Abstract in shades of grey
August 19, Calendar, Festivals, July 19

Festivals: The Blue Room Theatre presents Winter Nights

23 Jul – 03 Aug @ The Blue Room Theatre ·
Presented by the Blue Room Theatre ·

This year, Winter Nights, Perth’s newest festival of experimentation and ideas, cements  itself as one to watch! With programs such Ground Up (a platform for artists to develop work in real-time over the festival), to play readings, panels and a range of eclectic, and innovative presentations – Winter Nights boasts a cavalcade of culture, craft, and conversation.

This season is teaming with artistic badassery with Van Badham at the helm, and an inaugural keynote lecture to open the Festival from new Director of the Chamber of Arts and Culture, and former Artistic Director of Perth Festival, Shelagh Magadza. Come for the imaginative presentations, and stay for the insightful forums – Winter Nights is a soiree in to the creative underbelly of Western Australia. Check out the full program at The Blue Room Theatre’s website.

More info
W: https://www.blueroom.org.au/seasons/winter-nights/
E:  ryan@blueroom.org.au

Pictured: The Blue Room Theatre Winter Nights, credit: Ryan Sandilands

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Floor Thirteen
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A thrilling dance around memory

Review: Marshall Stay, Floor Thirteen ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 13 July ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

Phoebe is trapped in a lift. But that’s not the worst thing that has happened to her that night, she confides to the operator, whose disembodied voice is there to rescue her, keep her calm, and keep her talking.

As the conversation unfolds, Phoebe’s recollections of the night, and the events leading up to her entering the lift, become clearer, her thoughts circling around and avoiding the topic until the final moment of revelation. Written by Elise Wilson and directed by Marshall Stay – both recent WAAPA graduates – Floor Thirteen is ultimately an interrogation of the fickleness of memory and the stories we tell ourselves about our own mistakes.

Designed by Stay, the static set is the dimensions of a lift, with transparent screens instead of walls, allowing the audience to see the distressed woman trapped inside. In this way, the viewer is a voyeur, another disembodied witness placing sometimes empathy, sometimes judgement, on her confessions.

Against this goldfish bowl, scenes from Phoebe’s night are performed by supporting actors/devisors Tamara Creasey, Courtney Henri, Christopher Moro and Jordan Valentini. Their re-enactments of the events of the night – a court case won, an after-party, a threat, and a lie revealed – are performed by the cast with stunning physicality. Their sweeping and circular, pacing movements are paralleled by the dance around the truth that Phoebe’s brain performs just as swiftly. This circularity is reflected in the script, which focuses on a few key events, returning to them again and again as more details emerge.

Floor Thirteen
Sweeping and circular pacing movements mirror Phoebe’s dance around the truth. Pictured is performer/devisor Jordan Valentini. Photo: Marshall Stay.

A soundscape of voices (also designed by the multi-talented Stay) is used to great effect, with the supporting characters never speaking themselves, but rather mouthing the words with great precision as Phoebe interacts with their conversations, or directs them herself through her recollections and re-enactments. The recorded voices are always slightly distorted – sometimes sounding as though they are underwater or almost drowned out by other sounds – so their meaning is partially obscured. Slowly, what at first appears a simple story of being trapped in a lift becomes a tale of high drama, subterfuge and danger.

By the end of the 60-minute show, I was left wondering about the cyclical nature of memory, and how things that happened a long time ago can feel incredibly recent, whilst last week is a distant memory. How long was Phoebe trapped in the lift? Was it an hour? Or was it simply a few minutes that felt like longer as she started to think about the things she wishes she could forget?

In her program interview, writer Elise Wilson explains that such inaccuracies of memory – sometimes so powerful that they create an entirely false narrative – are known as confabulation. It’s horrifying to imagine that you can’t rely on your own memories to confirm an event; that your own brain would betray you so completely. In the character of Phoebe, we witness this occurring firsthand. Phoebe’s own actions are so morally questionable that it could be hard to have much sympathy for the character. Performer Kylie Bywaters, however, portrays Phoebe’s wrenching self-pity so effectively that we do sympathise with her, despite her behaviour – and her situation becomes so much more desperate over the course of the performance that I could feel my pulse racing in the final seconds.

