Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Theatre: The Awesome Festival

Tom Flanagan
The Awesome Spiegeltent
Until October 19

Catch the Rain
Ellis and Céire Pearson
The Bird Hide
Until October 15

Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown and his Singing Tiger
Phil Burger and Stuart Bowden
The Awesome Spiegeltent
Until October 15

The Awesome Festival in the Perth Cultural Centre is an eye-opening and exhilarating experience for a far-too-grown-up geezer like me.
I took in Spare Parts’ tender, expressive Hachiko and Yirra Yaakin’s Promethean Noongar fable Kaarla Kaatijin (link here and here to their reviews in The West) before seeing the South African father-daughter team of Ellis and Céire Pearson’s Catch the Rain, a parched morality tale of water, drought and corporate greed.

Tom Flanagan is a hugely talented physical performer, and his Kaput, in the Spiegeltent (now there’s a piece of arts infrastructure that’s paying off in spades), is a hilarious adventure in misadventure and back-to-front logic. As he fell through walls and tangled with ladders, glue buckets and other runaway inanimate objects, Flanagan channels every slapstick genius from Buster Keaton to Los Trios Ringbarkus. (Link here to the complete reviews in The West Australian).

Kids come to Dr Brown's rescue
Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown (Phil Burger) and his Singing Tiger (Stuart Bowden) were a smash at this year's Edinburgh Fringe (link here to a review from that season) and I'm sure they will be here. Burger is a remarkable performer (think Sasha Baron Cohen; even better, think Alan Arkin); bemused, sly and inventive, he sent the kids in the Spiegeltent wild with mischievous delight. Bowden, as his sidekick and foil is every bit as entertaining as he rides the waves of improvised mayhem Burger creates with a huge grin and a tiny ukelele. If this show was the late night feature in the tent at the Fringe it would be a sensation; for kids, and the grown-ups with them, it's nothing short of a mid-day miracle. 

Wolfe Bowart is a native Arizonian who now lives in Perth, and last year’s Awesome Festival gave him a chance to play to his adopted home crowd for the first time.
Bowart returns with Letter's End, just as impressive as his 2011 show, The Man the Sea Saw, but even more fun and engaging for young audiences. It's a freer expression of his performance skills and less of a formal narrative than its predecessor.
Letter's End is set in a basement dead letter office, where undelivered parcels and letters drop down a chute for Bowart's clown to deal with. The clown has no interest in the contents – he burns them in a boiler – until one day an old floppy teddy bear falls from a package and releases a flood of memory and emotion in him. Letters fall open, and he begins to read of the lives behind them.
These lives are his own, of course, and the boiler room is a metaphor for his memory and imagination, for his story and the people and things that inhabit it.

It’s a killer idea, because the story doesn’t need to satisfy an external logic as most narratives do: the internal logic of the action – that one thing leads to another, that ends get tied up – is sufficient.
And Bowart is such a marvellous clown. He’s hilarious and touching, whether he’s waging war on a stroppy mosquito or dealing with a pooey nappy (a recurring theme, along with drenching audiences with water, at this year’s festival!). He’s also a prop master – a mop head becomes a dog, lamps mysteriously light and douse, a table flies through the air, eggs and flowers appear and disappear, as if by magic.
Music is the pulse of Bowart’s imagination, and there is a torrent of it in Letter’s End. He’s an unabashed francophile, and there’s much accordion music throughout, along with a klezmer as he goes into the audience in search of a shoe, the eclectic contemporary duo the Ditty Bops as Wolfe suddenly grows tall on stage, the music-box sound of Circus Contraption and Louis Armstrong singing I’m in the Mood for Love as the final curtain falls.
And love is in the air for the clown. A memory of the girl (the beautiful Erin Flaherty) he’d met and married as a young man comes to life on screen; she grows old (now played by Bowart’s real-life mother Linda Shannon) just as the clown grows from a young boy (his nephew Edward Buck Shannon) into the old man waiting under the chute at the end.
This long filmed segment, while beautifully constructed and an important part of the story, lacks a little pace, and there are some other moments that might have been a bit more urgent, but let’s not quibble over maybe five of the 75 minutes we get to spend with this fine, funny comic.
An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian.


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