Zwai, part of Fringe World’s impressive array of circus productions, is one of the festival’s stand out events on the calendar. E1NZ, composed by performers Esther and Jonas Slanzi, bring their extraordinary new show to Perth audiences for the next few nights.
On a sweltering Sunday night, the Big Top was a hefty buzz with anticipation over one of the festival’s most-anticipated circus experiences. As the lights dimmed, both performers immediately embodied their characters. The two characters duel over freedom of expression, fighting on another to escape their limited surroundings.
The narrative is essential to Zwai’s emotional, physical, and sensory auras. It is relatively simple, with two characters feuding endlessly over space. The plot, like circus performance itself, focuses on how multiple beings come together – finding literal and figuratively stability within unique environments. From the blissful opening sequence, the performance whisked the audience away into a kitsch world.
With the setting based around only a handful of props/tools, along with fewer lighting and soundtrack changes, Zwai involves a less-is-more approach. The show relies on the performer’s abilities throughout the highest highs and subdued character moments. Kicking off the show, Esther pulls off a flawless rope routine via the trapeze-like pulley system set-up. Swinging towards the crowd, her first number immediately impressed the all-ages, fan-waving crowd.
The story is made whole by peculiar, interesting character moments and an overt sense of humour. Both characters have varying ticks, continually moving green, glass bottles, heavy, wooden table, and drawers around the stage. To each other’s despair, both characters illuminate their desires for the room. Esther held on tightly as Jonas pushed and pulled the table, on all angles, across the venue. Their expressive, silent performances cement the pillars of circus performance – style and substance.
The performers’ grace and agility were simply awe-inspiring, highlighted by Jonas balancing a red ball on each part of his body throughout an intensifying 10-minute stretch. The pair’s chemistry and dynamic, coupled with a whimsical score, raised the light-hearted, gleeful tone. The floor routine, including Jonas lifting and flipping Esther (keeping a diabolo in motion), fluttered along with jaw-dropping rhythm. Juggling bottles between one another, their synchronicity and reflexes are superhuman.
The big, brash moments of Zwai further wowed and stunned the audience. Esther launched into the air, performing a vertigo inducing, dizzying single-rope routine. Tying a knot, and adding weight, to the table, her core strength helped pull the mass straight upwards. Supported by Jonas and the table’s immense weight, Esther’s swing routine made palms sweat.
The show’s climactic routines were worth the price of admission several times over. Jonas took multi-tasking to the next level – balancing the ball on his face whilst pulling himself several meters off the ground. His diabolo routine was the show’s standout act, showcasing his immense concentration and fluidity across the stage. His exhaustion caught up with him, losing balance multiple times during the final routine.
Esther and Jonas received a standing ovation as Zwai came to a blistering close. The show is one of this festival’s most refined and extravagant circus productions. Get in quick!
Art Kinetica and Lauren Eisinger’s latest Fringe World smash hit, Luminous, will make you ask to that all important question: “Seriously…how do they do it?!”. This circus extravaganza is Limbo’s biggest competition for the season’s best production – an outside-the-box achievement worthy of the praise and rewound venue it’s staged in.
The Fremantle Town Hall was a hefty buzz with anticipation, awaiting something truly exciting on the show’s opening night. Before the lights went out, an electronica/trance/percussive score blasted our ears. The pre-show atmosphere immersed the audience in a frenzying mix of contemporary artistic sensibilities and the venue’s period aesthetic.
As the show begun, the lights flickered into a deep sleep, and the pitch-black aura held us in a trance. The anticipation reached breaking point, before a soothing narration voice kicked in. The announcement pulled us forwards, calling the performers “creatures” and referring to the ensuing performance as a “Pigment of imagination”.
As the narration stopped, Luminous showcased the raw, everlasting strength of its imagination. Utilising black light technology and fluorescent body paint, the performers transported us to another universe. Two stage hands, donning black leotards, painted symmetrical patterns over each character. Orange, green, yellow, red, and blue neon lit up the stage, illuminating every movement and mannerism.
The show’s four lead characters, each donning intricate, alien-like headgear and facial detailing, are worth the admission price. Living up to the “setting aside everything you thought you knew about gravity” tagline, each performer got a chance to showcase their extraordinary skill sets. A mix of solo and group sequences, the group’s collaborative efforts solidified the illusion.
Luminous’ solo performances became central to its visceral, unique sensory impact. Fitted with unique patterns all over their bodies, each artist contorted their bodies to a raucous reception from the awe-struck crowd. Handstands, front flips, and stretches showcased each person’s inhuman balance and physicality.
