Photo: Floyd Perrin
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Dark humour for dark times

Humphrey Bower, The Apparatus ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 15 August ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

The Apparatus brings the stories of Franz Kafka to the stage and makes them viscerally real and inescapably present.

An evening in three parts, the stories – “Before the Law”, “The Burrow” and “In the Penal Colony” – are performed by writer/director Humphrey Bower and operator/assistant director Timothy Green. With a healthy dose of dark humour and wit, and a keen critical eye upon the tales Australians like to tell about their national identity, Bower’s reinterpretation of Kafka’s short stories fiercely interrogates and examines the solipsism of a nation, the anxieties of masculinity and the dichotomies of self and other.

Without going into too much detail about the narratives of the stories themselves, each one typifies the bureaucratic, surreal, darkly comic wit of Kafka’s writing, which reflects the historical context in which they were written. In this retelling, however, these fables appear as very contemporary, relevant and deeply disturbing in their truth-telling.

The set and costume design are quite bare and prison-like, as though deliberately trying to make the audience uncomfortable. Light is followed by darkness, broken only by the achingly bright gesticulating of a head torch strapped to Bower’s forehead as his character revels in the power of creating one’s own underground fortress, away from the rest of the world. This is followed by the seemingly harmless image of a garden chair hanging over the performers’ heads, which is then menacingly flipped over as a stand-in for machinery that produces unspeakable pain, the apparatus of the show’s title.

Bower and Green play beautifully off one another. Bower’s  narrating characters vary between villainous larrikin, anxiety-ridden burrower, and refuge-seeking villager, whilst Green’s supporting performance is perfectly shadowy, his face and movements continuously and subtly reacting to the situations unfolding before him.

In the third story, Green’s character is forced to take a central, active role in a horrifying situation (portrayed with devastatingly accurate good old Aussie humour). It’s a unifying moment that brings to light the decisions we make every day to gloss over, partake in, or bear witness to the physical and mental torture that our government commits every day in the name of our safety and security. This is echoed in the jarring, then uncomfortably self-conscious laughter of some audience members during the performance, a symbol of discomfort and levity in the face of benign evil.

The Apparatus runs until August 31.

Pictured top are Humphrey Bower and Timothy Green in “The Apparatus”.

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Children, News, Reviews, Theatre

Disco Dahl reworks fairytales

Review: shake and stir theatre company, Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts ⋅
Heath Ledger Theatre, August 14 
Review: Rosalind Appleby 

“I guess you think you know this story…” A head peers at us through a trap door: “You don’t!”

It’s an unsettling start to the show and provokes loud reactions from the audience of primary school children. But shake and stir theatre know their stuff and the four cast members move from this into a dance party routine with lights flashing and disco music pumping.

Just like that the audience is prepped for a fast-paced, brain exploding hour of Roald Dahl’s disreputable fairy tales.

It is the Brisbane-based theatre group’s third visit to Perth (you might remember George’s Marvellous Medicine from 2018) and this time they bring Dahl’s book Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts to life. Dahl’s rhyming couplets are gleefully narrated by the four cast members (Leon Cain, Judy Hainsworth, Nelle Lee & Nick Skubij) who swap roles and costumes mid-breath. As they pop through the hidden windows, doors and trapdoors in designer Josh McIntosh’s circular wooden stage floor it feels like a cast of thousands.

Jason Glenwright’s lighting magically transforms each scene and cheeky visual gags match Dahl’s shock jock narrative, like the rag doll heads for the decapitation of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters. Our favourite prop was the large sheet of fabric that appeared multiple times as a pond, a snail and a ballgown.

A sheet of fabric becomes a snail in Revolting Rhymes. Photo supplied.

Gender stereotypes get a good working over; a gutsy Little Red Riding Hood shoots the wolf herself with a pistol and wears his fur as a fashion statement. There are bucket loads (literally) of vomit, snot, blood, farts and even fireworks.

Who knew poetry could be so much fun?

Director Ross Balbuziete has created a show that elicits both rapt attention and uproarious laughter. Guy Webster’s sound design is key, not just the disco sound track but the perfectly timed sound effects that underpin every gag.

Along the way we learn helpful (?) moral lessons like “Always look before you sit” (The Porcupine), “A bath I guess does seem to pay, I’m going to have one every day” (Jack and the Beanstalk), and “Never trust a girl from the upper crust” (Little Red Riding Hood after saving one of the Three Little Pigs with her pistol and then… well we won’t give the end away but it involves more fashion accessories).

Of course there’s so much more to discuss – are fairy tales meant to be that gruesome? (Traditionally, yes!) What is the purpose of a fairy tale? How far can we change a story before it loses its meaning?

According to my kids (aged 6 and 8) everyone should see the show because it is all about bad, silly, stupid, funny, mean and interesting things. Just be careful of the prince who chops off heads.

Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts continues until August 16.

Pictured top: Judy Hainsworth and Nelle Lee in the Snow White scene. Photo supplied.

