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e-dition may 24


the pleasures of meta-performance

caroline wake: imperial panda festival, sydney


Natalie Randall, Rhubarb Rhubarb, Some Film Museums I Have Known Natalie Randall, Rhubarb Rhubarb, Some Film Museums I Have Known
photo Lucy Parakhina
LIKE ALICE DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE, I HAVE TUMBLED DOWN THE STEPS OF GOODGOD DANCETERIA (ONE OF THE SMALL BARS NOW POPULATING SYDNEY SINCE THE CHANGE IN LICENSING LAWS) AND FOUND MYSELF IN AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE OR, RATHER, A KIND OF ‘META-VERSE.' YOU KNOW THE SORT—A WORLD WHERE THE BOOKS ARE ABOUT BOOKS, THE FILMS ABOUT FILM AND, IN THE CASE OF THE IMPERIAL PANDA FESTIVAL, THE PERFORMANCES ABOUT PERFORMANCE.

rhubarb rhubarb

Rhubarb Rhubarb’s Some Film Museums I Have Known is an extended riff on the relationship between technologies of magic (holograms, dioramas, toy trains, tiny cameras, live feeds, films etc) and the magic of storytelling (see a snippet on YouTube). It starts with a pitch for a film which is part adventure, part action, part fiction, part science fiction, part comedy, part tragedy, part romance and of course completely clichéd. Our heroine’s (Natalie Randall) obsession with film is such that not only is she pitching scripts but also a plan to establish a film museum at Barumpool. Hovering above her, and interjecting at will, are the holographic Lumiere brothers (Nick Coyle), who might be in her mind or an installation in the coming museum, but are probably both. The script (Eddie Sharp and Kenzie Larsen) risks collapsing under the weight of so many citations, but Will Mansfield’s imaginative set and Randall’s endearing performance ensure that it holds strong. There is much more to say about how screens and screen culture have changed stories and our ability to tell them, but by placing Some Film Museums I Have Known on stage (as opposed to say in an interactive installation), Rhubarb Rhubarb suggests that performance might be the most magical technology of all.

Gareth Davies and Charlie Garber, Masterclass Gareth Davies and Charlie Garber, Masterclass
photo Lucy Parakhina
gareth davies, charlie garber

Masterclass is a show about the elusive art of acting. Born to a mother who worked in the chorus of Les Miserables, Gareth (Gareth Davies) has spent his entire life on stage. In the absence of any actual part in the musical, he has invented the character Charlie Garber (Charlie Garber), who becomes so life-like, scene-stealing and all-consuming that eventually he/they is/are fired. This sends Gareth into something of a funk and the rest of the show is about Charlie’s efforts to cheer, cajole and encourage him back onto the stage. This involves flashbacks, montages, mimed games of basketball and trips to the “dream forge.” In other words, the show is less a masterclass in acting and more a surreal mapping of an actor’s subconscious. In this sense, Masterclass reminds me of Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich, especially since the subterranean disco at GoodGod could easily pass for floor seven-and-a-half. There are few things more fun than watching good actors do bad acting, and Masterclass is eccentric, charming and clever.

Zoe Coombs Marr, And That Was The Summer That Changed My Life Zoe Coombs Marr, And That Was The Summer That Changed My Life
photo Lucy Parakhina
zoe coombs marr

Zoe Coombs Marr’s solo show And That Was The Summer That Changed My Life (see also RT98) references a musical, West Side Story, via the flute solo she played in a medley at her high school band camp. Wearing goofy glasses and a purple, green and black nylon track top, Coombs Marr grips the sides of the lectern, breathes heavily into the microphone and starts her presentation with laborious definitions from the dictionary. From here, she segues into a more general reminiscence of her only-slightly-misspent youth, in which she taped Xena, hoped to become a lesbian, wondered about kissing, worried about flute playing and distracted herself from her worry by thinking about kissing again. Towards the end of the show, Coombs Marr confesses that she has since found out there is no flute solo in West Side Story; her febrile teenage mind simply magnified the importance of playing the regular flute line. Does it matter? Probably not, she concludes—such moments of grace are rare and can’t be recreated. Or can they? In relating her stories of lust, loss and dinosaurs, Coombs Marr creates a show that is both cringe-worthy and cool.

Claudia O'Doherty, What Is Soil Erosion? Claudia O'Doherty, What Is Soil Erosion?
photo Lucy Parakhina
claudia o'doherty

If Marr’s is a show about a show that never was, then Claudia O’Doherty’s What Is Soil Erosion? is about a show that cannot be—primarily because television producers refuse to commission her 26-part series on the basis that it is “formless.” The same cannot be said of her beige pants, however, which are as tight as her top is loose. Dressed as a dorky scientist, O’Doherty proceeds to plough her way through every single episode, combining corny presentational poses, crappy graphics and a series of ridiculous surveys. Interspersed among the facts about soil erosion (yes, really), are asides about her cold sores and accidental abortion as well as some free shopping vouchers. It’s occasionally too long, but with some judicious editing, this will be a tight, punchy comedy.

