Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Adelaide Fringe reviews: MKA Pop-Up

'UnSex Me'
MKA: Theatre of New Writing, Producers Bar, 5-16 March 2013. Written and performed by Mark Wilson.

Mark Wilson’s gender-bending solo performance in which he plays an actress of the same name is an all-out assault on good taste which culminates in an extended scene of anal intercourse with a microphone. That it is also about Shakespeare – its title is drawn from Macbeth – both surprises and, up to a point, sets it apart from other exercises in offense of the John Waters variety.
            UnSex Me opens familiarly enough: a self-obsessed starlet is holding court on a TV chat show. The actor in question is one Mark Wilson, winner of an Academy Award. She is being directed in a stage production of Macbeth by her father, a somewhat alarming Roman Polanski-esque figure who looms large over the play, and Mark’s fractured psyche. This reviewer was drawn into the actress' bizarre world about fifteen minutes in, victim of the dreaded audience interaction, to temporarily assume the role of Mark’s sometimes lover, Guy. I have never kissed a man on the mouth before – much less one with a beard – but UnSex Me is that kind of show. You have been warned.
            What makes it work, and enables it to occasionally rise above its overwhelming schlockiness and almost complete lack of restraint, is Wilson's impassioned performance. He believes in what he has written and, despite moments of almost excruciating self-indulgence, Mark the actress emerges as a genuine character, if not quite deserving of our sympathy then at least dramatically compelling. It is a script with too much in it, but its engagement with issues of gender and its presentations, with celebrity and its excesses, and with Macbeth and its possible interpretations in a post-Freudian, post-feminist world is unexpectedly thought-provoking.

'22 Short Plays' 
MKA: Theatre of New Writing, Producers Bar, 5-16 March 2013. Written by David Finnigan. Directed by Tobias Manderson-Galvin.

David Finnigan’s 22 Short Plays, the second in MKA’s three performance pop-up theatre, is a surreal comedy of sketches, part-Monty Python, part-Noel Fielding in its studied wackiness. The kids might call it ‘so random’. It is a show which taps into the same zeitgeist as Adelaide’s own Golden Phung who, like Finnigan, make theatre which borrows heavily from TV sources and is refreshingly unencumbered by any of comedy’s golden rules. The punch line is the first victim.
            Each short play is prefaced by a pre-recorded announcement of its title, all bizarre and funny. To give just a little of the show’s flavour, one sketch is called ‘Cum Goblin’, and is a sort of parody of a 19th century romantic novel in which two men debate the unusual nickname of the title being applied to one of their lovers. Another sketch – ‘Slave Market at the Top of a Ski Lift’ – is absurd comedy par excellence, meaninglessly mashing up historical epochs and literary tropes to hilarious effect. This is comedy with no real targets, taking aim only at tired genre conventions and, perhaps, the contemporary attention span which, in the age of YouTube, seems to demand more and more in less and less time.
            The three performers – Tom Dent, Conor Gallacher and Kerith Manderson-Galvin – impress with their gusto, comic flair and, it must be said, persistence in the extreme heat of the pop-up theatre’s beer garden setting. As with all sketch-based comedy, 22 Short Plays is a hit and miss affair, but Dent, Gallacher and Manderson-Galvin – under the incisive direction of the latter’s brother and MKA Creative Director, Tobias – are unstinting in their commitment to the silliness; no mean feat under lights in 35 plus-degree temperatures.

'SOMA'
MKA: Theatre of New Writing, Producers Bar, 5-16 March 2013. Written and performed by Tobias Manderson-Galvin. 

‘There is always soma’, wrote Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, ‘delicious soma, half a gram for a half-holiday, a gram for a week-end, two grams for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon...’
Huxley’s superdrug is given a radical reinterpretation in Tobias Manderson-Galvin’s one man show of the same name. Ostensibly playing himself – he comes across as a sort of recovering-from-something, or having-just-escaped-from-somewhere stand-up comic at the end of a very long run of shows – Manderson-Galvin effectively drags soma from the eighty-year-old pages of Huxley’s dystopia into the 21st century: hypertension, TV evangelists, digital democracy. Like both Unsex Me and 22 Short Plays, Soma dabbles in audience interaction, in perversity and subversiveness, in violently pushing against theatrical boundaries. It is the most self-indulgent of the three plays, but in Manderson-Galvin’s almost stream of consciousness-style script there is more than a hint of commentary on the various cults of personality which dominate today’s airwaves. He likes to say his own name – a mouthful for anybody – and he likes to change his clothes, at one point stripping entirely, at others switching between shirts and suits for no discernible reason. Elsewhere, we are introduced to a heavily-bandaged teddy bear and his keyboard, and Manderson-Galvin attempts to crowd surf with a boogie board. Has he taken soma, or have we?
SOMA is, if you have not by now guessed, a show difficult to get a handle on. Many, I suspect, will dismiss it as narcissistic art student wank. It is, certainly, the least accessible of the three plays reviewed here. Happily, what it does share with MKA’s other work is an almost vicious refusal to permit its audience to become bored. Again, here, I think it’s possible to detect a certain amount of satire at play, a thread of criticism of the desire of modern audiences to be entertained at any cost. This, after all, was Huxley’s point: that an Orwellian controlling authority is not needed to enslave a populace. Give them escape – TV, sex, drugs – and they will enslave themselves.                           

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