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Laura Boynes. Photo: Emma Fishwick
Dance, Features, News, Performing arts

An everyday super (s)hero

“Imagine if feminism was a super hero.”

That’s what local dance artist Laura Boynes is asking of audiences this month, when she presents and performs Wonder Woman, a double bill of solo dance works.

It’s the recent groundswell of support for women’s rights – in the form of international and national women’s marches, as well as the #metoo and Time’s Up campaigns – that initially moved Boynes to commission NSW-based choreographers Adelina Larsson and Julie-Anne Long to create the solos.

In this Q&A with Nina Levy, Laura spills the beans about making Wonder Woman.

‘What does an everyday superhero looks like?’ asks Laura Boynes. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Nina Levy: Why did you choose to name your show for Wonder Woman?
Laura Boynes: Wonder Woman seemed like a fitting title as one of the first provocations I commissioned the choreographers with was “imagine if feminism was a superhero” and whether people believe Wonder Woman is a feminist icon or failure she remains a feminist symbol 75 years after her creation. Whilst I am not portraying Wonder Woman the character, the work speaks to the idea that potentially there is a “Shero” within all women. What does an everyday superhero look like?

NL: There’s no questioning the timeliness and relevance of this work… but what inspired you to commission the two solos that comprise Wonder Woman?
LB: Firstly, I attended a symposium in 2016 Fremantle titled “we are not dead yet” which spoke about gender and age dynamics within contemporary arts practice and in particular invisibility of the older female artist. It was an incredibly inspiring lecture series and sparked a passion in me to respond to some of these themes by creating a new work. Secondly, a personal need to push my own practice as a performer by working with two artists I hadn’t previously worked with in a new format and the urge to take on the challenge of a full length solo work.

NL: Originally you were motivated by campaigns such as #metoo and Time’s Up. How has Wonder Woman evolved from this starting point?
LB: There is no doubt that #metoo and Time’s Up were the catalyst for Wonder Woman. While the issues are still relevant, a few years have passed since these political movements. The works we have ended up creating don’t deal directly with these events and thankfully I don’t have a personal #metoo story to uncover, however there is an undertone in what has become a semi-autobiographical and empowering work.

Laura Boynes. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
‘Movement can say a multitude of things that words cannot.’ – Laura Boynes at Dance Massive’s Open Studio. Photo: Ausdance Vic.

NL: The choreographers you commissioned to create the solos are Adelina Larsson and Julie-Anne Long. What drew you to those two dance artists?
LB: I chose these women for their individuality, and the choreographic aesthetic and thematic similarities in their prior bodies of work.

I had worked with Adelina in the past but never in this capacity. I had always been interested in her choreographic practice based, which is based heavily in improvisation, and also her commitment to larger social/political causes like BighART, where she works as a choreographer.

I met Julie-Anne in 2008 in a dance film lab and have been following her work every since. Julie-Anne has an extensive body of work spanning over many years. Part social/political commentary and part autobiographical, her work is clever, humorous and always has something to say. It was learning about her 2007 work The Invisibility Project that really led me to approach her for this project, along with a desire for cross-generational exchange.

NL: What does dance/dance theatre provide, in terms of being able to explore issues relating to women’s rights and feminism, that other art-forms don’t?
LB: I believe movement can say a multitude of things that words cannot, which is why I love this art form. Contemporary dance allows a viewer time and space to think and project their own thoughts onto what they are watching. Each audience member has a uniquely different experience of a dance work and that is why it is such a subjective form.

NL: What do you hope people will take away from Wonder Woman?
LB: My desire is for the audience to take away a sense of empowerment from Wonder Woman regardless of their gender. I want us to celebrate our strengths and flaws as humans and to feel a sense of community in knowing that others share the same experiences.

 Wonder Woman plays the State Theatre Centre of WA, August 28-31.

Laura Boynes eating a loaf of bread.
Laura Boynes. Photo: Matt Cornell.

Laura Boynes is an independent dance artist based in Perth. For the last 11 years, Laura has worked professionally as a performer, and has been creating her own work for about 7 years. Her work to date explores social, political and environmental concepts for theatre, gallery and site-specific spaces. She uses performance as a tool to inspire critical thought and reflection on the contemporary world.

As a dancer Laura has worked nationally and internationally in dance, theatre, experimental music, site-specific and opera works. What she enjoys most is taking on a performance challenge and collaborating with a choreographer to realise their vision.

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BSSTC's production of Medea - by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks, original concept by Anne-Louise Sarks after Euripides; at Studio Underground, State Theatre of WA; Perth, WA. Photographed on 8th August 2019, by Philip Gostelow.
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

The power of the ordinary

Review: Black Swan State Theatre Co. with WA Youth Theatre Co., Medea ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 10 August ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

They have been so long dead. Two thousand, four hundred and fifty years in fact.

Like the princes in the tower or the infant victims of Macbeth’s fell swoop, the sons of Jason and Medea died mute and unknown, their individual humanity unexplored and undefended.