Dr Brown, Because Dr Brown, Because
photo Lucy Parakhina
dr brown

During O’Doherty’s show I share a joke with the man standing beside me, who turns out to be the comedian Dr Brown. His show Because is hard to describe, but “silent stand-up” or “post-clown” comes close. In the opening sections, he brings an audience member onto the stage, gets a second member to help hoist the first onto their shoulders and then asks the other spectators to cheer. This, of course, requires another round of applause, so a third spectator is brought onto the stage to lift the second etc. In another section, a baby doll cries so he wraps it in a nappy, spraying the audience in the process, and carries it upstairs—we see nothing but hear a stomp and an ominous silence. In the final scene, he strips down to a Starbucks apron, performs an elaborate dance that involves manipulating the apron strings with his buttocks, and then sits down, lifts up his apron and pours water on his groin, shouting accusingly, “What do you want from me?!” He stalks up the stairs, leaving the audience thinking this the funniest and weirdest thing they’ve seen in ages.

Miles O'Neil, Miles O'Neil's World Around Us Miles O'Neil, Miles O'Neil's World Around Us
photo Lucy Parakhina
miles o'neil

The same venue also hosts Miles O’Neil’s World Around Us. O’Neil manages to conjure several worlds: with some found Super 8 footage, which is projected onto a bed sheet, he evokes the 1970s; with stories of discovering pornography with his friends, he calls to mind the 1980s; and with stories he’s borrowed from a taxi driver and a homeless man, among others, he manages to evoke our contemporary world. In between these found images and stories, he also plays a few songs and the combination makes for a simple, subtle and unassuming show.

The Suitcase Royale, The Suitcase Royale's Test Flight#1 The Suitcase Royale, The Suitcase Royale's Test Flight#1
photo Lucy Parakhina
the suitcase royale

O’Neil also appears in The Suitcase Royale Test Flight#1, which is slightly less subtle, with its endless fart jokes and cross-dressing. Set in a town that is being attacked by zombats (zombie wombats), the show follows the travails of the last survivors as they pursue the creatures across the country, into caravan parks and eventually into a cave. It feels unfair to review something that is so obviously still in development, so suffice to say that Test Flight#1 is stylish (in the sense that it is recognisably Royale) but not especially substantial, and will need a few more sorties before it can soar.

Pig Island, Cab Sav Pig Island, Cab Sav
photo Lucy Parakhina
cab sav

The festival concludes with Cab Sav, a sort of contemporary performance variety night. Lara Thoms opens proceedings by standing centre-stage in a watermelon-coloured leotard; her arms flop and she occasionally bends at the waist. It’s not clear who or what she is until a motor starts and an inflatable man, of the kind you find in car yards and beer ads, bursts into life and across the stage. Matt Prest appears sans pants, which is all the more disturbing because he is wearing a very dorky, chunky knit cream sweater on top. Post (Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and a man who is standing in for the very pregnant Natalie Rose) presents an excerpt from their forthcoming show (Who’s the Best?) alongside a segment from an old one (the bounceathon from Shamelessly Glitzy Work, RT98).

Brown Council stand shame-faced as an audience member is summoned to read out a terrible review of their performance A Comedy—slightly amusing but somewhat disingenuous since the show has, for the most part, had a very favourable reception (see RT98, RT101, RT101).

Then the members of Pig Island (Nick Coyle, Charlie Garber and Claudia O’Doherty), who have appeared separately throughout the festival, reunite for a short skit in which they have to save Imperial Panda—one last show about a show. Finally, Panther contrives an exercise whereby we move our chairs, stand in pairs and shout “my darling, I love you” at each other. Then the music cuts in and we find that we have cleared ourselves a dance floor.

This final night serves as a microcosm for the festival as a whole, in the sense that it looks deceptively casual but is in fact carefully produced. Though there’s no explicit festival theme, the work presented at Imperial Panda nevertheless shares a sensibility—relentlessly intertextual and often intermedial, but just as often determinedly lo-fi and DIY. There is also a resolute refusal to appear too serious about or within the work, despite the fact that it takes serious ambition to produce each show and the festival as a whole. Beyond this, what stays with me is the event’s infectious sense of fun. Perhaps it’s about nothing more and nothing less than the pleasures of performance or, more accurately, meta-performance.


Rhubarb Rhubarb, Some Film Museums I Have Known, performers Natalie Randall, Nick Coyle, writers Eddie Sharp, Kenzie Larsen with Natalie Randall, Nick Coyle, set design, holograms Will Mansfield, director Eddie Sharp, Old Fitzroy Theatre, Feb 18-March 12; Masterclass, writer-performers Gareth Davies, Charlie Garber, GoodGod Danceteria, March 4-12; And That Was The Summer That Changed My Life, writer-performer Zoe Coombs Marr, Redfern Town Hall, March 11-13; What Is Soil Erosion?, writer-performer Claudia O’Doherty, GoodGod Danceteria, March 17-19; Dr Brown, Because, writer-performer Philip Burgers, March 18-19; Miles O’Neil’s World Around Us, writer-performer Miles O’Neil, Helen Rose Schausberger Labortorium, March 15; The Suitcase Royale, The Suitcase Royale Test Flight #1, writer-performers Joseph O'Farrell, Miles O'Neil, Glen Walton, Helen Rose Schausberger Laboratorium, March 17-19; Imperial Panda Festival, Sydney, March 4-20; www.theimperialpanda.com

RealTime issue #102 April-May 2011 pg. web

© Caroline Wake; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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