Despite a few stuff-ups and foibles, the circus acts and flourishes flowed together. Early on, orange juggling clubs lit up the stage. Our performers, juggling multiple clubs at once, gave us the first taste of the cast’s overwhelming talents. As the show continued, hula-hoops and juggling balls flew through the air and around our spirited aerialists and acrobats.
Overshadowing the juggling and hula-hooping stunts, the cast’s aerial pursuits were terrifying just to look at. The aerial silk stunts took everyone by surprise, further accentuating the cast’s intricate abilities. In addition, the climax is a visual and emotional feast. As one character ascends, on the trapeze, water bombs and bottles spray UV liquid across the stage.
Made up of three male performers and one female, the narrative provides a meditative, melodic exploration of gender and power. Within each sequence and act, each action further develops the show’s characters and thematic resonance. Throughout the event, in true Avatar-like fashion, the show heavy-handedly presents the native person’s interactions with flora, fauna, and their own kind.
Luminous is one of Fringe World and Freo Royale’s – literally and figuratively – brightest events. The extravaganza provides a creative and exhilarating venture into another realm for only a few nights at a time.
Writers: Nick Stafford (play), Michael Morpurgo (novel)
Stars: Jack Monaghan, Nicholas Bishop, Andy Williams, Nicola Stephenson
Premiere date: 2007
Best part: The puppetry.
Worst part: The exhaustive story.
Broadway and the West End are the dreamscapes of aspiring theatre actors, directors, and playwrights. As theatre’s most prestigious hubs, they light up the night’s sky with billboards and prowess. Productions including Les Miserables, Wicked, and The Lion King have garnered huge profit margins and critical acclaim several times over. Nowadays, the world’s biggest cinema and theatre industries have a helluva lot in common. In fact, said theatre productions drastically overshadow the industry’s smaller players.
Joey and Albert Narracott (Jack Monaghan).
War Horse is a prime example of big-budget theatre’s stranglehold over New York, London, and everywhere in between. Despite its immense power, the play is only one minuscule part of a multi-billion dollar franchise. The play, based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 smash hit children’s novel, turns a modest fantasy tale into an exhaustive and overwrought epic. Originally, Morpurgo thought the adaptation was a bad idea. Now, as the royalty cheques flood in, he’s keeping his mouth shut. See, even the world’s most prestigious entertainment hubs are wrought with opportunistic business dealings. No one is innocent! Today, though Steven Spielberg’s misjudged 2011 cinematic adaptation flew in one ear and out the other, the play still works. Just remember, as you walk up the New London theatre’s winding staircases, this adaptation was never considered original or revelatory. The narrative, sticking close to the original story, covers multiple time periods and character arcs. Under the guise of our equine hero, the story depicts war, love, chaos, and heartache. Bought at a Devon auction by alcoholic farmer Ted Narracott (Andy Williams) for 39 guineas (a baffling amount for a poor man in the early 20th century), the horse becomes his son Albert(Jack Monaghan)’s best friend. Named “Joey” by the young farm-hand, the horse is heavily scrutinised by Albert’s mother Rose (Nicola Stephenson) and Ted’s wealthy brother Arthur (Nigel Betts). Trained to plow, the horse becomes the family farm’s lifeblood.
One of many war scenes.
Premiering at the National Theatre in 2007, War Horse is a long-lasting theatre staple. Drawing mass audiences to London’s busiest district, the premise resonates with multiple demographics and tastes. Fit for action junkies, youngsters, criers, and frustrated parents, this production crafts the perfect recipe for appeal. It’s fit for every king, queen, soldier, and stable boy across London. Defined by immense storytelling and technical precision, the production is worth every penny. Despite the positives, War Horse gallops into many deathtraps before reaching its heartbreaking finale. The flaws, carried over Morpurgo’s original material, nearly trample this page-to-stage experiment. Playwright Nick Stafford crafts a similarly indulgent and treacle adaptation. Despite dodging Joey’s point of view, the non-human characters cause several unfortunate foibles. Being one of modern literature’s most nondescript and manipulative characters, our lead only carries so much, ahem, horsepower. Stretching to fit the monstrous 160-minute run-time, the narrative darts into several meaningless and hokey directions. After winning over the farmland and town, Joey is sold to Captain Nicholls (Nicholas Bishop). What follows is an egregious war-drama depicting slaughter, prisoners of war, sacrifice, and raw courage. Switching from comfortably comedic and viscerally bleak, the topsy-turvy story is untamable. In the transition from humble page-turner to sweeping epic, the story’s emotional impact and thematic weight becomes wholly diluted.
“We’ll be alright Joey. We’re the lucky ones, you and me. Lucky since the day I met you.” (Albert Narracott (Jack Monaghan), War Horse).
The production true majesty.
