• Splitting Heirs

last modified August 17, 2012 by strypey

by Danyl Strype

On Thursday I started to feel the foreshadowing of the nasty bout of flu that was to come. After completing the reviews I had agreed to do for the Fringe website (http://www.dunedinfringe.co.nz/) - where patches of these musings and reviews of the shows I didn't get to see can be found - I found myself curiously unmotivated to leave the house where I was staying and brave the Dunedin cold to see any more shows that day.

By the next morning I felt like I had been hit by a train but I trekked into town feeling like my boots were full of fishing sinkers. I was cheered up by the site of my travelling companion Sugra mincing around on his unicycle and our shotgun passenger Brent with his distinctive yin-yang hat as I approached Dunedin's unique town square...

The Provocateurs
1pm, Friday 1 October
The Octagon

This group of five feisty women were one of a number of street performances that took place in Dunedin's town centre over the course of the Fringe, the only one I managed to catch in this venue. The "slopped from the pulpit" speakers corner was winding down in the other half of the Octagon as the performers began their energetic and mischievous routine.

They started off wearing some very stylised undergarments and each performer was slowly and demonstratively dressed by two of her compatriots in an ironic reversal of the traditional strip tease as she sang the lead over recordings of naughty 50s songs. The costumes were frivolously flamboyant and spectacularly shaped and the large crowd seemed to enjoy the show, clapping and stomping along to the canned nostalgia of the soundtrack.

The Provocateurs was good clean fun, camp as a row of tents and a great way to bring the wild energy of the Fringe into the centre of the city.

I saw the tail end of their performances at a number of fascinating angles as we dashed off to the car for the drive out to the sattelite town of Mosgiel for the children's show...

Harlequin Unmasked
2pm, Friday 1 October
St Mary's Hall, Mosgiel

The Suburban Circus is a special Fringe event pitched at family audiences. This is a great idea as it carries the creative buzz of the festival out into the wider Dunedin communities and helps to stimulate an appreciation of eccentric performance, music and staging.

The scene was set with one performer pecking away on a piano accordion by the main entrance. Once inside highlights from the inspired soundtrack - featuring music by Mr Bungle, fairground organ from Tool's Aenima and some swinging, sax-driven jazz - and the paper-maché masks of southern artist Donna Demente decorating the sideshow-style set deepened the atmosphere.

This year's show was Harlequin Unmasked, based on the classic Italian comic theatre style of Commedia Del Arte. Harlequin, Columbine, Punchinello, Pantaloon, the incompetent Doctor, the pompous Captain and the rest of the traditional Commedia characters were all energetically portrayed by the enthusiastic cast, complete with colourful costumes, clownish make-up and much hilariously-mimed scatology which was a hit with the kids. The various mischief and tomfoolery that made up the narrative was combined with excellent displays of clowning, acrobatics, juggling and stilt-walking, especially by the younger performers who played an important role in helping the children in the audience feel part of the show.

The narrator Spanish air-guitar mistress Mandy Mayhem encouraged the children to sit on cushions at the front of the seating area and the show was pitched straight at them. It may have been wise to encourage the smallish crowd to similarly bunch up in the front few rows as this front-row focus left the performers struggling to project the show even to the middle rows where this reviewer was seated. But this is a minor whinge, after all this show is for kids.

As with any good children's show there were plenty of opportunities for audience participation. In one scene Harlequin was locked in the stocks and the kids were invited to go wild with wet sponges. At another stage, one young boy took part in a knife throwing act involving strategically placed balloons. The young volunteer left the stage looking petrified but everyone else was amused.

It took the first circus interlude after the first Commedia skit to really kick the show into gear but it gained momentum as it went along, reaching a furiously madcap pace by the time the matrimonial designs of the match-making fathers were undone by the innocent mischief-making of the down-and-out, drunken fools. Overall a wonderful contribution to the this year's Fringe and to the Fringes of the future.

By the end of the show I felt like either I was going to die or wanted to. Sugra and Brent dropped me back at my hosts' house and I spent the rest of the day on the couch wrapped in a sleeping bag feeling very sorry for myself. I did however see a couple of videos which along with a few cups of lemon and honey drink made the experience bearable.

Kill Bill (vol 1)
Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

I enjoyed Tarantino a lot as a teenager, especially Reservoir Dogs and his contribution to Four Rooms. But what I liked about it was not the vivid gore or the calculated violence but the arthouse broken narrative structures and the absurdity of the situations he creates on film.

As such I had a mixed response to his latest work. Tarantino's anti-heroine - played by Uma Thurman - and his very US approach of 'violence as modern dance' is a fresh breeze in comparison to the cheesy men of steel lampooned in Arnold Schwarzenegger's Last Action Hero. However the cartoonish characters reminded me more of Dick Tracy than Natural Born Killers and the film lacked any kind of social commentary that might have made the extremely bloody violence seem necessary.

Imagine a TV movie of La Femme Nikita and you've pretty much pegged this film.

Birth of a Nation
Written and Directed by D.W Griffiths

We fast-forwarded through large sections of this tedious 3 hour silent film marathon and probably enjoyed it more for doing so. The film tells the story of the US Civil War with obvious sympathies for the Confederate southerners and whites in black-face playing all the major Afro-American characters.

The usual clichés were all present and accounted for. There are the white northern/southern childhood chums who encounter each other on opposite sides of the battlefield, the scheming mulatto (half-caste) domestic egging on her white employer - a northern politician, the impoverished white men being persecuted by black governors and denied the vote by black soldiers while white women are ogled, nearly raped and chased on cliffs by negro vagrants.