Not for the faint-hearted, Floor Thirteen is an engrossing, thoughtful and energetic production, a fascinating study in human nature and the unreliable nature of our own recollections.

Floor Thirteen plays until July 13.

Pictured top is performer/devisor Tamara Creasey. Photo: Marshall Stay

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Ramiah Alcantara, Tess Metcalf and Caitlin McFeat in See You Next Tuesday. Photo Floyd Perrin.
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Teen turbulence is stunningly staged

Review: Static Drive Co. See you Next Tuesday ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 20 June ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey’s 1979 novel, Puberty Blues, was a sensation and game-changer for its unflinching depiction of teenage sexuality and the structures of youth society through the eyes of two girls on Sydney’s southern beaches (although Bruce Beresford’s subsequent 1991 film adaptation, it must be said, did flinch quite a bit).

If it’s time for a reboot for the instagrammatical world, then Sam Nerida’s brutally frank and theatrically daring See You Next Tuesday might just be it.

Nerida, Haydon Wilson and Timothy Green’s Static Drive Co. is one of Perth’s boldest independent theatre companies (Nerida and Green’s Tissue was a standout of 2016; I missed their 2018 fringe show Night Sweats for reasons that now appear inexplicable and indefensible).

They have given us a 17-year-old high school student’s challenging, complex and often seemingly contradictory life using methods that are audacious, striking and, I thought, deeply insightful and exciting to witness.

What Nerida and director Alexa Taylor have done is explore those challenges, those contradictions, the uncertainty of a young person faced with difficult decisions and the concurrent pull of sense and sensibility by the daring device of having the girl, Evie, played by three actors (Ramiah Alcantara, Caitlin McFeat and Tess Metcalf).

It’s not a case of split personality; Evie is always the same person. It’s an exploration of her thought processes, of the different options and emotions a person must weigh up and sort through.

It’s a brilliant idea, but a fiendishly difficult one to accomplish. Alcantara, McFeat and Metcalf, who are all superb, do it, seemingly without effort.

Which is simply miraculous. The intricacy of running three monologues simultaneously, making each discernable and isolating key lines so they emerge above the babble is a high-wire act of the first order. It is marshalled by Taylor and performed by the three actors with mastery.

While Evie is one person, we learn the distinct sides of her personality through each performer: Metcalf’s Evie is cool and measured, McFeat’s sassy and wilful, Alcantara’s combative and scornful. Taken separately, they are recognizable and authentic; brought together, Evie is revealed as a unique, fascinating and vibrant character.

Through her, Nerida confronts a wide range of situations and issues, from the seemingly trivial to, literally, those of life and death. We learn that life for young people – young girls especially – is as intricate and multifaceted as those who live it, that judgement is sometimes hard to make, and maturity hard to attain amongst the jumble of family and friends, work and play, love and sexuality.

It’s a measure of the play’s success that it deals with so much, navigates so much and achieves so much.

See You Next Tuesday is not a play for every taste. It’s uncompromising and sexually explicit, – but I doubt there will be a more striking and impressive new work on Perth’s stages this year.

See You Next Tuesday plays until July 6.

Pictured top are Ramiah Alcantara, Tess Metcalf and Caitlin McFeat. Photo Floyd Perrin.

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Woman against black background with blurred face
Calendar, July 19, June 19, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: Floor Thirteen

25 Jun – 13 Jul @ The Blue Room Theatre ·
Presented by The Blue Room Theatre & Marshall Stay ·

How real are our memories? Have you ever been certain about something? So sure that you’d swear on your life  it happened the way you remembered it? Except you were wrong? One woman is stuck in an elevator, profoundly alone but haunted by memories clamouring for attention. She has plenty of time to reflect on her life…or to start questioning what’s real.