Since then, Medea – sorceress, she-devil, spirit of vengeance, woman scorned, arch-nihilist and exterminating angel – has been reimagined and recast a thousand times, from antiquity through to Fay Weldon, her character and motivation examined, and claimed, by feminists and misogynists alike.

She has become an elemental figure in art and life.

So it’s an audacious and fecund idea to invert the focus of Medea; to bring her boys to life in their last innocent hour so that their mother’s crime against abstract nature is against real, identifiable people, however young.

In the original, Medea is in every scene, always with only one other character. The boys are never seen, and only their screams are heard as they are slaughtered. In this adaptation the boys are always on stage, and Medea is the only other character we see.

It’s risky. It’s not like, say, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, where we have the framework of the characters available to us, where we have heard them speak, seen the whites of their eyes, before.

We know nothing about these boys, and the writers, Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks, have created them from absolutely nothing other than the fact of their death; we know how they died, but we can’t be certain why.

It’s hardly through any fault of their own. Leon (Jesse Vakatini) and his younger brother Jasper (Jalen Hewitt) are just kids, locked in the toy-splattered room they share. Mum and dad are having a grown up talk: “About love”, says Leon. “That could take an hour”, replies Jasper, exasperated.

What their parents are talking about – although we never hear them – is his plan to marry Glauce, the daughter of King Creon, while keeping Medea as his mistress.

It’s not going to wash with Medea. She’s in the boys’ room, full of bad tempered mothering: “This room’s a pigsty – clean it up”.

The boys get to work, and so does she. She’s back, with a beautifully wrapped gift she wants to give Glauce. They are fond of their dad’s “friend”, and happily write a sweet card to go with the deadly present.

And then Medea is back again. This time with a blue cordial for her sweet boys.

Medea_prodpix__LR Alexandria Steffensen. Jalen Hewitt and Jesse Vakatini. image credit Philip Gostelow 10
What replaces the awful power of the original is the universal story of children becoming the victims of their parent’s conflicts and passions. Alexandria Steffensen (Medea) Jalen Hewitt (Jasper) and Jesse Vakatini (Leon). Photo: Philip Gostelow.

There’s little concession to the conventions of Greek tragedy in the writing or in Sally Richardson’s direction; there’s no prologue or chorus, and its brutal and effective catharsis – a sudden glimpse through the gates of Medea’s hell – lasts an instant and is gone.

What replaces the awful power of the original is the universal story of children becoming the victims of their parent’s conflicts and passions; we’ve seen it in countless other ordinary places; we will see it again.

The great strength of this Medea is that ordinariness; the boys play with toy guns and swords, they tease and wrestle, they snuggle up under a doona to watch the stars. Medea bustles about in jeans and shifts; she’s a harassed suburban mother with a lot to deal with, and a lot on her mind.

We know them very well. Which makes their fates even more plangent.

Vakatini and Hewitt give winning performances (they alternate with Jack Molloy and Lachlan Ives; the four were cast after an exhaustive process by WA Youth Theatre Compny, who collaborated with Black Swan for this production) and Alexandria Steffensen is convincing as their mother, even if denied the towering power of the classical Medea.

Which is, perhaps, the dilemma for the audience in this production. If you expect the mighty heights of Greek tragedy and the emotional release it engenders, this prosaic Medea may leave you perplexed and disengaged.

There is something in it, though, that reaches out in a more direct, human way. It is no great monument in a temple on the hill; it’s a couple of little wooden crosses with wilted flowers on a verge outside an everyday suburban house.

Not as powerful, perhaps, but more sad.

Medea plays until August 25.

Read a Q&A with director Sally Richardson here.

Pictured top are Jesse Vakatini as Leon and Jalen Hewitt as Jasper. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

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News, Reviews, Visual arts

Portraits of place and ‘progress’

Review: Tami Xiang, Esther McDowell/Yabini Kickett, Tom Freeman, Lisa Liebetrau, ‘August exhibitions’ ·
Cool Change Contemporary ·
Review by Stephen Bevis ·

The Bon Marché Arcade Building on Barrack Street was once one of the grandest spots in Perth. Built in 1895 by a former convict who made good as a bookseller, its fortunes have reflected the dramatic shifts in commercial, retail and social behaviour over the decades.

In its heyday, it was a popular link from Barrack Street to the now defunct Bon Marché drapery and department store, which ran between Hay and Murray Streets before being sold off to David Jones in 1954 and eventually demolished. Now Bon Marché is an arcade to nowhere. Many of its rooms are empty, although a few small businesses keep its spirit alive. So too does the artist-run initiative Cool Change Contemporary, which is celebrating one year of revitalising this often overlooked premises with its rolling program of residencies, exhibitions, workshops and events.

Bon Marché’s colourful and varied history is a rich well for Cool Change artist-in-residence Lisa Liebetrau to draw from in her site-responsive works and archival ephemera that evoke the stories, memories and characters that inhabit the once-bustling mercantile rooms. Liebetrau reflects on the building’s life cycle from grand openings to bargain-bin discounts, decline and possible renewal led by the artists who now inhabit this space. The Bon Marché story is just one of many in Perth as economic disruption pock-marks the city’s face with empty retail tenancies.

