Velvet @ The Playhouse, Friday May 5

Column: In Review   |   Date Published: Sunday, 14 May 17   |   Author: Jarrod McGrath   |   1 month, 2 weeks ago

Bondage, acrobatics, hula hoops, ukulele, disco, hot bodies and Marcia; what more could you ask for in a show! Velvet’s synopsis states it’s a “sparkling show that channels all the glamour and debauchery of the original Studio 54 nightclub.” Whilst there wasn’t any actual dialogue to support this it certainly did channel the vibe.

Atop the stage was a DJ booth of sorts where, what could be described as our musical conductor, was perched, adorned with sparkling earmuff headphones and black eye line glasses. He drummed along to performances as well as playing a variety of air instruments. His predominant role appeared to be keeping the party pumping, which involved coming down onto the stage for some bongo solos (including one performance on an electric bongo which looked like an impressive and fun instrument). This role culminated in getting the crowd dancing at the conclusion whereby he walked around and took selfies with the audience.

In between this we had a variety of acrobatic performances where crew would be pulled up towards the roof on various slings (including once on bondage chains) sometimes carrying each other as they dangled mid-air. The fun highlight of the show was the rather chubby man in a fluoro leotard who was a hula-hoop extraordinaire. He twirled a variety of hoops around every part of his body; when the house lights went down at one point, the lightshow from the hoops was nice and flashy. The musical highlight was easily the stripped-down version of ‘Stayin’ Alive’ performed only with a ukulele and light percussion. The vocals for this piece were quite impressive. You might say there were some ‘dodgy’ elements in Velvet, but that’s disco, isn’t it? All in all, it was certainly entertaining.


Chinese Whispers and Other Stories @ Huw Davies Gallery, PhotoAccess, Thu April 27 – Sun May 21:

Chinese Whispers and Other Stories features the works of four emerging female Australian artists of Chinese descent – Janelle Low, Pia Johnson, Siying Zhou and Tammy Law. Through photography and video, it challenges the viewer’s assumptions of Asian Australian identity, migration, home and belonging.

On entering the gallery, one’s attention is captured by Low’s intimate yet incomplete self-portraits, juxtaposed against still-life images of Chinese-ness and Australiana. Condensed milk spills from an oyster shell while what appears to be white chocolate spiked with peppermint leaves is revealed as ‘Tofu and Gum’. Low’s series ‘Reconcile’ (2016/17) speaks to the crossfire of growing up between cultures and the fragmented self this fosters. The effect is jarring though comforting in its familiarity.

Johnson’s series ‘Family Resemblance, after Wittgenstein’ (2015/16) builds on this understanding of self as the sum of fractured parts through 22 seemingly arbitrary images. The viewer’s gaze, drifting from incense sticks to mooncake, is jolted by the inclusion of pillow-shaped ravioli, a reflection of the artist’s mixed Chinese-Italian-Australian heritage. “The layout plays on ideas of the genogram and family tree, and looks at similarities and differences (of content and visual characteristics) of my heritage cultures, and their fusion of being Eurasian Australian,” Johnson explains.

‘Our first Lamington made in Australia’ (2015) by Zhou is an hour-long video documenting the artist’s parents making lamingtons. The couple bicker over whether to whisk the batter with a spoon or chopsticks and speak in a mixture of Mandarin (subtitled) and English, revealing an authenticity that is difficult, if not impossible, to imitate. It is a tender portrait of familial love and cultural adaptation. “Let me use chopsticks,” the father insists, dipping sponge into chocolate icing, then coconut flakes.

Law’s series of photographs ‘Belonging in Motion’ (2015/16) examines home and displacement from the perspective of migrants from Myanmar in Australia. Of the four artists, Law’s work is the most surreal. The fading light of dusk, combined with memories projected onto suburbia, heighten the sense of being caught not just between two countries but between the past and the present. Stripped of identifying landmarks, the subjects, faces blurred, could be one’s neighbours.

At the exhibition opening, Professor Jacqueline Lo (Associate Dean (International), ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences) comments on the persistence required to create a narrative. Chinese Whispers and Other Stories subtly shifts the labour of narrative-building from artist to audience. It simmers with questions, not just ‘Who am I?’ but ‘Who are you?’ or more pointedly, ‘Who are you to ask?’ It shatters stereotypes and rewards those who work patiently towards understanding. Viewers are compelled to sift for missed clues, thereby resetting preconceptions of Asian Australians.

Visually stunning, the exhibition is an invitation to look beyond surfaces.

This review was originally published in Pencilled In, a literary magazine dedicated to showcasing art by young Asian-Australians.


Dracula @ The Playhouse, Wed–Sat April 26–29 :

Bringing Bram Stoker’s gothic tale to the stage was always going to be an ambitious task for Shake & Stir, whose previous productions include 1984 and Wuthering Heights. This adaptation boasts confidence in its production values, wowing audiences with pyrotechnics, startling soundscapes and shape-shifting sets, but ultimately falls short with its script and delivery.

As Jonathan Harker arrives at Castle Dracula, the audience is treated to the impressive set, complete with a revolving stage and spiral staircase where we first encounter our vampire villain played by Nick Skubij. The rich atmosphere, created with fog, lighting and sound, transport the audience from dank Transylvania to stormy London, and back.

Unfolding like the book and borrowing much from the 1992 film, this adaptation also pays homage to various vampire classics. The scenes where Lucy writhes in tormented suffering mimic Hammer Horror; smoky, backlit and totally camp.

Fans of Coppola’s film may be disappointed in the absence of romance here. Instead of cheering for the antihero in his quest to seduce Mina we tire of his bloodlust and wonder why and how, or even if this story stands up in 2017. Dracula, a grotesque creep, is essentially a real-estate mogul whose obsession with purchasing property in and around London is what drives him to feed and kill the young folk who get in his way. The absence of true love challenges us to invest in this text, especially as Dracula is presented as such an unlikable character; even with a leather jacket and suave new hair he, like the play, doesn’t quite charm or seduce.




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