Race through a mind in turmoil and be prepared to question everything; this is Memento meets Chunky Move. Daring physical theatre and innovative technology collide with aesthetics that’ll stay in your mind for years to come. Nothing is safe.

In a bold experiment from some of Perth’s best up and coming talent, memories are blown apart and reconstructed to expose our inner demons, and mysteries far worse. Strap in for this thrilling ride with one woman and all the spooks her mind can conjure.

More info
W: www.blueroom.org.au/events/floor-thirteen/
E:  info@blueroom.org.au

Pictured: Floor Thirteen, credit: Marshall Stay

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News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Hairy, horrifying… and heart-warming

Review: Michelle Aitken, Unrule ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 30 May ·
Review by Claire Trolio ·

It’s a great thing when a show comes along that is acutely relevant to your personal taste or interests. A feminist consideration of the female body using comedy and horror devices? Sign me up!

It’s even better when that show delivers insightful, relatable, thought-provoking and jovial entertainment. Thursday night’s premiere of Unrule did just that.

Created and directed by Michelle Aitken, and devised/performed by Chelsea Gibson, Mani Mae Gomes, Alicia Osyka and Rhiannon Petersen, Unrule mixes recorded and spoken stories with short vignettes that explore experienced body horrors.

Bathroom elements reference ‘Psycho’ and ‘Carrie’: Chelsea Gibson in ‘Unrule’. Photo: Susie Blatchford, Pixel Poetry.

The horror genre has long been linked with the body and its mysteries. The theme of adolescent transformation is a popular trope within that genre, and films like Carrie (1976) and Teen Wolf (1985) – both of which are referenced in Unrule – are just two of many examples. It’s the parallels between the bodily changes of adolescence, and those played out through the supernatural, that make this theme a popular one.

And it’s not just the adolescent body that’s ubiquitous in the horror genre. The Cartesian separation of mind and body reigns supreme in such texts, and – no surprises – it’s a gendered binary. The female body is often represented as the site of something sinister; the feminine is linked with weakness, unpredictability, evil… in opposition to the rational, in control masculine. As a result, female characters in horror narratives are often treated with distrust and apprehension. Women are frequently seen succumbing to temptation, in thrall to their bodies rather than their minds. Sexually active women are often punished by the text or presented as villains. Such narratives are a manifestation of men’s lack of understanding, a fear of the unknown and, importantly, a desire to control.

Unrule interrogates these horror devices in various ways. It’s the women who control the story here, by performing, creating and sharing both metaphorical and literal stories involving abject horror. The performers explicitly criticise the separation of mind and body in patriarchal discourse. They admit that bodies are unpredictable, and that humans experience their own physical horrors, whilst arguing that – too often – the medical profession ignores women’s concerns and patronises female patients.

Unrule covers issues of bladder leakage, endometriosis, giving birth, breastfeeding, menstruation and more. Playing with intertextuality, wigs – representing unruly body hair – come alive à la the Gremlins (1984) or Critters (1986) franchises; an attack of flying sanitary pads references The Birds (1963). Being a woman is hard, it admits, but don’t pity us. Unrule asks that women be listened to and respected: it’s that simple.

Wigs come alive: L-R: Chelsea Gibson, Rhiannon Petersen and Alicia Osyka. Photo: Susie Blatchford, Pixel Poetry.

Olivia Tartaglia’s elaborate set design is an integral part of the message. With a DIY, crafted feel, it is as raw and emotive as the performance itself. Covered in sanitary pads and allusions to menstrual blood, with the aforementioned synthetic wigs, and bathroom elements that reference Psycho (1960) and Carrie (1976), Tartaglia’s set complements and carries the performance.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this show – and I am reminded of Charlotte Otton’s 2018 work Let Me Finish – is the sense of inclusivity and an optimism that comes with not being alone. Whilst Unrule concedes that interpretive dance murder will not beat the patriarchy, being in the audience of a show like this engenders a feeling of progress. It’s conveyed not just through the subject matter and delivery, but via the intimate seating arrangement and shared snacks. You are made to feel a part of the fight, and it feels good.

