REVIEW: Perry (Auckland Fringe)

Review by Tim George

[Look Closer]

Where you sit can have an impact on how you see a show. I tend to sit as close to the stage as possible, particularly if there is a chance of any interaction with the performer – I want the most immersive experience possible. I also try to avoid any information about the show.

With Perry (created and performed by Tom Clarke), this approach was compromised.

Two things happened which became barriers for the first five minutes: 

One was the person seated next to me who told their friends that they had already seen the show, and proceeded to laugh before every major beat. It robbed the show of its spontaneity, and took me a bit to get back into its groove.

The other thing, which was less of a factor, was that because of my sitting position, I could see into the wings. So when Clarke makes his entrance, and played hide’n’seek with the audience, the effect was stripped away. It felt like a minor self-own because for the first part of the show I was thinking of the show in terms of its building blocks – the staging, the performance choices, the costuming – rather than giving myself over to it.

This little tangent is important because the nature of Clarke’s show is totally dependent on the audience’s suspension of disbelief, and their willingness to create the imagined space that the performer exists in.

While Perry (Clarke) does talk, aside from a few key phrases and words, his dialogue is gibberish. He is playing the audience’s desire for context, and his use of words and mime work provides and changes that context as the character moves from simple exercises (imagine this object that I present to you) to more complex scenarios involving other… entities.

Like a workout for your imagination, the show builds from simple acts of visualisation, to interaction with said objects, and finally, identification and emotional investment. It is similar to a colouring book – Clarke provides the outline and then the audience fills in the image with colour and shading.  

The show’s punchline is ultimately dependant on how much you are willing to invest in things which are not there. A deceptively silly show, Perry is a very intelligent exercise in audience manipulation that highlights the importance of the human imagination to the theatrical space, and the art it takes to stimulate an audience to make it live.

Perry plays at Basement Theatre as part of Auckland Fringe 25-29 February, 2020. 

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