Q opens in triumph, Fringe overshadows Festival, Outfit Rise, Rugby, Rugby, Rugby, and the Death of the Theatre. [by James Wenley]
Attending the recent Hackman Theatre awards, Auckland Theatre circa 2011 would appear to be in rude health. Rude being the word, hosts Nic Sampson and Joseph Moore proudly observing it was a record year of nudity on stage, from the very brave Mr. Sam Seddon in The Only Child to the Dame bosoms of the Calendar Girls. It was certainly year that didn’t leave much to the imagination, containing everything from dildos to knitted phalluses, bath tubs to swimming pools.
The Hackmans were a big communal pat on the back for the industry, a brash and bold celebration of a huge year in theatre. As Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Robyn Malcom closed the awards night performing in a Thomas Sainsbury play that he had written under duress that very night, there was a sense that anything and everything was possible.
As a critic moving from Craccum to my own Theatre Scenes blog this year, I’ve welcomed the end-of-year theatre break. Throughout the year, I could often be heard to exclaim: ‘Auckland Theatre: There is too much of you!’. It’s been exhausting going to opening to opening night after night. And immensely rewarding. While containing some duds for sure, my impression of the year is one of great strength and eclectic activity. There was no shortage of things to write about at least. There was always something on. Between fellow blogger Sharu Delilkan and me, we reviewed or previewed 96 different shows, and even that barely scratched the surface.
A beautiful and stupid comedy from Australia...
The Hermitude of Angus, Ecstatic sounds nothing like your typical comedy show. Billed as a ‘read along comedy’, it’s a fusion of comedy, dance, music, clowning… and philosophy. Created by Slow Clap productions' Vachel Spirason and Stephanie Brotchie, it won ‘Best Comedy’ at its Melbourne Fringe Festival debut last year, and crosses the ditch to perform in the 2011 Auckland Fringe Festival. Auckland Fringe’s tagline ‘Leave with more questions than answers’ was already too true… and I hadn’t even seen the show yet!
Intrigued, I talked to Angus, Ecstatic’s Australian co-writer and performer VACHEL SPIRASON.
The poster image for the show is especially intriguing. It depicts Angus amongst an eclectic collection of objects: paperclips, coins, oranges, with a leaf in his hand. What sort of semiotics was going on there?
“The main character Angus, is kind of a social misfit,” Vachel explains “he’s a little bit different and a little bit strange. He’s fascinated with the world; he finds the world intriguing and beautiful although he struggles to find a way to interact with other people in a sort of socially acceptable manner. And he’s constantly trying to figure out the formula for the universe, trying to work out a way to understand everything, a grand theory of everything. He’s fascinated by patterns and trying to find patterns in everything”. The poster reflects the conception of the character’s world view. “We liked the idea of visually putting him amongst this pattern of objects that were kind of reminiscent of atoms or planets”.
The idea for the show as a ‘read along comedy’ came from the story books and tapes that Vachel used to love as a kid (‘when you hear this sound *bling* turn the page’). “There’s a giant storybook onstage, and there’s a narrator who controls the action onstage. Angus is sort of involved in the telling of the story, as well as being the subject of the story.” In one of the original conceptions of the show they explored the idea of each audience member having their own book under their seats, giving them the choice to physically read along. “But that,” Vachel admits, “posed some problems”.
The intrigue surrounding the show was ever so slightly beginning to become clearer. But what of all the different art forms that was to be included with the comedy?
Reading the press you promise comedy, dance, music, clowning… what don’t you have in the show?
Magic… trained animals, quite a lot of things! We have a lot of different aspects of the show and I guess when you see them itimised like that it’s hard to imagine how they all come together. But its largely informed by all the different skill sets that we have, and wanting to create a show that incorporated all the things that we liked doing. I grew up dancing, previous shows that I’ve worked on with another group (Vigilantelope) before this always had a lot of dancing in it even though they were comedy shows. Angus is largely a non-verbal character, there’s a lot of physical comedy that’s informed by clown tuition I’ve done in both here and in Europe. And I’m still, you know, learning as I go with all these things. But it’s interesting the things we experiment with… not having the ability to verbally interact with the audience, but purely doing it through facial expressions and physical movement.
And you are also trying to highlight some underappreciated pop tunes?
A lot of music, a fair bit of it, is music that we just really, really like. And so there’s some, classic cheesy numbers and Chaka Kan numbers and some old disco tunes and bits and pieces. And I think that we’ve always been quite strong in encouraging people to look up the music that we use in the shows. Music is a very powerful contributor to a piece of theatre or a movie. If other people can enjoy the music and hear it for the first time in the show and then go away and keep enjoying the music then it’s always a powerful outcome.