Five women wearing black briefs, performing with microphones and looking fierce. Audience stands around them.
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A cleverly orchestrated cacophony

Review: Renegade Productions and Bow and Dagger, Medusa ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 18 October ·
Review by Steven Cohen ·

Feminist avante garde story telling has a rich history in theatre, from the early twentieth century French sexual inversion of female identity to the works of the late feminist Broadway playwright Wendy Wasserstein. Against this tradition, local writer Finn O’Branagáin and director Joe Lui have brought their own style of feminist experimental performance to the Blue Room Theatre, in the form of a physical and volatile production entitled Medusa. Grounded in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, the play is no more a treatise on the art of seduction than Ovid’s original poem was lecherous and obscene.

woman standing with her arms outstretched, yelling. she is wearing briefs and nothing else.
The performances are dramatic, vociferous and stormy. Pictured: Moana Lutton.

The work centres around Medusa as guardian, protector and a goddess of female wisdom. Juxtaposed over Ovid’s motifs of sexual violence, gaslighting and inequality, the work expels any remaining myth that women are symbols of seduction and power, as muse and castration threat.

And make no mistake: this is an outré performance and as aesthetically radical a play as you will see in Perth. But it is not entirely subversive. Like the canonical playwrights Homer, Dante and even Shakespeare, O’Branagáin invokes Medusa’s story to both sing her praise and soberly acknowledge that too many men have appropriated women for their own selfish motives.

Messy, mucky and co-operative, Medusa succeeds in creating an incongruent spectacle. The performances – by Moana Lutton, Sandy McKendrick, Jacinta Larcombe, Jess Moyle, Mani Mae Gomes, Michelle Aitken and Andrew Sutherland – are dramatic, vociferous and stormy. The theatre, choreography, design, music and text are all cleverly orchestrated into one single live disharmony.

Three women lie in a huddle on the floor, one of their faces is projected onto a large screen
Joe Lui has tight control of all theatrical elements, constructing a clear meaning from the dissonant cacophony. Pictured: ess Moyle, Mani Mae Gomes, and Michelle Aitken.

Most impressively, the cast members shed any personal inhibitions, delicacies and pretensions to manoeuvre themselves within the intricate and complex web of the play’s text. The difficulty lies in the overt distraction of the discordant music, the intense physicality of the performance, and the sharp and intimate performance space that risks drowning out the dialogue and reducing the performers to mere ciphers of the design.

In some respects, the gamble pays off.  Though Medusa is unpredictable, director Joe Lui has tight control of all theatrical elements, constructing a clear meaning from the dissonant cacophony. And this is precisely the point: to raise questions about how society – in all its complexity – shapes, interprets and reflects women’s lives.

One last thing. Medusa is not for everyone. It is risqué, racy and lewd. It is allusive, fluid and unconventional. It challenges normative gender codes and disrupts conventional aesthetics. It  eschews the rules of the patriarchy. It is blunt, bold and wholly unironic. Most importantly, though, its aim is not simply to entertain but to protest sexual prejudice and violence against women, and to reclaim women’s sense of control. While some may find it confronting and discomforting, its message should be heard by all.

Medusa plays The Blue Room until November 3.

Pictured top: Moana Lutton (centre) and ensemble.

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Woman with snake like tendrils of hair
Calendar, November 18, October 18, Performing arts, Theatre

Medusa

The Blue Room Theatre, 16 Oct – 3 Nov ·
Presented by Renegade Productions, Bow and Dagger and The Blue Room Theatre ·

I am the Gorgon

I am Medusa.
I am she who turns men to stone.
I am she who was beheaded.
She who has gone unheeded, unheard, unwept
I am the ignored, the unseen, the forgotten.

Each night our sisterhood of priestesses will summon the Goddess Medusa to life. A thundering ritual of dancing will take place in the sweaty nightclub to awaken Medusa, our protector and fighter.

We will swarm amongst you in our temple, clambering onto our podiums to be seen and heard through the throbbing beat. You can partake in the ritual, or bear respectful witness to our power. The choice is yours.

Sacrifice your inhibitions and join us.

Presented by Renegade Productions x Bow & Dagger

Producer: Natalie Di Risio
Writer: Finn O’Branagàin
Director/Sound Designer: Joe Hooligan Lui
Performers: Jacinta Larcombe, Sandy McKendrick
Designer: Clare Testoni

Recommended for ages 18+
Meet The Artists Q&A on 24 October
Image: Rachael Barrett

More info: https://blueroom.org.au/events/medusa/

 

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Unveiling: gay sex for endtimes
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

An intriguing experiment

Review: Renegade Productions, Unveiling: Gay Sex For Endtimes ·
The Blue Room Theatre, Perth, 14 August ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·

Renegade Productions’ Gay Sex For Endtimes is an impressively performed, mash-up sexual burlesque; one part Jodorowsky and several more New York avant-trash theatre as presented by the likes of Valerie Solanas, John Waters, and Andy Warhol’s crew at the Factory. The performers’ commitment to the work is unflaggingly intense and – in between all the eggs, dildos, S&M scenes and self-exposing monologues – the production gives the three devisor-performers quite a work out. As a piece of virtuoso scrabbled-together performance, it is a triumph. The internal logic of the work is, however, less apparent.

