Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Life and Times, Episode 1, Oct 22, 2013 **

By Nature Theater of Oklahoma, Melbourne Festival
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
Ep. 1 Oct 22; Ep.2 Oct 23; Ep. 3&4 Oct 24; Eps 1-4 Sat Oct 26, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **
 Review also published in Herald Sun online on Wed Oct 23, 2013 and probably later in print. KH
 Life and Times, Episode 1

You need to be prepared for, or to love theatre that is arduous, formalistic and repetitive to make it through Episode 1 of Life and Times by Nature Theater of Oklahoma, let alone all four episodes over 10 hours.

Audience members started trickling out the door after 15 minutes and about a third were gone after interval – not a good sign.

The piece, directed by Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska, uses verbatim transcripts from 16 hours of rambling telephone conversations with one woman – a company member – who chats and reminisces about her very ordinary life.

Episode 1 is about her early childhood which comes to life as a patchwork of fragmented memories and stories about her family, friends, teachers and school, all of which are set to cheesy music and sung as a poor man’s version of an opera.

There is no spectacle here, only relentlessly repetitive, ear-aching singing, or rather intoning, by a cast of six that comprises mostly non-singers, juxtaposed against totally unrelated gestures and stylised choreography that mostly involves bobbing up and down.

It felt like a 15-minute sketch that stretched to 3 and a half hours, outliving its initial comic impact when every ‘um’ and ‘er’, ‘hahaha’ and banal comment was elevated with operatic absurdity.

Disconnected movement that is often reminiscent of calisthenics, Chairman Mao exercises or children’s playground games, accompanies the singing and simple, playful children’s music played by the live band.

It was an extraordinary relief when, after 70 minutes of three women chanting the stories, three men arrived on stage to break the monotony and introduce some depth and variation of tone to the vocal landscape.

There are certainly some entertaining moments when the voices, musical style and story elements meet in a happy collision, but much of this interminable show is like water torture.

The program has a manifesto to justify this work as exciting modernism, but you would need a rhino hide to last 10 hours – and they are planning to make another 6 episodes!

My neighbour, who persevered valiantly until 45 minutes from the end, left with the doleful comment, “This is like theatre of cruelty”.

She was right, and we deserve better than this, despite the fact that this company is the darling of European festivals.

Kate Herbert

Directors: Kelly Copper & Pavol Liska

Performers Ilan Bachrach, Asli Bulbul Elisabeth Conner, Gabel Eiben, Daniel Gower, Anne Gridley, Robert Johanson, Matthew Korahais, Julie LaMendola, Kristin Worrall
Composers Robert Johanson (Ep 1) Robert Johanson  & Julie LaMendola (ep 2); Robert Johanson & Daniel Gower (ep 3 & 4)

Design Peter Nigrini

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