on now, Review

REVIEW: Unheimlich | Turning the familiar uncanny – one cat mask at a time

Review | Laura Money

Unheimlich – roughly translated means unhomely and references Sigmund Freud’s essay about the concept of the uncanny. The basic idea is that something familiar and normalised and comforting becomes strange, horrifying, or disjointed. Co-creators Katt Osborne and Tarryn Gill create a domestic setting warped by the surreal touch of the uncanny. Through familiar settings and activities that are just a little off to body horror and a bevy of truly discomforting masks, Unheimlich brilliantly asserts itself into the surrealist stage of performance art while keeping the audience on the edge of their seats – I’m sure many will look at themselves in the mirror twice after seeing this show.

Filing in to PICA the show starts with a talking cat – a la Alice – to immediately set the crowd on edge. Whimsical and sleek, cats have long been viewed as lithe tricksters with various generations venerating or superstitious of them and a talking puppet cat places the audience firmly in the uncanny – topsy-turvy is clearly the nature of the show. As he narrates the scene before us like a cat-version of a nature documentary, the domestic scene unfolds. Sarah Nelson as human female lies in an inebriated state in a pristine bathroom. Part wallowing and part celebrating in the bathtub the cat explains that she has just started her cohabitation with human male (Brendan Ewing). Osborne’s direction and Nelson’s performance here is brilliant – there is a duality about the state of inebriation which vacillates between euphoria and torment – one can never tell which state she is in.

The set is magnificent – a true wonder of pure stagecraft. Set designer, Laura Heffernan excels in sleek and functional design and marries the physical set with the strange costumes perfectly – it’s Unheimlich incarnate. The shiny-tiled bathroom looks super insta-worthy, and if that isn’t an example of the surreal, then I don’t know what is! Spinning the set around not only serves as a clever way to change the scene but provides a sickening surreal carousel later on as the domestic situation swirls and eddies out of control for the new couple. A simple couch and table with pot plant and remote control is easily set askew with rubbish and overturned disco ball plant pots marring the seemingly normal scene. Combined with the sound design of Brett Smith and the lighting by Joe Paradise Lui, the scenes take on a Stranger Things vibe and the familiar sounds and looks distorted.

Unheimlich itself is a perfect example of the term it references – at its core is a traditional theatre piece complete with love story, cute relationship dynamics, marriage, and ultimately regret – but running through this seemingly familiar and normal story is the pulsing thread of the strange. The couple hold up a mirror to one another and conversation exploits their fears and insecurities. This is reflected when the normal conversations from earlier in the show lose their innocuous sound and become almost violent when one-sided. Games like Guess Who and Operation that seem whimsical now hit harder and the power of words and gendered language is thrown into sharp relief – it brilliantly highlights the insidious nature of patriarchal structures that are imbued into every element of society – including games.

Tying all of these themes together are the surreal masks created by Tarryn Gill. As the domestic becomes the uncanny, a host of masked figures observe and interact playfully, yet in a sinister way, in the background. Like trickster spirits in a Shakespearean play, they create mayhem and also reproach. Both Jacob Lehrer and Rachel Arianne Ogle don a huge cat mask with rolling eyes that appear to take on the emotion of the moment. Perched above the bath, silently judging, the cat is the stuff of dreams. There are giant masks that resemble elegantly upgraded Greek theatre masks, and even what appears to be the puppet version of Ewing himself. These large and surreal masks bob and weave in a whimsical, dreamlike manner further cementing the work into the uncanny. There are also some truly horror movie worthy multiple faced masks that creep and crawl all over the show. The most impactful mask sequence comes at the wedding, though as Nelson and Ewing touchingly see each other grow old together with a love that is enduring. It’s moments of sweetness like this that make the blows of the remainder of the show hit even harder.

Unheimlich is a master class in the uncanny. It’s the perfect blend of theatre and performance art with human emotion at its core. It will leave you feeling discombobulated and comfortable simultaneously and definitely rethinking a few things from your past. Osborne and Gill are a formidable team and they provide a commentary on almost every aspect of life, holding up a mirror to society and culture and letting the audience step through the looking glass into their world – and it’s phenomenal.