Forcing us to care about its sorrowful characters and dour narrative, War Horse is blindingly manipulative. The second half, following Albert into World War I after Joey, delivers several fine twists and turns. However, the human characters – given little development – serve only to admire our equine warrior. Despite the weepy moments, the story never solidifies Albert’s affection for Joey. However, despite the story and character foibles, the production itself elevates the material. Galloping between set pieces, story-lines, and characters, the show saddles up the beast, brushes it clean, and shows it off to the adoring public. An example of style and spectacle over substance, it works in fits and starts. In fact, certain set pieces deliver many thrills and chills. Delving into magical realism, the production crafts a balance between sprawling wild fantasy and gritty conflict. Aiming for David Lean’s signature story tropes and visuals, the production survives on technical achievements and wholehearted direction. One scene, examining the story’s true potential, delves straight into the war. After Joey is trapped in barbed wire, a British and German officer work together to free him from a bloody demise. In this scene, the equine and human characters exude enough empathy to captivate a modern audience. Most importantly, the Handspring Puppet Company deliver unparalleled compositions. Handled by three puppeteers (listed as the head, heart, and hind), the horse puppet is a meticulous creation. Constructed of an intricate wire frame, the horse characters are much more fascinating than their human counterparts.
Reaching for its own stellar reputation, War Horse crafts seminal moments and value-for-money entertainment. Thanks to stellar direction, puppetry, and performances, this soulful drama reaches a wide audience. Predictably, this is one of the West End’s most awe-inspiring productions. However, carrying major story and character flaws, the production never capitalizes on its premise. For all the crashes and bangs, the play is as manipulative as the titular creature.
Worst part: The supporting character’s involvement.
As overwhelming and trivial as it seems, there is a fine line between stardom and fatigue. Our biggest actors, musicians etc. are, more often than not, treated like otherworldly beings. Nowadays, we move on to the next big thing even before the current ‘it’ person has faded away. However, more often than you think, A-list actors step away from the spotlight to venture into more meaningful pursuits.
Carey Mulligan & Bill Nighy.
As it happens, many A-listers and noticeable character actors perfect their skills in stage productions. In this case, giving the West End a fiery boost, Carey Mulligan (Drive, The Great Gatsby) and Bill Nighy (Love Actually, the Pirates of the Caribbean series) put their best feet forward for one of theatre history’s most transcendent productions. In fact, Nighy, one of Britain’s most popular and energetic talents, tackled this material in the 1990s. Skylight, a 1995 play created by acclaimed playwright David Hare, picks up and shakes cultural, political, and social issues in front of baffled critics and theatre-goers. The play, developed specifically to address concerns about life, love, and living situations, is a touching and prescient examination of first-world issues. This may be a derogatory statement – but the play relies on its talking points being as flippant as possible. Here’s another first-world issue – this iteration has moved Skylight from its Royal National Theatre roots to Wyndham’s Theatre’s comforting abode. Ironically, separating the simpletons and socialites, the theatre hurriedly divides itself into multiple sectors. In fact, the Return Tickets line, stretching on for an eternity, signified the production’s searing critical and commercial aura.
Skylight’s shining stars.
The theatre, a maze-like structure shifting from one floor to another, turns from a romantic, impressionistic creation into a frustrating deathtrap. My search for the bar and toilet facilities bared resemblance to Jack Nicholson’s manic sprint through the Shining mansion. However, despite this, the Wyndham’s relaxed and vibrant atmosphere overcomes said problems peppered throughout its layout. Sitting down in a bright-red seat, I looked down nervously as the show slinked toward its commencement time. With celebrities including Oscar Isaac and Lupita Nyong’o waltzing into the venue, the show positioned itself as one of this year’s most alluring West End treasures. Fortunately, this version’s execution lives up to its immaculate reputation. The story, taking place over the course of 24 hours, takes the high road above most ‘bottle’ stories. Avoiding life-or-death situations, this quaint journey comes off like a breath of fresh air. We enter the life of lower-middle class school teacher Kyra Hollis (Mulligan), as her day transitions from okay, to bad, to horrific, to embarrassing. At the start of her day, rage-quitting youngster Edward (Matthew Beard) comes over to complain about his irrational father. As is the case, his father Tom (Nighy) is Kyra’s former lover and long-lost best friend. Shockingly, a few hours later, Tom interrupts her day to explain his three-year absence. Waiting until his wife’s death had healed over, Tom comes back to face the music. This award-winning play, touching on taboo subjects and satirical jabs, pokes fun at everything and everyone within a 15 kilometre radius.
“You care for them. You offer them an environment where they feel they can grow. But also you make bloody sure you challenge them.” (Kyra (Carey Mulligan), Skylight)
Matthew Beard & Mulligan.
