Fringe World, Music, News, Reviews, Theatre

Love in bloom but passion a little lacking

Fringe World review: Kate, Gus and The Other Kids ·
Subiaco Theatre Centre, January 31 ·
Persephone Productions, Savitri ·
The Cheeky Sparrow, January 31 ·
Review by Mark Naglazas ·

One of the chief pleasures of Fringe World is the dizzying variety of performance spaces, which can be as wonderfully eccentric as they are maddeningly inappropriate, as inspired as they are irritating.

This contradiction came into sharp focus on Thursday night when on the same evening I saw an opera by Gustav Holst on the top floor of an inner-city bar then followed up with a contemporary musical about a budding indie rock band in an expansive theatre centre.

While it’s a loopy delight to experience Holsts’ little-performed Mahabharata-inspired chamber work Savitri (1916) at The Cheeky Sparrow in Wolf Lane – did the drinkers below know what was going on above them? – the space is so cramped you wonder how the singers expanded their lungs without knocking each other off the stage.

On the other hand, Kate, Gus and The Other Kids has such a raw, knockabout quality that instead of playing at the Subiaco Theatre Centre you wished you had a beer in one hand, a bag of chips in another and you were singing along with the band.

The sense of disorientation and dislocation is very much part of the Fringe World experience, with shows such as Savitri and Kate, Gus and The Other Kids most fairly measured by what they might be in months or years to come and in different settings. In other words, they are pure potential.

Indeed, there is a moment in Kate, Gus and The Other Kids, the latest work from WAAPA graduates Conor Neylon and Jackson Peele, when I thought it would elevate from a charming singalong about a bunch of marginal youngsters in a country town with dreams of becoming rock stars into an interesting examination of the poetry in the souls of the most troubled of outsiders.

When the feisty Kate (Sarah Reed) persuades her brother Gus (Axel Duffy) and his group to enter a Battle of the Bands in order to facilitate her own escape (first prize is a supporting a major act on a tour) the guys get cracking on new material.

Nothing comes until the anguished, pill-popping Postcard (Conor Neyland) unleashes a love song inspired by his passion for Kate, his girlfriend. Only she’s fallen for the sexy, full-throated lead singer (Charlotte MacInnes) the major rival to Gus’ band, sending Postcode over the edge and endangering all they achieve.

Neylon and Peele have conjured up a dozen or more disarmingly catchy indie rock numbers that recall the Irish musical Once. And the performers are wonderfully engaging, whether singing – they all have nice voices, ranging from the sweet the soaring – or just goofing around doing their boozy, druggy slacker thing.

But the ensemble approach undermines the narrative focus, so the difficult choices faced by Kate never really register (she barely responds to Postcard’s funny-romantic song), nor are we allowed inside the agony of Postcard, who is left alone to sulk until the end of the show.

After setting up such a poignant love story it’s dropped in favour of something more acceptable. Postcard is what we like now to label “a toxic male”; however, this is theatre and he needs to be understood and examined, not cast adrift like the latest Me Too casualty.

A lack of passion also prevents Savitri from taking flight. It is about a woman who must go into battle with Death (Laurence Westrip) to retrieve her husband from the underworld after he is snatched well before his time.

Jessica Taylor has a luminous presence and a musical voice that effortlessly fills the small space but we don’t feel the connection between Savitri and her husband Satyavan (Jason Kroll), with the pair coming off more like brother and sister than a couple whose love reaches across the ultimate barrier.

But these comments come with reservation as I saw only half the show, quite literally, with half of cast hidden behind a wall (I had to check the programme to see if the set design was by Donald Trump).

So get in early if you want to get up close and personal with cast of Savitri and feel the passion that doesn’t quite reach stragglers toward the back.

Kate, Gus and The Other Kids plays at the Subiaco Theatre Centre until February 2.

Savitri plays at The Cheeky Sparrow until February 4.

Pictured top (left to right): Charlotte MacInnes, Liam Wigney, Luke Wilson, Sara Reed and Axel Duffy in Kate, Gus and The Other Kids.

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