Thursday, 20 May 2010

Urchin **1/2

By Christopher Brown & Rhian Hinkley, by Encyclopaedia of Animals, Full Tilt
Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre,  May 20 to 29, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **1/2

The first 30 minutes of Urchin are entertaining and funny, with some visually arresting digital imagery, sound and set design, and comical performances. The problems arise in the second half – but let’s enjoy the beginning firstly.

The opening image is like a moment from a Philippe Genty visual theatre show. Two men (Christopher Brown, David Tredinnick), carrying a desk and chair, walk into the wind, bathed in dramatic lighting (Jenny Hector). They are surrounded and dwarfed by an enormous wall of cardboard boxes (designed by Mark Cuthbertson).

The following slow, sparse dialogue reveals that they are brothers, Martin (Tredinnick) and Damien (Brown), small-time entrepreneurs who are a parody of cheap salesmen engaged in an endless search for the product that will make them millions.

When they find the mysterious Urchin – purportedly a vaccine for fear – in a scrappy sales catalogue, they believe that they have found salesman’s gold. They engage Warren (Merfyn Owen), a plausible, marketing mouthpiece with a dodgy hairpiece and a thoroughly convincing but totally fabricated sales pitch for the Urchin.

The inflatable Urchin makes a dramatic appearance, swelling from a backpack into a plump, over-sized pouffe. The sales pitch says that it eliminates fears when used regularly. The truth is that, when the men crawl inside its puffy tent-like structure, it confronts them with their worst fears that appear as surrealistic film projections.

Although the story is non-naturalistic, it has narrative, characters and themes that combine into a collection of vignettes. These are heightened by the use of video (Rhian Hinkley) and a complex soundscape (Jethro Woodward). There is also a very funny, cowboy song and dance routine by the three actors.

Despite all the complex visual and audio technology, the performers are the highlight. Tredinnick brings wry humour and clever underplaying to Martin. Owen comically captures the unbearable oiliness of Warren, the slick and smug motivational speaker and Brown has an edginess as Damien, the brother who disappears after one too many Urchin experiences.

Although the individual components in isolation are interesting and well executed, they do not form a unified whole, so the show feel dislocated and unfinished. The latter half loses cohesion when it staggers unsuccessfully into existential, philosophical dialogue that is more confusing than funny or illuminating.  Urchin tilts at Absurdism, but Samuel Beckett it ain’t!

By Kate Herbert

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