Variety proves spicy at TILT 2021

23 September 2021

As always, David Zampatti relishes the opportunity to gain an insight into the minds and preoccupations of graduating performance makers from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.

‘TILT 2021: Program One and Two, WAAPA Performing Arts ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 9 and 22 September 2021 ·

One of the fascinations of the two annual “TILT” programs of short performances by the WAAPA Performance Making course’s graduating class at The Blue Room Theatre is the insight into what’s occupying the minds of these bright, energized and flexible young performers.

Is the angst-o-meter over in the red zone this year? Has whimsy overcome dystopia as a new spring has sprung? Is sharp metropolitanism or a return to things bucolic the way of their world right now?

There was no escaping the overarching mood of last year’s “TILT”, with only 14 audience members spread thinly around its performance spaces in the strictly COVID-safe confines of the Blue Room.

This year, with a full house back and Perth’s best little bar in operation, there was more psychological room for the students to play in, and the resulting variety of themes and techniques was as welcome as it was predictable.

Here, briefly, are this year’s TILTS:

100 Seconds to Midnight (Program One)
Devised and performed by Asteria Gao, Beth Wilkinson, Ray Teakle and William Gammel
Directed by Leah Sellwood and Nathan Calvert

More an installation than a performance, more PICA than Blue Room, three puppeteers play with torches and shadows behind a white scrim while a scratchy violin keeps the whole affair on edge. There’s considerable wit and skill in the resulting shenanigans, even if there’s not much of a takeaway from them.

TERF Wars (Program One)
Written by Tay Conway
Devised and performed by Josh Kolos, Lucia Merriweather, Phoebe Eames and Tay Conway
Directed by Lucy Wong

This talented team rip – literally – into JK Rowling (the Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist of the title) and other miscreants de jour. There’s much snazzy humour and sharp dialogue throughout, and plenty of the torn paper that seems to be the meme of choice this TILT.

Two young people sit on a sofa in the semi-dark. A hand appears over the sofa back. It looks. creepy.
Ben Sullivan and Lily Murrell in ‘After the Tone’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

After the Tone (Program One)
Written by Ray Teakle
Devised and performed by Ben Sullivan, Leah Sellwood and Lily Murrell
Directed by Josh Kolos

A sombre, stylish ghost story that may or may not have a real twist in the tale; doors bang, things levitate and it’s not entirely clear who is who, and, more particularly, who isn’t anyone anymore.

A Brutal Farewell (Program One)
Written and performed by Lindsay McDonald
Directed by Jefferson Nguyen

Lindsay McDonald has come up with a little tour de force disguised as a lecture on one of the most revered and despised schools of modern architecture. He’s a little like peak career David Byrne, awkward, brutally angular (of course) with a dead-pan expressiveness that’s genuinely funny and more than a little sad.

Wendy (Program Two)
Written by Jacob Sgouros
Performed and devised by Delaney Brooklyn Burke, Jacob Sgouros and Eliza Smith
Directed and designed by Lily Murrell

The elderly stickybeak Wendy is a beautifully constructed, lit and manipulated puppet, and her poking around neighbourhood mailboxes and spying on birthdays, weddings and babies – the memories of a life she once led herself – is sad and ultimately touching.

Archival (Program Two)
Written by Clea Purkis
Performed by Clea Purkis, Leah Smallwood and Nathan Calvert
Directed by Jefferson Nguyen

A tidy idea that somehow lacked a convincing way of exploring it, Archival is set in a mind-deadened future where washed-out people manipulate big screens while a soothing, sinister voice keeps a flicker of past times alive with an audio track of the sounds of parks that no longer exist.

Cupid (Program Two)
Written and performed by Ben Sullivan
Directed by Delaney Brooklyn Burke

Ben Sullivan makes a pretty good Eros. He’s got wings on his denim jacket, he’s pretty good with his bow and arrow, and he’s a very very, naughty boy god. And who doesn’t enjoy a bit of a traipse around Greek mythology? I sure do!

The Great Cosmic Conjunction (Program Two)
Devised and performed by Asteria Gao and Beth Wilkinson
Directed by Shae Leslie Wilkinson

Gao is Neptune the blue planet, and Wilkinson is Mars, the red one. We get to ask them questions on slips of paper they put in a jar but, unsurprisingly for extremely large round celestial objects, the can’t squeeze through the door to get at them.

The Great Cosmic Conjunction is a bit of fun, the very definition of a skit, amiably written and cutely performed, and if it didn’t change your world, at least it didn’t waste your time not doing it.

Everything Flickers (Program Two)
Written and directed by Eliza Smith
Performed and devised by Clea Purkis, Nathan Calvert and William Gammel

There’s some serious intent here, and a great deal of hard work (as well as a very great deal of torn paper – it was, perforce, the last piece of the night). Everything Flickers is about language, the words that form it and our understanding of ours and those of others’.

It’s a complex narrative and a complex production, impressively performed. Navigating through the Inuit peoples’ many compound words for snow might seem daunting in a piece of theatre, and it is, but Smith and her deviser/performers give us plenty to see, hear and think about as they do it.

There’s much to enjoy and admire about these shows, but I’m always alert to those that have the potential to evolve from 20/25 minute-long “skits” to the 55/60–minute shows that populate fringe festivals and alternative theatres like The Blue Room.

They’re not always the biggest, or boldest, but they have a quality of narrative and characterisation that has the potential to leap to that expanded platform. Here was one from this year’s TILT that has that potential:

Bao Thien (Program One)
Writer and performer Jefferson Nguyen
Directed by Phoebe Eames

Jefferson Nguyen’s rumination on being Vietnamese in Australia is calm, telling and imaginative. Unsure whether he’s dead or not dead (which may not be the same as being alive) he longs to float ten feet above the ground, all the time observed impassively by a white Buddha at the side.

And, finally, every once in a while, TILT throws up a ready-made gem, a piece that has all the qualities needed to succeed in an extended format and for a wider audience. Come on down…

Doghouse (Program Two)
Written by Lucy Wong
Performed and devised by Jacob Sgouros, Lindsay McDonald and Lucy Wong
Directed by Delaney Brooklyn Burke

A perfectly realised piece, the highlight of the “TILT” season and as good as anything I’ve seen on The Blue Room’s stages, Doghouse tells the story of a girl who’s twenty-fourth birthday has been forgotten, the housemate who forgot it, and the dog who lives with them and knows more words than “walkies” and “park”. It’s tender, yearning, screechingly funny and as true to itself and life as you can get.

There was a time, around a decade ago, when a cadre of young theatre makers produced a slew of terrific shows about being twenty-something in a place like Perth at The Blue Room. Many of them have gone on to make serious careers for themselves, and those shows – Jack and Jill, The Pride, Scent Tales, Adam and Eve, House of Fun – sometimes straight down the line, sometimes fantastical – set up a golden period for our independent theatre.

Writers like Lucy Wong and performers like McDonald (see A Brutal Farewell) and Sgouros (he was the dog) have got the vision and chops to do stuff like that.

Can’t wait.

“Tilt: Program Two” continues at The Blue Room Theatre until 25 September 2021.

Pictured top is Lindsay McDonald in ‘A Brutal Farwell’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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