Aitken, Petersen, Osyka, Gomes and Gibson have made a raw and honest work. Though a little green and underdeveloped (yes, it could be tighter), Unrule is a funny and heartwarming show that’s a treat to watch.

Unrule plays until June 15.

Pictured top are Alicia Osyka, Mani Mae Gomes and Rhiannon Petersen. Photo: Susie Blatchford, Pixel Poetry.

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News, Reviews, Theatre

Beauty from the bush a musical delight

Review: Blonde Moment Theatre, Miss Westralia ·
Blue Room Theatre, 23 May ·
Review by Steven Cohen ·

For purposes of clarity, Miss Westralia could have been called 1926 Miss Westralia goes to America. The renaming would allow theatre-goers to know exactly what to expect of this cute and sweet-tempered bio-musical about Australia’s first beauty queen.

In telling the incredible tale of Beryl Mills, the young woman from a sheep station outside Geraldton who scaled the heights of  national celebrity, this unabashed archetypal musical comedy celebrates pre-war Australian parochialism to a tee, while reflecting on the changing role of women over the decades.

First seen at Fringe World 2018, Miss Westralia comes from a talented team led by writer-producer Madeline Clouston and musical duo of  composer Matthew Predny and lyricist Jake Nielsen, who also directs.

It traces all 15 minutes of Beryl Mills fame: from winning the West Australian beauty contest to first place in Miss Australia 1926 and finally to the pièce de résistance and her prize – a promotional tour of America chaperoned by the young newspaper proprietor Frank Packer.

Like any biopic, this quaint little musical rejoices in the spirit of its protagonist, played by a genial and immensely likable Helena Cielak, and moderates its saccharine tendencies with a deep human spirit under the engaging directorial flair of Nielson.

Cielak’s accomplished performance is well supported by Rachael Chamberlain as Beryl’s starstruck mother, Thomas Dimmick as the dynastic powerhouse Frank Packer (grandfather to James) and Grace Johnson as Miss USA. The three supports also busily play a range of other minor characters and all four actors succeed as triple threats in the most difficult artform of all – to perform precision-tool dancing, to sing in key and tread the stage as a tribute to a different time.

The music is excellent – the tone providing enough emotional depth and dramatic heft to balance the performance and the lyrics are charming, corny and quietly funny. Technically, Miss Westralia is admirable and Kelly Fregon’s set design and lighting by Mai Han mesh assuredly into the Blue Room’s small space.

Miss Westralia is a revitalizing portrait of a bygone era and of a woman who was once a national role model but is now remembered only in her home town. We are fortunate to have such a talented creative team prepared to bring her story to the stage.

Miss Westralia runs until June 8.

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woman dressed in orange against orange background in pose
Calendar, June 19, May 19, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: Unrule

28 May-15 Jun @ The Blue Room Theatre ·
Presented by Hey! Precious ·

Inspired by true tales of body horror and the prom scene from Carrie, Unrule is a spooky-scary and comedic premiere that teases apart our complicated relationships with female bodies. Award-winning maker Michelle Aitken (Future’s Eve) and an ace ensemble of collaborators grapple deep seated anxieties around sexual, mental, and reproductive health with humour, rage and raw vulnerability.

From light bladder leakage to serious accounts of medical mistreatment, they attempt to live with the monsters within by bringing them to life in grotesque, glorious, and moist forms.

Be the first to strap into this cabaret meets surreal spectacle that can turn from hilarious to horrifying on a dime.

More info:
www.blueroom.org.au/unrule

Pictured: Unrule: Credit: Pixel Poetry

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News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Light will conquer all?