As Liebetrau’s catalogue notes say, “the transitory nature of artist-run initiatives cultivates the opportunity for marginal spaces and neglected buildings to breathe new life into them and allow their past to gain new visibility”.

Occupying the main space at Cool Change, Tami Xiang also considers the impact of shifting currents of economic and social fortunes in her show “Peasantography Lucky 88”. This is the latest in the Chinese-Australian artist’s “Peasantography” series on the disruptive effects of the Chinese economic “miracle” and the Hukou household classification system assigning people rural or urban roles. Many millions have been lifted from poverty in China but this has involved an exodus of working-age people from rural regions to the cities under the Hukou system. The result has been a hollowing out of villages and towns across the Chinese countryside, with children left with grandparents while the parents take up work in the industrial cities.

Last year, Xiang’s “Peasantography Family Portrait” show at UWA’s Cullity Gallery focused on the Chinese families split along generational lines. It was a powerful, dystopian collection of images of “absent” urban parents paired with photographs of their children nestling in the arms of elderly carers.

With “Peasantography Lucky 88”, Xiang has zoomed in on the aging rural poor. Unable to work, their pensions are linked to the ubiquitous two-tier Hukou classification which applies a rural welfare payment of 88 yuan ($18), a rate which until recently was much less than that received by their counterparts in the city.

Xiang has photographed a series of retired peasant farmers against a red studio background with the meagre objects they have purchased with 88 yuan. The number is considered lucky in Chinese numerology and, despite their privations, many of Xiang’s subjects consider themselves fortunate to get a pension at all, having endured the worst extremes of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. There is a poignant nobility about these images, as Xiang’s dislocated subjects stand in dirty footwear on pristine red studio sheets and stare impassively at the viewer while clutching their purchased goods.

Displacement and the significance of objects imbued with meaning also feature in “Kala Koorliny – Going Home” by Esther McDowell/Yabini Kickett. The Balladong Noongar artist has created a series of textiles, hanging installations and works on paper using natural materials collected while moving through country.

Abstract
Esther McDowell/Yabini Kickett, 2019. Dyed linen with Marri leaves and rust. Image courtesy of the artist.

McDowell has incorporated marri leaves, feathers, gum nuts and even a small animal skull in her work, which includes three Moort Boodja dresses created and worn as a salve to homesickness in her own land. This wearable art enables the artist to carry her country with her to offset the on-going disruption to Noongar country. Kata Lines, a series of four drawings on paper using eucalyptus dyes, pastel and ink, represent her family’s passage through the Darling Scarp (Kata Mordo) in flowing compositions of place and knowledge.

Sitting comfortably in a building oozing with history and memory is Tom Freeman’s “Brick”, a playful, layered tribute to the metamorphic qualities of the material which built this city. Freeman incorporates stray bricks retrieved from around Perth and reimagines their qualities, both in form and function.

Referencing the malleable properties of source clay, Freeman introduces sensuous ceramic extrusions, glazes and plastics to create characters and stories for these inanimate building blocks. He experiments in scale and context to dream of alternate states and purposes for these humble, utilitarian objects.

Tom Freeman’s Four Loops, found brick, stonewear clay, glazes. Picture by Bo Wong.

These four exhibition are all highly rewarding in their own right but the connections between them strongly speak of the relationship between “progress” and its impact on the places we inhabit and the people we connect with.

Walking back down the narrow stairs from the ARI into the arcade and streetscape below, and beginning to reflect on the exhibitions above, I found myself reaching out to touch the textured brickwork and thinking, “If only these walls could talk”. In a way, they have – thanks to the artists of Cool Change.

These exhibitions run at Cool Change Contemporary, upstairs in the Bon Marché Arcade Building, 74-84 Barrack Street.

Picture above: Tami Xiang’s “Peasantography: Lucky 88” at Cool Change Contemporary.

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Features, Music, News

It’s time to listen

Becoming a composer often requires a long apprenticeship, but composer Lachlan Skipworth’s career is hitting full stride. The winner of the 2016 Paul Lowin Prize has released his debut album and it features a stellar line up of local and international musicians performing his chamber music. He chats with Rosalind Appleby about the endless chase for the perfect listening experience.

Rosalind Appleby: You’ve learned both clarinet and shakuhachi and studied with composers ranging from English modernist Roger Smalley to the Asian-influenced Australian Ann Boyd and avant-garde German Jörg Widmann. As a composer that is a vast range of experiences to draw on, yet you fuse them together to create such an original and beautiful voice. What is your secret??

Lachlan Skipworth: I suspect the “secret” is listening. I thirst for music that moves me physically and emotionally, as I believe music’s role is to strengthen us, to uplift us. Look at how profoundly it impacts infants, children and the elderly. And for me, endlessly chasing a “perfect” listening experience built a strong sense of my own personal aesthetic preference. So the constant challenge of creating music that lives up to this vision is what drives my artistic journey. Clarinet and shakuhachi skew my voice towards a certain purity and subtle nuance, and memorising shakuhachi honkyoku in particular left an lasting impression on my musical instincts. My composition teachers all played an important part in developing my musical thinking at key stages of my career. But the central factor is how deeply I love listening to both live and recorded music.