Later, in a scene reminiscent of Robin Hood, a young, handsome southerner founds the Klu Klux Klan and the film climaxes with robed Klansmen riding to the rescue of the exiled white family and their northern deserter allies holed up in a log cabin. Finally the assassination of Abraham Lincoln is played out as a kind of bizarre epilogue.

The storyline probably owes more to Shakespeare than actual Civil War history but it is an education in the lengths to which a colonizing culture will go to justify itself.

By the time I woke up on Saturday morning I felt like a box of birds. It was to be a big day and I set off early in the afternoon. My first stop was the Arc café where I had refreshment and chatted to a number of Fringe punters including Matthew Simcock about his spoken word show "Mihi" and Toby Ragwort (Certified Foole) about his street performance. Stay tuned.

I also caught up with Green Sarah, an activist acquaintance from a few years back who told me some fascinating tales of working in the native bush for the Department of Conservation, which she had only just finished doing a few days before. Sarah accompanied me to the None Gallery to check out their anarchist book shop - Black Star - and some of the fixed elements of the Crisis Collective's ongoing installation...

Adventures in the Subterrain
All week
None Gallery

This was the local activist community's contribution to the Fringe effort. None is a co-operative artistic/political space that incorporates a radical bookshop, free internet, reading library, gallery/music space and residential rooms. Location is a historic three story building towards the bottom of hilly High St, just off the southern half of the main drag, Princes St.

After a quick look through the Black Star books and the zine rack I wandered around the gallery space. Electro-musical sculpturist ISO 12 passed through as I explored his TARDIS-esque installation, an overgrown DJ box festooned with slogans, stickers and stencils. I also had a look in the Bomb Shelter, a small booth containing a seat and a few essentials including a book of short stories by sci-fi legend Phillip K Dick.

Unfortunately I missed the all the interactive events at None, including a vegan banquet, zine workshop and on this morning a discussion on the history and politics of the Situationist International. I was however treated to a nice cup of tea and some rather lovely vegan cookies. None is an excellent project and an adventurous atmosphere and I look forward to visiting and perhaps performing or displaying there in the future.

The Capture of the Flame
6:30pm, Saturday 2 October
The Octagon

A mythic story of betrayal and heroism with some brooding mood drumming on African-style hand drums. The priestess of the flame is betrayed by her apprentice who conjures a demon to capture her soul so he can use her power for his own evil purposes. Two noble warriors journey to the evil magician's lair, vanquish his demon and overcome the apprentice himself in a spectacular two swordsmen vs staff fight that reminded me of Darth Maul vs. Qui Gon and Obi Wan in Star Wars Episode 1.

Not only did this troupe have an impressive range of fire toys; single and double staffs, poi, fans, swords and a whip but they also had a stilt-walking demon breathing fire without any obvious source of fuel - although his tendancy to suck at his collar suggested he was sucking it up from a camel-back. I also noted a good set of safety gear including a fire blanket and CO2 extinguisher.

As an exponent of the pyrotechnical arts myself I wasn't expecting too much from this event but I never miss a chance to pick up a few new tricks by watching other fire performers strut their stuff. As it happens this show blew me away and was easily the most professional and polished fire dancing performance I've ever seen. An exciting and well-staged piece of theatre that delighted parents, children and youths alike.

After the flames died down I stalked off towards the university in search of the St David Lecture theatre. I was waylaid by a crowd of costumed grannies who claimed to be narching girls. At this point I started to suspect someone had slipped something into my hot chocolate...

O
8pm, Saturday 2 October
St David Lecture Theatre
http://www.omovie.cjb.net

O is an experimental music film by cyberpunk artist Matt Bentley. Using his own music and footage assembled from a variety of sources including http://archive.org/ and a loose network of visual artists and programmers known as the Demo Scene (http://www.scene.org) Bentley has created a digital dreamtime, a disorienting drama of creation/ destruction so engaging it made my head spin and my neck hurt as I was drawn into the whirling vortex of visuals. The subject matter of the film was dizzyingly broad and I think deliberately vague and open to the interpretations of the viewer - not so much a narrative as an animated Rorschach inkblot.

On one level the film seemed to sympathise with the deep ecology view of the evolution of modern life. The film began with a symbolic presentation of the genesis of the world, the dawn of the day and of time itself with footage of sunrises over beautiful natural scenery and the cavorting of wildlife set to gentle, trickling ambient sounds. As the film's day progressed, the wild landscape was gradually encroached on by human development. First came hunters and traders. Then the beginnings of industrialisation, factory chimneys belching smoke and great ant-like columns of automobiles snaking along spaghetti highways. We watched the suburbs evolve and the emergence of the consumer ideal of a micro-county manor for every family as the music became progressively louder, darker and grungier. At the point where the present began to morph into the future the pacing which had mostly meandered along like a braided river kicked into top gear, pummelling the audience with shotgun blasts of hyper-futurist animation and drum'n'bass.

Bentley has a rare talent for engineering soundscapes and visuals that slowly build to intense climaxes, then drop back into first gear ready to repeat the cycle. His use of a recurring Roadrunner-esque motif - an accident-prone animated owl - broke the shifting sands of the viewing experience into definite chapters, providing comic relief and time to digest each course of the film's lavish audio-visual spread. Bentley is a unique young auteur with great potential and O is a journey not to be undertaken lightly.

After taking some frantic notes I accompanied Bently to ReFuel (formerly the Loaded Goblin) for a smattering of drum'n'bass before missioning off for the next leg of my fringe journey. All shall be revealed in the final chapter of my Fringe oddysey in the next exciting issue of Bohème.

Originally published in Boheme Magazine (November, 2003)

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