Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hybrid Arts: Have Fun Living Forever

The Last Man to Die
Devised and performed by Last Man To Die and Pete Butz
Blue Room Theatre
September 29 – October 16, 2010

The Canberra-based Last Man to Die collective’s self-titled hybrid-arts show on tour at the Blue Room is an engrossing piece of futuristic fantasy.   
The premise is that we are in the distant future, being taken on a guided tour of a derelict museum built to celebrate man’s achievement of immortality.
It’s a tricky proposition: the package we are handed when we arrive warns that the tour will begin as soon as “our suspension of disbelief field is ready”.
It gets even more so when we are each given a card containing an elaborate individualised bar-code which, when scanned, determines which scene the performers will do; so that some scenes reappear and others, I’m told, may not be performed at all (I guiltily confess to not scanning my card and, therefore, potentially condemning a brilliant part of the show to remain unseen and unheard).
Add to all of that lots of audience participation – we are scanned for suitability for immortality, individual audience members are led away for scenes the rest of us don’t see, we are asked to tweet our thoughts about the show while it’s unfolding – and you’ve got the potential for a confusing, disorientating experience.
Happily that’s not the case. The performance is cleverly structured so you “get it” as it goes along, and the audience participation is non-threatening and often a lot of fun.
While collaborator Pete Butz’s script doesn’t deviate much from standard futurist fare (Jerry Seinfield once pondered why, in every representation of the future, everyone wears daggy uniforms and speak in bureaucratese) it provides a strong platform for some fine work from the collective’s talented young performers.
Artist Benjamin Forster’s technological visuals dominate the work – it’s as much an art installation as a live performance – delivering some fascinating effects and moments of real excitement.
Actor Hanna Cormick works through a physically and emotionally demanding performance with vigour and surprising nuance; at one point I was startled to see a tear fall down her cheek during a monologue she’d performed hundreds of times and, indeed, more than once during this show.
Percussionist Charles Martin’s spare xylophone-based electronica augments the show perfectly and at times rises to grand heights (listen).
One scene in particular, where Forster has Cormick’s projected image metamorphosing in and out of an elaborate cat’s cradle to one of Martin’s most elegant pieces was a thing of rare beauty. It was repeated three times by the luck of the bar-code scan, and I watched entranced each time.
By necessity The Last Man to Die plays to a tiny audience – 20 is pretty much a full house – and I’ve got a feeling tickets might get hard to come by before it closes on October 16.
It’s also great to go into a one-hour show at 7.00pm, allowing you to enjoy the hospitality of Northbridge Sin City at a civilised hour afterwards. Let’s hope such imaginative and complimentary scheduling becomes a regular part of the experience of WA’s performing arts complex as it develops.

An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian 6.10.10 look. 

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