Composer, clarinettist and shakuhachi student Lachlan Skipworth. Photo supplied.

RA: Your repertoire includes orchestra, chamber and vocal music. Why did you choose to focus on chamber music pieces for your debut album?

LS: Of course a little pragmatism- it’s much easier to assemble chamber groups than an orchestra. But playing in a wind quintet in high school introduced me to the joy of making chamber music, and the love has never gone away. Chamber music can be equally as powerful as the symphonic repertoire, but reaches for something even more through the intimacy of its spell-binding musical communication. On my album the Piano Trio reflects this, a live recording that absolutely sparkles with the personality and virtuosity of the performers as they navigate some fiendishly difficult writing. It really does mean a lot to me to have assembled these five pieces on an album, it is a big personal milestone. And I do hope a subsequent orchestral release is not too far down the track!

RA: The shakuhachi honkyoku aesthetic permeates every work, with the use of silence as a colour, the floating absence of predictable rhythms, detailed inflections of tone and pitch. However the instrument itself doesn’t appear on the album. Is there a reason for this?

LS: These pieces represent a challenge to myself to express the honkyoku aesthetics in a medium completely removed from shakuhachi. Its haunting sound holds so many connotations that it ties me to a particular musical palette which I outgrew many years ago. So in these works I’m asking musicians with no knowledge of honkyoku to engage with its various musical elements, perhaps unknowingly. And this to some extent meets my obligation to transmit my shakuhachi learning in gratitude to my teachers for teaching me.

RA: Can you describe the Psalterphone, the instrument you invented, and why you wanted this particular sound in The Night Sky Fall.

LS: In the original version of this piece, a re-tuned cello playing stratospheric natural harmonics was the third instrument (after clarinet and piano). I’ve been told it is close to impossible to play. And when I started conversations with Louise Devenish about forming Intercurrent, we discussed playing this work with percussion taking on the cello’s role somehow. After many trips to the Perth New Music Supply Store (Bunnings), I settled upon a design that combines the layout of a psaltery (an ancient Greek string instrument) with the sound of a bowed vibraphone. The sustained sound helps the perfectly tuned intervals of the harmonic series linger and shimmer in the air. Louise has honed the playing technique to make it sound fantastic.

RA: You have a stunning list of performers contributing to the album, including the ensemble Intercurrent you founded, and your wife Akiko Miyazawa playing violin. How important is it for a composer to either form or find ensembles willing to take on the challenge of a new piece?

LS: Very important, but I’d flip the responsibility around- composers simply must make sure their notes challenge and excite the best performers. If the music is too easy performers won’t practice, and if too hard they won’t achieve the satisfaction of feeling like they played well. I’m really happy that my collaborations with Ashley Smith are heavily featured on this album. He was the star of my Clarinet Concerto some years back [Ed: which won the 2015 Art Music Award for Performance of the Year and the 2016 Paul Lowin Orchestral Prize.], and this experience undoubtedly informed how I composed the Clarinet Quintet to frame the astoundingly beautiful tone he makes. Our musical relationship is a dream, and I hope to write many more works for him in the years ahead.

Lachlan Skipworth album cover. Cover photo Andrew Davoll

RA: What do you hope listeners will experience when they get their hands on this album?

LS: I hope that listeners can be drawn in to experience the “inside” of each work. These high-quality snapshots of the music were facilitated by the recording engineer Lee Buddle, who makes it truly possible to feel like you’re in the room sharing an intimate performance with the musicians. But most of all I hope that the music itself leads the listener upon a personal and somehow uplifting journey.

Skipworth’s self titled debut album is available on the Navona label from August 9. Catalog #: NV6241.

Pictured top: Composer, clarinettist and shakuhachi student Lachlan Skipworth. Photo Nik Babic.

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Vivienne Awosoga, David Whitney and Will McDonald in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (c) Clare Hawley
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Much Ado woos the room

Review: Bell Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 7 August ·
Review by Jan Hallam ·

What a funny night it was. First, there was the sad news that cast member Suzanne Pereira had fallen ill and was in hospital. Then followed the announcement that director James Evans would step into the breach as Antonio.

Two roles, one director’s script, highlighted and annotated to the inch of its life, and, fortuitously, a sharp opening night suit and tie. Designer Pip Runciman could not have ordered better for her clever, compact touring unit.

Did the turn of events have any effect on the safe delivery of Shakespeare’s sharp, dark comedy?

Perhaps the rhythm of the first scene or two felt unsettled and unpredictable with players looking cautiously to their somewhat sweaty boss, ready to counter any signs of faltering. But Bell doesn’t hire hey nonny no ninnies, so the play about love overcoming evil played inexorably on to a room falling madly in love with this performance, and, be still my heart, Shakespeare.