Review: Julia Croft, Harriet Gillies & Joe Lui, Death Throes ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 1 May ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·

You can recognise German postdramatic theatre from the moment where the cast breaks the performance to engage in a political panel discussion with the audience. Employing this device early, Death Throes is both somewhat more timid, but also more tongue in cheek, than much postdramatic performance.

The piece begins with Harriet Gillies delivering a brief monologue on the knowingness of the 1990s generation. She holds an insanely hot light close to her face, apparently unfazed. This light is a parcan: basically a car headlight in a can; stand in front of an old car and see how long you last! Joe Lui then enters to set up tables and microphones. The pair are joined by Julia Croft and immediately Croft and Lui engage in a rambling discussion on the evils of monetary capitalism. So far, so postdramatic.

The most notable tension in Death Throes is how seriously (or not) the artists take their announced politics. Their analysis of monetary exchange holds few surprises for anyone who familiar with John Maynard Keynes or Das Kapital. The trio conclude that the problem with contemporary economics is that money — which is purely symbolic, standing in for goods or commodities — has been mistaken for an almost self-sufficient thing in itself. Monetary exchange therefore does not serve us. We serve it. Karl Marx described this in his account of capitalist fetishism, a primer for which might be offered by this advertisement, where the “value” of the product ends up having nothing to do with how much it costs to produce, or its practical use.

Lui concludes this section with an aside on the links in the productive chain underpinning even a $5 chicken bucket. This retrospectively explains why Gillies chows down on fried chicken, her calm assurance contrasting with Croft’s near manic speechifying.

In the sequences that follow, there is no further reference to economics, which is not to say links cannot be inferred, but it seems unfortunate that the production leaps into the bafflingly abstract. The main dramaturgical through-line (again, in classic postdramatic mode) is a scenographic motif, rather than a rhetorical one. Light, as actively manipulated by the cast, holds a beatific possibility throughout. There is a Barbarella-like sequence where the cast pose with spotlights held like blasters projecting steely beams to either side. The panel discussion itself is closed off by the lowering of a parcan onto Gillies’ now prone form, her head framed under its glow.

Julia Croft, Harriet Gillies and Joe Lui running around a red carpet.
Our performers adopt shiny gold costumes and jog in circles around a central light until exhausted.

In the longest sequence, our performers adopt shiny gold costumes and jog in circles around a central light until exhausted. It is not an especially original motif. Trisha Brown and others founded postmodernist or pedestrian dance (dance made using everyday movements) by running and walking on stage, and complex variations continue today (consider Thierry Thieû Niang’s 2012 …du Printemps!). If this section has a political meaning, it presumably shares it with Situationism and early performance art, where it was claimed that by doing something which has no purpose or productive outcome, such self-motivated acts lie outside of the money economy. It is a nice ideal, but given that the hugely successful performance artist Marina Abramovic made her fortune selling limited edition photographs of her otherwise “unsaleable” art, it is not so convincing.

Death Throes ends with our trio gazing distractedly past the audience, images of blue, cloud-filled skies surrounding them, as fans blow their hair. It is an oddly voyeuristic scenario for a performance which began by advertising its left-wing politics. Farrah Fawcett was the 1970s pin-up for this gently erotic “wind-blown look”, and given that Charlie’s Angels has been reworked as a supposedly feminist classic, perhaps a similar reclamation is intended here.

Death Throes is, therefore, not entirely effective. While not derivative, its elements are not especially novel. Whatever logic governs the selection of material is neither evident, nor is the production a deliberately random assemblage. That said, any show featuring Lui running in gold short-shorts, or Gillies’ supremely unflappable expression, provides a fun puzzler.

Death Throes plays The Blue Room Theatre until May 18.

Pictured top: Julia Croft, Joe Lui and Harriet Gillies in ‘Death Throes’.