This is partly intentional, since artists Andrew Sutherland, Jacinta Larcombe and Michelle Aitken are aiming at a clash of concepts, ideas and references. We leap from the language of religious Apocalypse, through to a long and hard stream of double-entrendres for anal sex. Even so, the mix-master approach here, and the structure of the work as a series of parallel lines that do not really cohere, produces a piece which is about as messily omni-directional as the faux human bodily fluids repeatedly poured onto the hapless Sutherland. The strength of the work, therefore, lies in the unwavering performative focus, rather than the script or themes.

Unveiling: gay sex for endtimes
Even the locust (Michelle Aitken) has its moment to spill all. Photo: Marshall Stay.

Director Joe Lui and designer Mia Holton project key phrases from the account of Biblical Endtimes offered in the Book of Revelations at the start of most of the vignettes. This also provides one of the piece’s more absorbing protagonists, namely the locust woman. Aitken appears in this role, naked but for a stylish black coat and a rubber locust mask, and repeatedly reminds all involved that they are abominations before, at least, the unreformed God of the early Christian Church.

Sutherland is our naked sexual naïf, variously led by the female performers into states of abjection and submission, which he largely accepts with a wide-eyed sense of revelation and generosity. Larcombe moves between playing Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, evoking the famous actress Judy Garland, and expressing her own desires and traumas, including a particularly impressive screamed section in which she recounts experiences of harassment and denigration from straight men. We are also treated to an extended skit about the Navy attempting to root out from its midst the “Friends of Dorothy” (gay men, for those who haven’t heard this term), a spoof on the film Aliens, and Allen Ginsberg’s famous chanted designation of “Holy! Holy! Holy!” for penises, assholes, banal objects and the people who cherish them (from Ginsberg’s Footnote to Howl). It is a heady mix.

The piece opens with a conversation in which a man struggles with a possible diagnosis as HIV positive. This scene is played out later. The framing of the rest of the performance with this specific conversation suggests that the “Endtimes” that follow might be seen as a metaphor for a frightening but potentially liberatory space for gay men and queer sensibilities. This is how Kushner used a very similar motif for Angels in America. Unlike Kushner though, this only emerges sporadically in Unveiling, and seems to be dropped as fluids and muck accumulate on stage. This framing also suggests that the whole thing might be some kind of perverse dream of a troubled young man — which may account for the idea being jettisoned as the play continues. “He woke up and it was all a dream,” is both a bit lame, and not what seems intended here. Rather the artists’ aim appears to be to manifest something genuinely upbeat; a temporary queer utopia on stage. This is, of course, somewhat undercut by howls of rage against harassment and piteous unrequited calls for sex, so the trajectory is uneven. Dark times are admitted, but are largely followed up with a warm glow.

Unveiling does not, therefore, really produce such a utopia, and it probably cannot given the very real discomforts that the cast relate. But the attempt to negotiate such an imagined realm is mostly fascinating to watch. I would still suggest that an editor should lovingly whip this piece into shape, caress some of its sweet spots with a razor, and consider more thoroughly some of the reasons for the inclusion of material. The Navy sequence is one of the funniest in the piece, but it has the least to do with the rest of the content. Sutherland is briefly positioned as St Sebastian, but it is not clear how he resembles the martyr beyond being naked and attractive. In the end, the really outstanding sequences in this production are the monologues, delivered through microphones to give them a special intimacy, allowing each character their moment to spill all—even the locust!

Unveiling is not quite a neo-Dada piece or a queer King Ubu for our times (though at times it aspires to be both). It is unlikely to shock contemporary audiences. It is, nevertheless, a unique and intriguingly ramshackle theatrical experiment performed by a cast with great devotion to the work. Together with the work of the (rather more refined) Moira Finucane, Azaria Universe and others, Renegade Productions continues to plough the ripe fields left open by Divine, Candy Darling, and other pioneers of joyously trashy queer cabaret.

‘Unveiling: Gay Sex for Endtimes’ plays the Blue Room Theatre until August 25.

Photos: Marshall Stay.

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Unveiling
August 18, Calendar, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: Unveiling: Gay Sex for Endtimes

14 – 25 August @ The Blue Room Theatre ·
Presented by: Renegade Productions ·

Behold! The Second Coming.

Presented by the deviant minds at Renegade Productions, Unveiling:Gay Sex for Endtimes examines the search for ecstasy, utopia and rebellion through self-destruction. It is a contemporary and perverse reading of The Book of Revelation – the thread from which we weave annihilation and redemption.

From boot-scooting, to the U.S Navy, a swarm of locusts, and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz; Unveiling focuses on reaching for higher meaning through an escalating series of sex acts and hallucinogenic experiences.

Unveiling: Gay Sex for Endtimes is a collaboration from Joe Hooligan Lui, Andrew Sutherland, Jacinta Larcombe, and Michelle Aitken based on what they know best: a fatalistic yet earnest search for meaning in these troubled times.
Reach out and touch faith.

More info: https://blueroom.org.au/events/unveiling-gay-sex-for-endtimes/

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