Sunday, 19 February 2017

Asia TOPA – Kagerou, Little Emporers

Kagerou Photo: Bryony Jackson

Kagerou, Arts House

The Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 was known the world over as the Fukushima disaster, named after the nuclear power plant that was heavily damaged by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

Kagerou, subtitled A Study in Translating Performance, focuses on the experiences of one woman, Kyoko, a survivor of the earthquake.

Director and creator Shun Hamanaka has created a documentary experience, with performer Yoko Ito live-translating interviews conducted with Kyoko over the years since the tragedy.

The original interviews with Kyoko form part of an aural soundscape, while we hear the performer tell the story in English. Translation is key to the performance; we are being brought into Kyoko’s world but are still held at a slight distance.

We see projections of images filmed at Hisanohama; images that are mostly still but move just a little. It’s delicate and subtle, much like Ito’s performance – there are no bold moves or grand acting moments, just a reporting of one woman’s experience.

Taking a large-scale tragedy that affected tens of thousands of people and focusing in on the experiences of one woman and one city is very effective. Kagerou recontextualises our experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake as a news report about a nuclear facility to a story of personal tragedy. Delicate and profound.

Little Emperors, rehearsal. Photo: Tim Grey

Little Emperors, Malthouse

The title of this show references “Little Emperor Syndrome” – the end-result of an entire generation of Chinese children born without siblings under the country’s One-Child Policy. It was created in collaboration between Australian playwright Lachlan Philpott and Beijing-based director, Wang Chong.

In Little Emperors, there are two children: a son, who was kept secret, and a daughter, the oldest child. The son, Kai-wen, moves to Melbourne to become a theatre director, something his mother wouldn’t approve of. She also wouldn’t approve of his homosexuality either, so he keeps that secret for as long as he can.

The show is not so much about a clash of cultures, at least until mother and daughter arrive in Melbourne to surprise Kai-wen, but an exploration of a relationship between two children – one of whom is kept at a distance because of the one-child policy.

The script itself feels a little undercooked; Kai-wen’s story hits several clich├ęd beats about feeling at a remove from his family. His awkward relationship with one of his collaborators in Melbourne feels much less rich than the story explored between mother and daughter and, sometimes, between sister and brother.

I wonder how this show would play in China and if my cultural sensibilities dulled some of the impact of the revelations late in the play.

The direction and design is stunning, though – and the performances by Alice Qin and Diana Lin, as mother and daughter, brought a richness to the experience the rest of the show lacked. The actors perform much of the show thigh-deep in water and there are many moments of tension exorcised through vigorous splashing.

Little Emperors explores an interesting subject but fails to be as compelling as it could be or should be.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

The Book of Mormon, The Encounter

I’ve already written a review for AussieTheatre this year – MTC’s production of Born Yesterday – but I want to try to write a little something about all the theatre I see this year.

The Book of Mormon. Photo by Jeff Busby

The Book of Mormon

Back in 2012, I saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway after lining up for a few hours to get standing-room-only tickets. My sister and I stood at the back of the stalls, behind people who probably paid $300 for their seats. I’ve never been so happy to stand before.

Four and a half years later, the show has made it to Melbourne and I’m so glad to have seen it again. It’s not a soundtrack I listen to a lot and it’s not a show I think about much, but it’s so fun in the theatre. I think I even enjoyed it more this second time, maybe because I paid for a seat this time? I remembered parts but I’d forgotten others. I noticed details I had missed before.

I also think it’s smarter than I first gave it credit for. The satire on religion is not subtle, but the look at Africa through the lens of Mormon missionaries is very pointed. And while it’s outrageously crude, as you would expect from the creators of South Park, the songs are clever and the performances are outstanding.

Complicite's The Encounter

The Encounter

The Malthouse Theatre’s 2017 season looks sensational and it has kicked off with a rich, immersive piece of theatre – a one-man show that really gets inside the audience’s head. Performer Richard Katz welcomes us to theatre, gets us to put our headphones on and treats us to the story of Loren McIntyre, a photographer for National Geographic who got lost in the Amazon jungle in 1969.

How do you capture life? How do you record it? Can you record it too much and if a recording disappears, is your memory enough? The questions the show raises are as dramatic as McIntyre’s thrilling and horrifying trip into the Amazon – trying to capture images of a “lost tribe”.

With the headphones on, the soundscape can put the voice of the performer before us behind us. He can whisper in our ear. His words can echo and repeat. Music can be weaved in, along with live sound-effects and pre-recorded interviews. This one-man show creates a wild, wide world right inside your head.

This show is - I suspect - unforgettable, even though this review and a Facebook check-in might be the only digital reminders of my encounter with it.

The Encounter is sold out.

The Book of Mormon will run for a while.