REVIEW! Love and Misinformation @ Drayton Arms

Created and directed by Stephen Davidson
Produced by Presence Theatre Collective

Performed by Avril Poole, Carla Keen, Chloe Kennedy, Invi Brenna, Jon Nguyen, Juwel Haque, Karo Kriks, Leander Vyvey, Maria Skolozynska, Olivia Gibbs-Fairley
21 – 25 May, 2019

It’s tricky to write about a production like Love and Misinformation. It’s an improvised play, so I can’t really mention anything about the plot, costumes or music – there weren’t any. I can say it’s distinct from a lot of improv shows in that they’re not just going for gags – there certainly are gags, but comedy is not the point of this show.

Conceived as an homage to Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, wherein fifteen actors play 100 characters in 50 scenes, Presence Theatre’s cast of ten experienced improvisers create countless characters in scenes that ranged from shockingly brief to painfully awkward. The scenes don’t form any particular plot – but as the show progresses, it develops a clear theme: connection and communication. There are hints at larger stories and references to things that may have never happened, ones that got away or refused to leave, people bumping into each other and trying to remember if they’ve met – it’s maddening to try to figure out links between characters played by actors who might not know either. Was I reading too much into something? Maybe! But maybe so was one of the performers in that scene! We’re all trying to figure out what’s going on together.

Theatre is about making meaning, and this production really encourages us to not only make our own meaning but question how that meaning is made, how we understand any social situations, and interactions, any media.

The show I saw was a preview for an upcoming Fringe run, and of course, it will undergo changes every time it is performed – maybe it will be tighter, maybe it will be looser. The cast were charismatic, though we barely spend enough time with any of them to get a handle on their strengths. Some actors seemed a little at sea – but aren’t we all, in this day and age? Isn’t it only right to be baffled by the world?

If this sounds a little vague, Love and Misinformation might not be the show for you. But, if you’re interested in a truly unique show, one that makes you reconsider some of your assumptions about relationships and society, definitely check it out.

Tickets

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Previous review: Summer Street: The Hilarious Aussie Soap Opera Musical @ Waterloo East Theatre

REVIEW! A Wake in Progress, Fine Mess Theatre @ Vault Festival Cage

Writer: Joel Samuels
Director: Liz Bacon
Producer: Leila Sykes with Fine Mess Theatre
Wednesday 7th – Sunday 10th Feb

A Wake in Progress, VAULT Festival (Courtesy of Ali Ward) (7) Stella Taylor and Amy Fleming.jpg

Stella Taylor and Amy Fleming in A Wake in Progress

The Cage theatre at the Vault festival is a dank and dingy cellar space, where trains rattle overhead at regular intervals and the air is surprisingly hot and muggy for such a subterranean place. It’s somewhere you could imagine stumbling across long-forgotten dead bodies, but that’s about as close as it comes to being funeral-adjacent, let alone a location for a wake party whose subject is still very much alive. And yet, Fine Mess Theatre manage to live up to their name, and transform the Cage into a space for pathos, humour, joy, and a shindig which leaves it strewn with party hats and, brightly coloured decorations, and empty plastic cups of prosecco.

At just over 45 minutes long, A Wake in Progress is both short and (bitter)sweet. It tells the story of a young person diagnosed with a terminal illness, and how they and the people closest to them come to terms with the fact that their time left with them is limited. The five actors play various roles from the protagonist’s life, including lover, sibling, best friend, and funerary celebrant/amateur therapist/narrator (who, played by Stella Taylor, was the standout talent in a talented cast). The audience plays a role in decision-making at several junctures, from naming new characters as they’re introduced, to deciding whether our story’s protagonist decides to buy a dog or go skydiving. On the night I was there I didn’t feel like the cast did the best job of incorporating the audience suggestions in any way deeper than the odd throwaway line, but this was still enough to instill in the audience a sense that we were part of events.

As a result, towards the end (when the titular wake takes place), it felt relatively natural for us to play the role of assorted family and friends – assisting to hand out party hats, pour drinks, pass around sweets, and generally get up and moving and schmoozing. The resultant atmosphere really did feel like a somewhat awkward but overall pleasant soiree – just as it was supposed to be. After all the characters had finished their speeches, we came together to sing In My Life to ukulele accompaniment, sharing pre-printed lyric sheets with the person next to us. With my eyes on the paper in front of me, and my whole concentration on trying to sing along, I didn’t notice a subtle change taking place on stage; when I looked up and noticed what was different, it really did hit me in the guts. This final moment – of loss mingling with a feeling of community and connectedness – was the one which best encapsulated what grief truly feels like, and it stayed with me as I left the theatre.

A Wake in Progress is nicely done little play about life, death, and relationships; yet despite these heavy themes, it manages to stay light and warm-hearted. It is hardly an ambitious project, but with it the artistic team at Fine Mess has achieved a playful, earnest, and amusing piece of theatre which fits snugly with the feeling of the Vault festival.

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