Unheimlich is on at PICA from 22nd September – 2nd October 2021, get your tickets HERE

on now, PERTH FESTIVAL, Review

PERTH FESTIVAL 2021 | Whale Fall | 5 Stars

Review | Laura Money

When a whale dies, it doesn’t float, it falls down down down into the bottom of the ocean

So begins Whale Fall in a stunning opening monologue by young actor Ashton Brady to a darkened stage, it appears as if he is floating down into the stage’s abyss himself. It’s an interesting opening to The Kabuki Drop‘s show commissioned by PICA and co-presented with Perth Festival, and serves as a clever metaphor throughout the the piece for identity and how one can achieve transcendence through atoms shifting and changing before finally ending their journey. Formed by Melissa Cantwell, The Kabuki Drop are no strangers to thoughtful and innovative theatre and they really deliver with Ian Sinclair‘s brilliant Whale Fall. With a simple yet effective set, fantastic acting, and heartfelt character development complete with complex and emotional relationships, this is theatre in the raw.

Nadine (Caitlin Bersford-Ord) stands on the cusp of her old life and new – hesitantly yet assuredly braving the dunes to place her feet firmly in the ocean, the tug of the tide taking her back to her childhood home. Consisting of a large angled jetty-like stage embedded in pure white sand, the design by Bruce McKinven creates depth in a small space and alludes to the pull of the ocean which represents the past and also the dead whale analogy. McKinven’s innovative use of secret pockets continue to delight as the set opens up to us alongside its cast. Beresford-Ord is such an expressive performer – her guarded attempts to appear flippant when talking to her ex-husband Irving (Luke Hewitt) carve a deep wound in her heart and her lack of understanding, yet burning desire to do so concerning her son Caleb (Ashton Brady) is expressed with every downcast eye – the defenses clouding her face with a curt nod and pursed lip. Hewitt’s Irving is a wounded and compassionate individual, he plays him with understated passion that bursts forth in red-hot anger and recedes into heartbroken tears. The opening scene is intense, an unravelling mystery that speaks to the injustice and pain of the past.

Sinclair’s writing is brilliant as he uncovers the mysterious elements of the past with sharp dialogue and alllusions to a shared past. Who is this mysterious Caleb and why are Nadine and Irving so caught up in his well being? What’s wrong with him? Nothing, as it turns out. Brady’s Caleb is a curious and quirky boy who loves the natural world, in particular the ocean, who appears wise beyond his years. He’s also transgender – and Brady provides a nuance to the character borne only of experience. Caleb must navigate his own identity at a tender age while combating the many well-meaning adults in his life – and some of the not so well meaning ones. Tension is rife between Beresford-Ord and Hewitt as Nadine grapples with the loss of her daughter, not quite prepared to embrace her son. There is an unspoken language that crackles around these two phenomenal actors – they square off in every scene, unable to remain civil for very long as every betrayal, argument, and devastation inflicted upon each other appear to resurface. Hewitt speaks with a permanent lump in his throat and his new partner Tarlina (Alexandra Steffensen) is unable to understand either one of them. Steffensen provides a calming poise to counter the two hot-heads, yet it is her very calmness that makes her an infuriating character. Whale Fall specialises in other people assuming they know what is right for each other but failing miserably to do so.

Ashton Brady gives the performance of a lifetime, though no doubt there will be plenty of other moments of triumph in his future. He is one to watch, as he appears wise beyond his years – a young yet wizened philosopher, contemplating the big issues – identity, sexuality, rejection and relationships, fitting in – that should not be thrust upon children. Cantwell’s direction uses Brady to his full potential, allowing for hiariously frivolous moments like waking up his Mum in the middle of the night, perching him imp-like on the table, legs dangling to indicate playfulness but also poignancy in his discussion about not going in for a swim. Make no mistake – Whale Fall is gritty, intense theatre. While there are absolutley beautiful moments of surprising levity, the majority of the show is a tense gut-punch waiting to happen. Brady’s navigation of self is an absolute rollercoaster – from pure confidence in his artwork and marine biology facts (delivered in a cute and quirky way) to ritualising memory and grappling with how Hayley will always be a part of him, his interpretation of this complex character should be applauded.

Whale Fall is the dark thriller you never expected, full of twists and turns, secrets, lies and betrayals. It worms its way deep into the psyche and continues to burrow long after you’ve left the theatre. Caleb’s haunting soliloquys punctuate the piece with poignancy and grace – as each character could at one point be considered the whale. Everything is addressed maturely yet it isn’t afraid to get messy and tangled, as in real life sometimes there just aren’t answers. Kabuki Drop have delivered a timely and important work. With transgender representation at the fore, Whale Fall is a sensitive and honest exploration of identity and acceptance that is sometimes hard to watch, but never shies away from the truth. It’s stunning theatre.