David Whitney, Duncan Ragg and Will McDonald in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (c) Clare Hawley
David Whitney (Leonato), Duncan Ragg (Benedick) and Will McDonald (Claudio).  Photo: Clare Hawley.

Evans, in his day job, has presented a thought-provoking production of a play that sends a shaft of horror down this reviewer’s spine. It is a complex discussion on what was true 420 years ago (its first outing was in 1599) and is, horrifically, true today – some men (meaning many men in this patriarchy of ours) view with suspicion and defensiveness women who are cleverer than them, and with ownership – lustful or otherwise – whenever the mood takes them. Somewhere in between there’s patronising dismissiveness.

These discourses are played out by the raking down of Hero, a young, vibrant heiress who is wooed by a Duke on behalf of one of his young officers, then consequently gifted to Claudio by an apparently doting father.

You see the problem immediately. On this occasion, Hero is pretty smitten with the idea of hitching up to Claudio. What else is she to do with her life?

Duncan Ragg and Zindzi Okenyo in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (c) Clare Hawley
Think Bogey and Bacall: Duncan Ragg as Benedick and Zindzi Okenyo as Beatrice. Photo: Clare Hawley

Then there’s the sparring, prickling, mouthy love developing between Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Shakespeare’s version of a muted but still untamed shrew) and Benedick, the Duke’s go-to-guy for good times.

Here is the model of true love, for what it’s worth. Witness Bea (a fiery Zindzi Okenyo) and Ben (a jestering Duncan Ragg) and you see how ideal coupledom will be represented in literature and theatre (and subsequently other mediums) down the ages, think Bogey and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracey.

The play gives space for these two couplings to circle and swirl, mirror and pervert, question and confirm the combative nature of relationships we have had to endure for centuries.

Enter Don John, the resident evil. A sulking, skulking bastard brother to the Duke, who hates all this laughing and goo-ing and wooing highlighting his miserable non-state, so he plots to destroy Hero’s reputation for no other reason than he can.

The tragic outrage of this single act of evil is that the other men in this play enable him to succeed. He is believed and Hero is not. He’s a man, she is so very obviously not.

This is where the Evans’ production steps out of a traditional rendering of Hero as the helpless, swooning victim.

Vivienne Awosoga’s Hero is mad, boiling mad. She does not accept her fate as fallen woman without first serving it up to her morally frail lover and her father who has turned so easily from doting to damning.

From this distance, it may be at the expense of Beatrice’s primacy as exemplar of the warrior woman. Her injunction to Benedick to avenge the wrong inflicted on her cousin falls flat. Her fabulous line, that if she were a man, she would eat Claudio’s heart in the marketplace, seems a little empty given her cousin skinned him alive in the previous scene.

Marissa Bennett and Mandy Bishop in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (c) Clare Hawley
Mandy Bishop is exquisitely unstable as Dogberry. She is pictured here with Marissa Bennett (Verges). Photo: Clare Hawley.

Where the anger leaves off, there’s the comedy and this production exploits it to the last giggle. Special mention must be made of Mandy Bishop’s exquisitely unstable constable, Dogberry, worth the entrance price alone. Ragg is a stand-up natural, and his Benedick woos the audience at times with more enthusiasm than the girlfriend. He probably needs to watch that. It might not end well for him.

These are merely ruminations. This production is such a lot of fun and the opening night audience was transported to a happy place, reviewer included. That’s until you turn out the light and remember the horror you have just paid witness to – and to which we are all complicit.

Perfect Shakespeare.

Bell Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until August 10.

Pictured top: Vivienne Awosoga as Hero, David Whitney as Leonato and Will McDonald as Claudio. Photo: Clare Hawley.

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Christopher Pease, Kartwarra, 2019, oil and Balga resin on canvas, 36th Telstra NATSIAA. Courtesy of the artist and Gallerysmith.  
Features, News, Visual arts

Recovering a stolen past

As a son of a member of the Stolen Generation, Dunsborough-based artist Christopher Pease didn’t know much about his Aboriginal heritage when he was a child.

Now he has created a series of works that explore Aboriginal identity and culture, one of which has been selected as a finalist in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Awards. Jaimi Wright spoke to Christopher Pease to find out more.

Christopher Pease

In testament to his name, Christopher Pease exudes an easy kind of warmth. As he describes his striking artwork Kartwarra (2019, pictured top), he admits that entering a work in the 2019 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) had not initially crossed his mind. Now the Dunsborough artist is a finalist in the prestigious competition, with Kartwarra, a poignant work that is a complex study of contemporary Aboriginal identity and heritage.

Kartwarra is not intended to be a comfortable viewing experience. The work is part of the larger, four year long, six work series “Minang Boodjar”, the premise of which is taken from a series of colonial sketches of King George’s Sound by English Lieutenant Robert Dale in the 1830s. Overlaid on Pease’s interpretation of Dale’s work are three ominous geometric shapes; a grim reminder of Dale’s connection to King George’s Sound and local Indigenous heritage. The shapes are based on a print of the head of Nyoongar leader Yagan, taken back to England by Dale to serve as a local curiosity. There is a tension in the macabre juxtaposition of Dale’s print and Pease’s contemporary deconstruction of Yagan’s head. It is these tensions and juxtapositions that speak of Pease’s experience of identity.

