Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Theatre: The Empty City

Produced by: METRO ARTS and The Human Company

Director: David Fenton

Writer/Composer: David Megarrity  

Performed by: Tom Oliver and Bridget Boyle

Illustrator/Designer: Jonathon Oxlade

Animation/Film Maker: Luke Monsour

Sound Production & Additional Music: Bret Collery
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre
Until October 12


Mercifully, the times when you watch children’s theatre and feel you are intruding into someone else’s world are few and far between. At its best (and the Awesome Festival is full of examples), it’s as exciting and stimulating for overgrown-ups like me as it is for kids.

An extension of the award-winning 2007 book of the same name by David Megarrity and Jonathon Oxlade, The Empty City is the adventure of a boy, Tom (Tom Oliver), out shopping with his mum (Bridget Boyle, appearing only as an image), who suddenly finds himself alone in a cityscape with only shoes to show where people had once been. He retraces the path his mum and he had taken, free now to explore alone and at will, until, eventually, he is re-united with her and the populated world returns.
The story is told on a striking set of two huge screens, the front one transparent, upon which still and moving images are projected, and between which Oliver performs and occasional “real” objects are placed.
The effect is startling, and creates a cartoon three dimensionality like those old Viewmaster slide shows. Oliver reacts with the objects and images around him, holding his mother’s projected hand, using projected crockery as a drum kit, dodging projected paper planes on the attack. He’s sometimes the real boy; sometimes he, too, is a projected image.
The live action, and Bret Collery’s music and soundscape, sync perfectly with the projected imagery to complete a dense, intricately devised and technically brilliant whole.
It sounds wonderful, but, I’m afraid, it isn’t. Its intricacy and density are quickly deadening. Oliver, by necessity, is more intent on hitting his cues than giving his character warmth and life, while around him there’s way, way too much going on.
So I left the The Empty City genuinely hoping that, this time, I had completely missed the point. Maybe the imaginations of the young members of the audience were alive and sparking at what they’d seen in the past 40 minutes. Perhaps they were swept up in its repetition of sounds and images, like a Bach fugue, and it was only ossified codgers like me that found it as stultifying, humourless and heartless as an oversized, overlong game of Space Invaders.

This review appeared in The West Australian 14.10.13

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