Whale Fall played at PICA as part of Perth Festival. Even though the show is over, you an check out what The Kabuki Drop are up to HERE

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FRINGEWORLD, on now, Review

FRINGEWORLD 2020 | SLUTDROP | 4.5 Stars

Review | Amanda Lancaster & Link Harris

SLUTDROP: a dance move  involving quickly lowering ones body’, squatting as quickly and as low as possible ’till the booty almost touches the ground-  and immediately popping back up. Often the slut half of this coined term had been used in a derogatory manner to denote those who choose to demonstrate such moves while facing a partner in public spaces… a dance floor enactment of a sexual act one,might
say to fritter it down to a fine base-point. Behaviour like this in front of the oopposite sex is usually pigeonholed as too sexually confident too over the top slutty even… not what you’re supposed to do or be or seem as a nice girl. Well screw that! Jacinta Larcombe is here to tell you exactly where you can stick it –  your opinion, that is.

What does this have to do with the show? Well everything when it is one of the quintessential dance moves you use-  not just as a stripper – but a woman with a confident sexuality and out-going nature. Forget the stigmas and leave your inhibitions at the door and try it for yourselves, hell even Beyoncé and Prince Harry have!

SLUTDROP is an eye opening look into the world of stripping, not just the how tos or the whys – but the why nots ,should nots and definitely do nots! Prepare to be taken on an exploratory expedition through the good, bad and the ugly in such a way that makes you laugh, cheer, cringe, and at times even leaves you flabbergasted and at a loss for words at the sheer balls of and length that some men and  women will go to in such situations.
This is a gorgeously put together, you’ll honestly fall in love with an often unloved industry and its vocational visitors both on stage and off.

Larcombe is unbiased, open minded, open-hearted and bares all for her audiences – emotionally, that is. Part therapist, part sex symbol, part emotional support person, and a hell of a melody-assisted garment-removalist all rolled into one stunning package; this is a hell of a one woman retrospective and a hell of a show. Find out exactly what strippers have to give, have to take and also what they have to forgive. This show and the industry are definitely not to be taken for granted – both deserve far more respect than they get thanks to both the short and long lasting effects of working in the industry.

This show sold out from the first night right through its entire run at PICA (Perth Institute of Contemporary Art)  and honestly its no surprise. The show is a sexy, sassy, satirical sixty-minute climax with a five minute howling, whistling, cheering and clapping standing ovation from a sell out audience the night we attended – it even had our gorgeous, charismatic star in awestruck tears.

Both these reviewers loved and appreciated this show for differing reasons but they couldn’t agree more about recommending and raving about it being a must see  experience and education for anyone wanting to take back their sense of self confidence, sexuality, and indeed even the slutdrop. Both in dance moves to try and as a term of strong, confident, outgoing individuals, both afraid to be whoever they want to be without the socially prescribed and acceptable niche of others’ comfort and opinion to be slotted into. We could not recommend this show more and would advise any and all 18+ people to get off their arses and see it or anything Jacinta Larcombe decides to put her many  talents into in the future.So, jump all over it ASAP!

WHEN: 5th – 7th February 2020 | 7:30pm | Extra shows: 13th & 14th Feb | 8pm

WHERE: PICA Performance Space | Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts | NORTHBRIDGE

INFO: Pricing $26 | Duration 60 mins | Suitable 18+ | THEATRE

TICKETShttps://fringeworld.com.au/whats_on/slutdrop-fw2020.

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FRINGEWORLD, on now, Review

FRINGEWORLD 2020 | Lipstuck | 4.5 Stars

When I wear lipstick or adornment I am almost certainly called a faggot. I’m often ‘stuck’ between and outside many binaries in regard to my body, choices, and existence.

Performance maker Daley King invites you to pull up a chair and chat – what are they talking about? A little bit of this, a little bit of that – their favourite tea blends, their love of ethical shopping – the history of lipstick and the fact that Western Culture not only stole the concept of lipstick but perverted it into something intrinsically linked to sexual deviance, and a mode of control – you know, the usual. King’s Lipstuck is a clever work, disguised as an innocuous chat, every story, every part of the history lesson is charged with the voices of the repressed, the victims, and the forgotten people who fall prey to the binaries – they are the Lipstuck.

