated,” while The Cutting Room Floor’s War on Food features a plot line about produce being contaminated to control the market. Let’s take a closer look at both.

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Blue Cow | Alice Mary Cooper

After a very successful visit to Fringe World last year with her solo show Waves, Alice Mary Cooper returns with another solo show, Blue Cowthis time setting up shop in The Blue Room for the final week of the festival. She comes to us from Scotland, where she’s been creating work for the last couple of years, though we soon learn through the piece that she’s spent some time in Finland and France.

Cooper begins by placing blank sheets of paper in neat rows on the floor, while audio plays, telling us how she was contracted to proofread an environmental study about contamination in soil. Various facts and figures are projected on a screen behind her, and Cooper proceeds to make comments under her breath directed at us regarding the audio. This establishes a pattern that is carried on throughout the piece: Cooper does things tangentially related to the audio, text or video that runs in the background, occasionally pausing to comment. Then she breaks and delivers monologues directly to the audience.

Blue Cow is a very D.I.Y. affair. It feels a bit jumbled, like a first draft. It needs more time and work with a fresh set of eyes to come into focus. Cooper is trying her hardest to communicate a plethora of ideas and experiences, and they don’t always sit comfortably under the subject heading of her treatise. For instance, she tells an anecdote about ordering coffee in France, and although it’s a sweet and funny commentary on the expat experience, it doesn’t quite fit the bill.

She explains that because of where and when she was born in the UK, she is unable to donate blood because of the risk that she carries mad cow disease. She talks about sharing a name with that other Alice Cooper. She describes walking through a forest in France and feeling lost because she doesn’t know the names of the trees there. She addresses the audience in French to express her feeling of accomplishment at having gotten through her time in France.

She discusses the process of remediation and how it affects and divides communities. She presents video of trying to start a garden in late autumn in Finland, as the snows begin and the ground begins to harden. A lot of literal and figurative ground is covered, but Cooper struggles to connect these disparate elements into something cohesive and tangible for the audience to take away.

Cooper is passionate about creating theatre and art, that much is evident. Many will find her approach endearing and her wide-eyed earnestness refreshing. And she will no doubt continue to experiment, create and present shows across the world, and gather experiences far and wide that will inform her practice.

 

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The War on Food | The Cutting Room Floor

And at last we have the third Fringe World installment from The Cutting Room Floor: The War on Food, written and directed by TCRF co-founder Zoe Hollyoak. It’s performed at Paper Mountain, a space usually haunted by visual artists, but very well suited for one of TCRF’s tenets: doing theatre in found or re-purposed spaces. They have set up the stage space in a long, runway fashion down the middle of what is presumably normally used as a gallery.

The War on Food is a farce dreamed up by Hollyoak and Giuseppe Rotondella, who also performs in the show. It’s set in a kind of dystopian world where “Coleworths” has a monopoly on groceries and drives small farmers out of the market through nefarious practices. Also nefarious are its practices towards its employees and its customers, sending prices for kale, broccoli and the like unfathomably sky-high. One of their employees, Sage (Raj Joseph) is dismissed unfairly and plans retaliation with an independent farmer, Rosemary (Morgan Owen) and his most favorite fellow employee, Basil (Giuseppe Rotondella). They target the Boss, incarnated three times over by Chloe Evangelisti in 3 different colored wigs.

And boy are there wigs. At least a dozen, I’d say, are tossed around the whole show like so much salad. It falls just short of being a comedy about wigs, in fact. But really it’s the quickest way to do a character change, and we would be lost without them. In the liner notes, the company has written that this is “a story of an interventionist corporation told through a very silly medium of fruit and vegetables.” Very silly indeed.

Hollyoak has hand-picked a cast of WAAPA alums, and they’re all ripe and ready to go. The four actors are each confident and strong, and although they don’t seem to be comedians first and foremost, they do find lots of humour and will probably discover even more throughout the run. I’ve not seen Raj Joseph on stage before, and I’m wondering when I’ll see him next, because he hinted at some pretty strong dramatic chops, even in this little comedy. Chloe Evangelisti shows versatile vocal work using different accents and speaking styles, and Morgan Owen is a little spitfire. Rotondella as the fall guy takes comic risks that pay off and, like I said, he’ll probably find more.

The company also says they tried to get Perth’s own homegrown potato-peddling Tony Galati involved, but he’s got bigger spuds to fry. Nonetheless, this is a cute, light bite from TCRF, who should be proud of having managed three productions in a single season all across Perth. Bon appetit!

 

CICELY BINFORD

Blue Cow runs until 20 Feb. Visit the Blue Room website here for more information and tickets.

The War on Food runs until 20 Feb. Visit the Fringe World website here for more information and tickets.

 

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