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Phoebe Sullivan stands in front of a plethora of projected images of faces in 'The Double'.
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A compelling take on tech

Review: Bow & Dagger, The Double ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 24 April ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

If you’re as old as I am, you might find yourself vaguely disappointed with the advent of “the future”. Where are the jet shoes, submarine cars and food pills that were promised to us on Towards 2000? Lately though, things have started seeming a little more Bladerunner-esque and slightly less 1984, what with hoverboards, self-driving cars and Alexa. The Double, a new play from Bow & Dagger, premiering at the Blue Room this week, is based loosely on the concept of Alexa, revved up as an all-knowing AI presence. Billed as a cyber-gothic nightmare, this riveting 80-minute play is not quite that, but its depiction of a tech-driven dystopia is certainly spooky.

Victoria is a struggling actress who has auditioned for an unusual role – to be the embodiment of a tech giant’s (an amalgam of Apple and Google) artificial intelligence product, Vivy. Like Alexa and other products in the current tech marketplace, Vivy can calculate sums, answer and place calls, adjust the lighting, play you entertainment or answer your trivial questions. Unlike Alexa, Vivy copies and learns the behaviours of its human model, Victoria. Victoria spends her days in a room provided by the generous tech host, working with programmers as they simulate her every expression, movement and vocal tone as they create the new product. Guess what? It doesn’t end well.

This obviously isn’t a surprise – how can it be when your show is marketed as a nightmare? But despite the fact that we know we’re in for an unpleasant or at least uncomfortable ride, the descent into dystopia is remarkably measured. Devised and written by Clare Testoni, The Double is, for the most part, so tautly written that Victoria’s journey is compelling even though we know things are headed south. Aided by some fine performances – Amanda Watson is particularly good – the narrative never feels entirely predictable, a considerable feat for a work dealing in the well-trodden ground of evil tech.

A performer stands, arms outstretched,  in front of projections of cyborgs and code, in 'The Double'.
Photo: David Cox Media.

There are some curious choices here. Testoni opts to have Victoria represented by three actors – Watson, Phoebe Sullivan and Michelle Aitken – who swap roles with head-spinning regularity. Despite the lack of physical resemblance between the three (blunted partly by identical wigs), this conceit is tricky… I wondered whether the role-swapping would have been less disconcerting had Testoni chosen to switch the roles up earlier in the show. As a viewer, I felt I was just getting to know Sullivan as Victoria when she suddenly morphed into Watson’s version. There was also some odd-looking computer-rendered imaging of the faces when beamed onto a background screen – this was a central visual element of the show and while it certainly contributed to the sinister feel, not all of the actors had the necessary stillness required to pull this off seamlessly.

But these are minor quibbles. The Double is an ambitious, provocative work that was always going be challenging to stage within the confines of the modest-but-lovely Blue Room. The show is a compelling take on the dissociative perils of our tech-driven, obsessively curated lives, and succeeds in straddling the fine line between cautionary tale and entertainment.

The Double runs until May 11.

Pictured top is Phoebe Sullivan in ‘The Double’. Photo: David Cox Media.

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Part of female figure with Miss Westralia banner across chest and holding bunch of flowers
Calendar, June 19, May 19, Musical theatre, Performing arts

Musical Theatre: Miss Westralia

21 May – 8 Jun @ The Blue Room Theatre ·
Presented by Blonde Moment Theatre ·

Australia’s Pageant Past Hits Broadway.

When a Geraldton girl is crowned the unlikely winner of the first Miss Australia competition, she becomes a celebrity overnight. Discover Australia’s pageant past accompanied by some of Perth’s most exciting vocal talent. This musical comedy will have your toes tapping just inches from the action, as we uncover this untold piece of local history.

Composed by the award-winning team behind On Hold-A Musical (Best Aussie Short: Flickerfest, Dendy Top 10: Sydney Film Fest), the music and lyrics fuse nostalgia with contemporary wit.

Join us for this world premiere as we do the Charleston from outback Australia to the roaring cities of the USA.

Based on a true story, Miss Westralia is set to be Australia’s next hit musical!

More info
W: www.blueroom.org.au/events/miss-westralia/
E:  info@blueroom.org.au

Pictured: Miss Westralia, credit: Tasha Faye

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