A combination of English, French and Minang/Nyoongar descent, Pease had no active relationship with his Aboriginal cultural heritage growing up. “I knew that I was Aboriginal, but I didn’t know my family ties or traditional language,” he remembers. “It wasn’t until maybe year nine or ten that I started [to be curious about it].”

Police forcibly took Pease’s mother away from her family at an early age and she was raised in the infamous Sister Kate’s boarding school, established in Perth. A member of the Stolen Generation, she didn’t reunite with her family until her late thirties, when Pease was in high school. This separation created a cultural disconnect, one that Pease bridged visually in the process of creating “Minang Boodjar” years later.

“What started it all was, I guess, back in 1999; I was trying to find a visual iconography that has very old roots,” he explains. “I wanted to revive the Nyoongar visual iconography.”

What ensued was a search through museums and photographs searching for Nyoongar iconography. This trail led Pease to a series of photographs by controversial nineteenth-century Irish anthropologist Daisy Bates and, eventually, to Robert Dale’s print of King George’s Sound.

“There’s always questions as to the accuracy and how much propaganda is in the old artwork,” he reflects. “I think it’s a mixture of a lot of things. There are a lot of truths in it, but also a lot of propaganda in the old prints.”

Kartwarra questions the accuracy of this mixture, but is not overly didactic in doing so. Though the work addresses heavy subject matter, its abstract elements posit themes rather than direct ideas. At its core, Kartwarra is an exploration of connections; between objects and history, between cultural interpretations, between a man and his heritage.

Although Pease laughs to himself as he admits he only entered NATSIAA after a request from a friend, he says he is grateful to be one of the 68 artists to be finalists in Australia’s longest running and most prestigious Indigenous art award. “The standard is very high, I’m glad to be a part of it. The work up there is always at an amazing level.”

Kartwarra makes for powerful viewing. With tactful curiosity the artwork addresses issues of shifting contemporary and Aboriginal and European identity, both on a personal note and now on a national level.

The winners of the 36th Telstra NATSIAA Awards will be announced at an awards ceremony at Museum And Art Gallery Northern Territory’s Bullocky Point Facility on Friday 9 August 2019.

The exhibition of the finalists’ works will be on display at MAGNT from 10 August – 3 November.

Pictured top is Christopher Pease’s ‘Kartwarra’, 2019, oil and Balga resin on canvas, 36th Telstra NATSIAA. Courtesy of the artist and Gallerysmith.

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A galaxy of ideas in sci-fi show

Review: Erin Coates and Jack Sargeant, ‘Other Suns: Cult Sci-Fi Cinema and Art’  ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

Embracing the non-human, the historical, the retro-futurist and the impossible, “Other Suns” imagines alternative futures through an examination of the science-fiction genre.

An expansive exhibition featuring works from 20 local, national and international artists, “Other Suns” is curated by Erin Coates and Jack Sargeant, and continues as part of Revelation Perth International Film Festival’s 2019 program, which otherwise wrapped up last month.

With a particular focus on the alternative, undiscovered or unfamiliar narratives of science fiction, “Other Suns” places the limitless bounds of artists’ individual imaginations at the centre. This shines through in the exhibition, with a broad range of different worlds created through each artwork that feel exciting, fresh and accessible, regardless of the viewer’s knowledge or interest in sci-fi.

Jess Day and Joanne Richardson’s geodesic half-dome is a playful examination of what space exploration might mean, and who it might be for. Expanding notions of space travel beyond masculine tropes of conquering other worlds, the work is filled with thoughtful eccentric details and embellishments regarding the pleasure of exploration for its own sake. Revelling in the excitement of the unknown without needing to possess the outcome, the journey and the experience are pushed to the fore, rather than the navigators’ glory or personal gain.

Soda_Jerk’s 4-channel video installation ‘Astro Black’.

In a similar manner, Sydney art duo Soda_Jerk’s Astro Black interrogates who and what space exploration, science fiction, and other futures might encompass. Their video cycle samples a diverse range of video and music sources, pointing to an Afro-futurist world. Elsewhere, Dan Bourke’s work presents sentences from cyborg scholar Donna Haraway printed on T-shirts, propagandist slogans that sit alongside the works of key sci-fi writers from curator Jack Sargeant’s personal collection. The personal, private worlds of these books is writ large across objects made for bodies, a literal embodying of the possibilities of alternative ways of living, or of being in the world.

Alongside the range of other works in the exhibition, including the hand-decorated rocks of Oliver Hull – remnants of the natural world reframed as alien beings – and the large-scale installation of Lisa Sammut, whose work A Monumental Echo leverages planetary exploration to remind us of the hubris of anthropocentric thought, the “Other Suns”‘ revolutionary possibilities become clear.