King is an affable figure – despite being clad in a forensic-style onesie, their ‘lab’ seems more apothecary than Breaking Bad – and you are immediately at ease. They wheel their trolley through a circle of cozy, blanket draped chairs, offer you a cuppa, and start to nonchalantly mix a lipstick.* The process alone is fascinating, yet King approaches everything so casually. It’s great to see King in such a good place – they have such passion for their topic and is entirely in their element. From first-nations adornment and tattooing, to the early days of commerce in India – as King says: “What, you didn’t expect that the West invented everything, did you?” King traces lipstick as its meaning was imbued by different sections of society – however it’s not until it gets to the West that its true distortion kicks in.

As this is a show about stories – because what is history if not multiple stories? – King asks the audience to read aloud the stories literally hidden behind the shades. These stories are by the marginalised and disenfranchised – people of colour, non-binary, women in religion, victims of misogyny under a patriarchal system – and it is wonderful to hear their voices broadcast loud and clear by another. King’s approach is subtle – they almost seem indifferent when inviting the audience to literally get out of their comfort zone and speak publicly (a task many find daunting even when the words are their own) – yet their eyes sparkle as they see the audience respond through laughter or anger or sadness at the voicing of the voiceless. Lipstuck is an intimate and kind show – King’s gentle and encouraging smile is infectious and they have the incredible ability to make one feel comfortable when dealing with uncomfortable topics.

If all lectures were like this, we’d be mutli-disciplinary experts – King teaches without lecturing or preaching, they get all their points across and are inclusive of everyone. Lipstuck is like a big hug from someone you love – you’ll feel bouyed up by it and may end up with lipstick on your face by the end, but that will only serve as a memory of the powerful stories that will bolster you to step out into the night and be yourself – whatever that is. (I can guarantee it’s fabulous!)

*Can I just point out that Daley King literally makes a lipstick onstage?! That’s amazing!

WHEN: 28th January – 1st February 2020 | 7:30pm

WHERE: Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA) | FRINGE CENTRAL

INFO: Pricing $22 – $26 | Duration 60m | Suitability M | Occasional Coarse Language, Depicts Violence, Loud Noises, Mental Health, Sexual References, Strobe Lighting | THEATRE

TICKETS: https://fringeworld.com.au/whats_on/lipstuck-fw2020

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FRINGEWORLD, In Brief, on now

Do you know when lipstick was invented? Daley King does – find out in Lipstuck.

LIPSTUCK explores humanity’s complex relationship with adornment – in particular the ways we interact with lipstick. Daley King loves lipstick an its history. We caught up with Daley ahead of the show to see what it’s all about.

What is your show about?

Lipstuck reclaims lipstick for all humans, and confronts the idea of binary gender, especially in regard to how we outwardly express ourselves. I’m often ‘stuck’ between and outside many binaries in regard to my body, choices, and existence. The urge to cover one’s lips, whether inorganic materials or tattoos, and to adorn one’s body, is a deeply human instinct thousands of years in the making; unfortunately Western culture has done a grand job of pigeonholing this natural compulsion into something sexual or deviant, to be objectified and controlled.

Favourite part of the show, no spoilers!

The encompassing sensory experience the audience will encounter. We’re not afraid to light some incense brew some tea, and apply some lipstick. There’ll be organic smells, sounds, and sights for you to enjoy! It’s all about welcoming you in.

What is the best part about participating in FRINGEWORLD 2020?

The fact that anything goes. If you want to see it, it probably exists somewhere in the 700 shows available; a veritable spectrum of colour, curiosity, confusion, and chaos. If you want to try something new, the possibilities are endless.

Apart from your show, what other shows would you recommend?

I highly recommend checking out the entire PICA program; it’s a gorgeously queer collection of live art that’s full of soul. Other than that, the Summer Nights program next door at The Blue Room Theatre is always a highlight, every year, without fail. Go check out my fellow POC making waves with their ground breaking and genre-bending works; Krishna Istha’s Beast, Tony Bonani Miyambo’s Kafka’s Ape, Tasnim Hossain’s Boys Light Up , and Dore Khan’s This Is Permanent , of which I’m entirely 100% biased as the director.

Describe your show in 3 words:

Warm. Vibrant. Alive.

You can check out LIPSTUCK here.