REVIEW: The Artist (Q Theatre)

Review by Irene Corbett

[Endearing Muscularity] 

Thom Monckton returns to Auckland with his much lauded physical theatre show The Artist for a night of bumbling comedy and impressive feats of physical strength. If you can picture what would happen if Mr Bean had trained with Cirque Du Soleil then you are on the right track. 

The show follows the titular Artist (Monckton) through a series of both physical and creative difficulties which are surmounted by the Artist in increasingly ridiculous and entertaining ways. 

The stage is presented as a studio space, complete with tea mug, turps mug, easels, Lundia shelving, and an ever present drip. A spattered drop cloth is projected upon the floor and demarcates the studio’s parameters within the larger expanse of the Rangitira stage. The only thing missing is the clutter usually associated with art making. There is a glaring absence of old jars and plastic storage bins but simplicity and precision are central features of this piece both in the comedy and in the execution of the action. This action is at times daring enough that life-like clutter would pose a health and safety risk!

There is no firm overarching narrative, it is instead a window into a world governed by creative blockage, procrastination, and a charming inability to complete simple tasks in the usual ways. If you are expecting some art history or commentary upon techniques, tools, or mediums then you had better head up to the Auckland Art Gallery. For The Artist, the prop canvases are very much secondary to the canvas of the theatrical stage. Lighting, sound design, the painting paraphernalia, and the set pieces are all used to novel and comedic effect. 

The projection is just the beginning of the arresting use of light and shadow. Lighting designer Juho Rahijärvi has choreographed one scene within the show to such great effect that the audience might just experience some of the childlike wonder and bated breath so often missing in theatre experiences marketed at adults. Sound designers Tuomas Norvio and Atte Kantonen have then scored the work with sparkling electronic music which steps beyond the incidental to complement and at times motivates the action. Amidst it all Monckton shines, and the joy of his performance is that you can imagine the same level of hilarity resulting from his approach to washing dishes or attempting to post a letter. It is worth mentioning that Monckton is also presenting a new show (titled The King of Taking) concurrently to the season of The Artist which makes the physicality of the show all the more impressive.

It is unclear at times if some choices are motivated by the character of the Artist, by the jokes played, or by Monckton as the clown. For example, Monckton moves from wordless exclamations of surprise or satisfaction to complete silence and then later to some largely indecipherable but linguistic gibberish during a particularly entertaining series of scenes with a fruit bowl. The show does not however suffer as a result of the world created lacking strict structures, after all the aforementioned Mr Bean also mumbled the occasional phrase.

The show runs until Saturday the 12th and if the sustained and boisterous laughter on opening night is anything to go by it is time to forgo an episode of your favourite tv show in favour of an hour of Art -you are guaranteed to be puzzled, delighted, and to leave considering adding some kinesthetics to your exercise regime. 

The Artist plays Q Rangitara from the 8th to the 12th of November 2022

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