Whilst some people may not feel that sci-fi is for them, everyone can understand the exciting horizons of new worlds, alternative systems, and different futures. When these prospects are harnessed to critique, re-imagine, or simply enjoy, the possibilities are endless.

Also on show at FAC is Stuart Elliott’s new solo exhibition, whose centrepiece, Fremantle 1988, is an imposing cabinet of horrors which takes visitors on a “fakeological dig” through 200 years of recent WA history. Fremantle 1988 was recently donated to the City of Fremantle Art Collection by Spare Parts Puppet Theatre.

“Other Suns” and “Fremantle 1988” are showing until September 14.

Pictured top: James Doohan & Bianca Sharkey, ‘Ascension’ (from ‘Astro Morphs’), 2018, single channel video, 11:50.

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Object lessons in memory and meaning

Review: Agatha Gothe-Snape, ‘Trying to Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair’ & Nicholas Mangan, ‘Termite Economies (Phase One)’ ·
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts ·
Review by Claudia Minutillo ·

Forming a deep and rich understanding of the recent past can be difficult. Our ability for retrospection often improves as we travel a greater temporal distance. The two latest exhibitions from Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, however, turn this notion on its head.

Spanning PICA’s Ground Floor Galleries, “Trying to find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair” is the culmination of a research project into the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art led by Australian contemporary artist Agatha Gothe-Snape.

A rare gem, the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art is Australia’s only public women’s art collection. This exhibition signifies its first public return to PICA since 1995 and creatively re-examines some of the collection’s foundational narratives of domesticity, still-life and self-representation.

The show includes artworks from the Cruthers Collection and new works produced by Gothe-Snape in response, giving the collection breathing room as if it were a living, conscious being. Cruthers Collection curator Gemma Weston, who collaborated with Gothe-Snape on this project, aptly describes the exhibition as “a dream the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art itself might have, if it were able to”.

In this dream-like mode, a viewer can (and should) navigate the space intuitively, first entering through Gothe-Snape’s installation Certain Situations/ EXPRESSION CURTAIN (2013). Previously acquired by the Cruthers Collection, the work is comprised of a large makeshift wall with a cut-out doorway in which a patterned yellow curtain hangs. Among other things, the installation draws attention to the performative nature of engaging with art objects in the show.

Some artists featured from the Cruthers Collection include Elise Blumann, Penny Bovell, Susanna Castleden, Penny Coss, Rosalie Gascoigne, Eveline Kotai, Ann Newmarch, Miriam Stannage and Mei Swan Lim. Their work spans across painting, textiles, print, drawing, sound and media. Within this myriad of expression, layers upon layers of meaning accrue which regrettably cannot be expressed in full here. However, the central feature which must be mentioned is the work from which the exhibition takes its title, and one of Gothe-Snape’s new responsive works.

In the centre of the space, a large platform displays a number of chairs loaned from exhibiting artists – the chair chosen had to be one in which the artist has found comfort. Some torn and frayed, some splattered with paint or just a skeleton of what once was, the borrowed chairs so beautifully manifest the artist’s presence through the object alone. Accompanied by Gothe-Snape’s letters to the artists requesting the chairs, we are invited to see the objects as a symptom of all their experiences. Through this, we immerse ourselves in one large connective web of shared feeling, experience and memory across time and space.

Upstairs, Nicholas Mangan’s “Termite Economies (Phase One)” brings the viewer back down to earth with a less whimsical aesthetic of insects and brown dirt. Mangan’s work is also the culmination of a research project. In this case, the Australian science agency CSIRO investigated termite behaviour in the hope their industrious methods might assist humans in their pursuit of gold.

Nicholas Mangan’s ‘Termite Economies (Phase One)’ re-imagines termite mounds using a 3D printer, plaster and soil. Picture by Bo Wong.

Occupying a much smaller and contained space, nightmarish rather than dream-like, the dimly lit room accentuates the stark artificiality of the bay lights which illuminate Mangan’s earthy termite sculptures from above. The organic forms have been rendered by a 3D printing process and are cross-sectioned to reveal inner passages; human innovation and research meets animal instinct.

These sculptures provide an access point to thinking about recent capitalist pursuit, economic viability and its reflection on society’s behavior and motivation. We may well imagine ourselves as these little termite colonies and speculate on possible futures. Accompanying the sculptures, retro monitors play archival and recorded footage of termite activity, showing the termites at work and also at a cellular level. The juxtaposition of historical and contemporary objects and visuals position the ideas explored as trans-historical, looking at the past in less rigid and more speculative, all-encompassing ways.

Perhaps the resounding point over all is that a focus on the embodied experience of objects and the contested ideas they encompass may provide a deeper understanding the recent past and present moment. These two exhibitions are not to be rushed through and are made all the more meaningful if the viewer is committed to their own participation, thinking and research into the objects before them.

“Trying to Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair” & “Termite Economies (Phase One)” are showing until 6 October.

Pictured above: Agatha Gothe-Snape’s installation ‘Trying To Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair’ in the PICA main gallery. Photo by Bo Wong.

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