Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The Ballad of Backbone Joe, June 30, 2008 *1/2

The Ballad of Backbone Joe
By The Suitcase Royale, Puppets@Fed Square
Fed Square Carpark Level 3, June 30 to July 6, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 1 & ½ stars

The Ballad of Backbone Joe is not what one expects in a children’s puppet festival

For one thing, it is not a puppet show – well, it has a few projections, shadow images and a skeletal rod puppet. For another, it is a Film Noir take-off that the kids just don’t get and it incorporates some pretty violent, albeit comical, scenes.

It is difficult to say what age it targets. It seems to be more of a show for groovy, inner urban grunge-heads in bars. The Suitcase Royale is a small, touring company that indeed does shows for that crowd at Comedy Festivals in Melbourne and Edinburgh. Backbone Joe is a new show and it is not quite cooked yet. It will get better over the week it performs at Fed Square.

The three performers are scruffy. Their style is chaotic and breaks all theatrical rules. The actors frequently break out of character or, rather, never really enter character. There are enormous gaps as they change costumes, pick up props or musical instruments, turn on lights on stage, or move from music to acting. The story is confusing for the first 20 minutes and comes to an abrupt halt 50 minutes later.

Suitcase calls its work Junkyard Theatre and the design and location suits the description. It is performed in the Fed Square underground car park and the set looks like a junk shop. It is a mess. But somehow, the mad trio makes all this chaos engaging.

The narrative owes a great deal to Raymond Chandler. Elijah is a private detective engaged to solve a crime that has something to do with Denise, a woman in a red dress who is married to Dan, a bloke who fixes boxing matches. Backbone Joe is a punch-drunk boxer who loves Denise but is paid to kill her by her husband. The dialogue is riddled with gags and Film Noir references that fly right over the heads of the kids.

The slightly country-rock songs fill in the gaps in the story. Trouble’s Never Far Behind a Red Dress illuminates the story of Denise, the off-stage femme fatale. There on the Bridge at Three In The Morning explains the ending.

My advice is don’t take any child under 10. There is plenty more to see in the Festival.


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