|Photo by Brett Boardman|
Little Eggs Collective and The Clari Boys present, PINOCCHIO, Composed and Devised by The Company. At The WareHouse, 255 Euston Rd. Alexandria. 25 - 29th September.
Little Eggs Collective and The Clari Brothers have devised a mime/movement/dance work with the title of PINOCCHIO. It is part of the Sydney Fringe Festival.
Walking on a cold Wednesday night, with threatening rain clouds skimming over the declining Harvest Moon in the late September sky, to a Warehouse building in Euston Rd at the south end of Sydney Park which is in the midst of the cataclysm of West Connex construction with all its attendant road and footpath disruption, I staggered into a car park (after an exhaustive challenge from the 370 Bus Stop, some half mile away) surrounded by wire fencing, following a tiny trail of pink lights, that led to an illuminated door. I squeezed into a 'foyer', completely packed with 6 or 12 audience, where the box office sort-of-was, manned by a nearly competent computer user, being hassled with people checking their electronic tickets on their devices, and/or buying on-line - they do not take cash! - you must be a member of the Big Brother Surveillance On-Line Culture to get in to see PINOCCHIO! A desultory couple of packets of chips and soft drinks - no alcohol, no visible sign of the recent ubiquitous glasses of red wine in hands to be seen (it hardly felt as if I was at a Sydney Fringe or Theatre event) - decorated the squashed space. The 8pm starting time came and went. The box office competent went, at last, to welcome the audience - most of us outside were stalled in the cold open air - where, standing precariously on some cement stairs near an industrial rubbish bin he shouted to the bewildered members of the audience sheltering in the tiny 'foyer' to come out and hear his warning instructions on how to enter the theatre and how and where to sit, but, first, he wished to acknowledge the First Nations people, and instructed us to do so, with him, in Auslan, which he laboriously taught us as he, prayerfully, went on with the oral translation. We were all made into temporary 'mime' artists. He wondered, out loud, after all that, if there was anything he had left out. I muttered, under my chattering breath: "Just us, out here, in the cold, beginning to get agitated that it was well past 8pm, the advertised starting time."
At last, we entered a vast Warehouse space with some uncomfortable three rows of chairs on a flat concrete floor surrounding the playing space on three sides, set to one side in the huge warehouse space, with a wall of wire fencing holding back, looming in the dark, some piled boxes. The back wall of the stage is an impressive high grey walled set, with opaque old style oblong windows inset, that shift colour from the lighting - both by Nick Fry. On stage surrounding a heavily built, a la workshop table, are the team of six performers frozen in varying positions with white painted face-eye make-up, dressed simply in quasi-period 1930-40's workman clothing (Costume, by Ella Butler). Mathew Lee, Annie Stafford, Grace Stamnas, Laura Wilson, Max harris and Oliver Shermacher.
High on the wall of the back setting some text is projected in Italian with accompanying English translation - kind of Brechtian in purpose, guiding us through the plot of the scenes/story throughout this 45 minute show. The actors come to life. There is no spoken word - it is a mime/movement/dance work - choreographed by Georgia Britt (who is also the Assistant Director). The performers, all, have multiple skills - they sing beautifully, and move/dance very athletically, individually and collectively. Two of them, Max Harris and Oliver Shermacher, also, play the clarinet which is employed intimately into the action of the work, assisted with choral/noise from the cast and some background soundscape.
The Director, Julia Robertson, writes, maybe, a trifle too grandiloquently:
Pinocchio is a story about an individual, Geppetto, seemingly alone in the world but with an imagination that keeps him entertained, challenged and alive.The creation of his own reality keeps the monstrosities outside at a safe distance ... (until) ultimately destroyed, in order to survive, Geppetto must relinquish what it is that makes him human and become a puppet to the regime. ... As a new arrogant superpower spreads hate across our world today, we find ourselves in an empty warehouse, now a make-shift theatre space, pushing ourselves to our creative limits in an attempt to spread a message of love, of understanding and of solidarity.
There is much to admire in the work. The visual aesthetics of Set, Costume, Lighting are simple but elegant. It looks as if there is decent budget - unlike most of the Fringe work in this Festival. The movement work is tight and beautifully 'drilled'. All the aural offers are calmly mesmerising - voice and instrument. And there is a coup de theatre that concludes the work that is sensationally 'pretty' if not carrying the dramaturgical clout that may have been intended.
This is an allegorical conceit, concerning an unnamed 'new arrogant superpower' but set during the rise of Dictator (and tyrant) Mussolini of Italy in the 1930's 40's - a photograph of the uniformed reality is removed and replaced on the back wall of the set, perhaps to cue us, who can see it and recognise what it is of - and there is, in the final moments of the work, a grand design gesture of specific Italian location.
The Company have set the work specifically in period and a history and has made the assumption that the audience have knowledge of the allusion - if, of Italian heritage, perhaps, you may do, otherwise, not necessarily so. So, the dramaturgical premise of Little Eggs production, PINOCCHIO, may zip over the head and knowledge of most of its audience. I have experienced a generation of theatre students who have no knowledge, or only a vague idea of who Adolf Hitler was, let alone Mussolini, or that there were two World Wars.
The texts projected onto the wall, only vaguely readable, are of mostly academic referencing and have not much familiarity to the PINOCCHIO story as I know it - even if this scenario is slightly Disney tinted. The action on the stage hardly produces a Pinocchio figure for us to identify with - it is puzzling and disconcerting. It is instead really about the trials and tribulations of Geppetto, is it not? - should the work be called Geppetto, then? And, although these performers are skilful none of them have yet honed the most important quality of the mime artist - identifiable vulnerability. This should be the quality that all should have. Mathew Lee, especially, as the Geppetto figure, ought to have. It is the lesson that the great mime/movement artists have given us. It is why Charlie Chaplin in his day and still now, is affecting, even on silent movie film. It is why the great recent Italian clowns/performers, Dario Fo and Franca Rame won the hearts and so the minds of their public. The audience understood the propaganda of the work because it was 'sugared' with touching emotional identification. It was not the skills that the public appreciated and identified, it was the vulnerable heart throb of the character's personas. The skills were peripheral (though, of course, essential). This company of PINOCCHIO has, yet, to find that vulnerable humanity of their creations, to supersede the admiration of the finesse of the artists' technical physical and vocal offers.
Passing out of the theatre space, one saw the creative artists behind the desk at the back of the seating, bustling, and in serious discussion. Perhaps, the work will find adjustment for its political statements to become more readable and so, then, relevant, and the 'acting' more vulnerable. At the moment the politic is opaque and the emotional life of the performers underdeveloped.
Aesthetically, PINOCCHIO is in good shape - dramaturgically not so much and emotionally it is underwhelming. One longed for the Federico Feliini atmospherics and emotional delicacies. One longed for the sweep of AMARCORD, it, too, set in the period of Mussolini, lambasted with great comic terror and sadness and madness by Fellini and his team.
If the Sydney Fringe is about providing the opportunity for artists to present work-in-progress to take it further in more refined iterations than PINOCCHIO (Geppetto?) is worth catching. Just take note of my first paragraph and prepare the planning you may need to get there.