Touching upon illustrious restaurateur and writer Terence Conran’s existence, Skylight is as glorious, resonant, and meaningful as a ray of sunshine. Taking down London’s high-horse attitude and major societal shifts, the comedy stems from well-known cultural titbits about Wimbledon, East Ham, and the neighbourhoods in between. Despite these lively jaunts, the narrative leaps from enjoyable to sickening, and vice-versa, within milliseconds. With betrayal, sex, and life’s pursuits getting in the way, the romantic angle takes several extraordinary twists and turns within this small space. As Kyra and Tom’s reunion reaches breaking point, the characters, and actors playing them, jump in and out of nail-biting moments. With the conversation interrupting their daily routines, Hare’s scintillating style pushes and prods up until the sweet denouement. If anything, this story becomes a note-worthy battle devoid of violence, scope, or chaotic moments. So, what separates this version from everything else? Cloud it be the intimate dramatic angles? The sincere and touching characters arcs? Or the big-name actors involved? Short answer: all of the above. Mulligan’s frightening turn is worth the admission cost. Wielding a large knife and idealistic viewpoints throughout several sequences, Mulligan’s style breaths life into her downtrodden character. As the voice of reason and hope, her character bounces off the walls. In addition, Nighy unleashes several never-before-seen shades in this heartfelt role. With his momentous presence leading the way, Nighy’s idiosyncrasies lend gravitas to an otherwise over-the-top role.
So, as the curtains fall and the actors take their bows, Skylight casts a wholly visceral shadow over each viewer’s soul. This socially adept production, saying what we’re all thinking, enlists the best minds to communicate intriguing ideas. Throwing utensils and secrets across the room, Mulligan and Nighy never lose their cool. In fact, with star power having such a pulsating effect, who’s to say they can’t attach themselves to the West End? In any case, I hope they think about doing so.
Stars: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper
Release date: December 27th, 2013
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Running time: 120 minutes
Best part: The biting dialogue.
Worst part: Streep’s hammy turn.
I believe it was the influential American author F. Scott Fitzgerald who famously said:”Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go by any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material”. If that’s the case, then both families in August: Osage County follow Fitzgerald’s words to the letter. With the Weston and Aiken families holding certain incidences and issues against one another, this moody yet insightful dramedy turns into a brash and unrelenting 2-hour thrill-ride. With its stellar cast, pitch-perfect dialogue, and alluring visual style, this movie surprises, frustrates, and shines when required. Just don’t tell anyone I talked about these people behind their backs. Yeesh!
Meryl Streep & Julia Roberts.
Based on Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, August: Osage Country is an honest, brutal, and claustrophobic adaption. With Letts taking control of his productions’ adaptations, his guiding hand proves useful, effecting, and practical. Here, like with previous adaptation Killer Joe, his characters are trapped in certain settings and situations. Trust me – his characters are unenviable, childish, and torturous! No one would ever want to spend a weekend away with these people! So, efficiently, Letts brings his characters straight to us. However, despite the flaws, August: Osage County‘s performers make this adaptation somewhat tolerable. This meandering dramedy begins with the Westons living in complete disarray. Hiring a Native American nurse/housekeeper, Johnna Monevata (Misty Upham), Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) relays personal stories to her about life, loss, regret, and literature. To his cancerous (in multiple ways) wife Violet(Meryl Streep)’s dismay, Johnna listens intently to Beverly’s every word. However, as Beverly’s sudden disappearance becomes a major hurdle, Johnna, despite Violet’s irritating attitude, must care for her. Soon enough, the Weston and Aiken clans show up to give Violet their best wishes. Violet’s three daughters, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), and Karen (Juliette Lewis), follow one another back to their old home. With memories, tempers, and heat-waves flaring, the three sisters band together to overcome each other’s burgeoning problems. Barbara, separated from her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor), struggles to control their daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). Not to be outdone, Karen’s hotshot fiancée Steve Huberbrecht (Dermot Mulroney) breezes into town with his bright red Ferrari and interminable personality in tow.
Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, and Abigail Breslin.
If that wasn’t enough, Violet’s sister Mattie Fae Aiken (Margot Martindale), her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper), and their son ‘Little’ Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) throw themselves into this sprawling recipe for disaster. To continue on with this family reunion/meal theme, August Osage County is chock-a-block with characters willing, but unable, to stir the pot before its contents boil over. All family reunion movies have the potential to knock themselves for a loop. With multiple characters, story-lines, messages, and hurtful one-liners flying across comforting settings, The Big Chill is still seen as a meaningful fluke. Letts’ writing style, made famous by the play, places personalities and ideologies against one another. Director John Wells (The Company Men) ably adapts to the egos and auras floating through his ambitious projects. Handling impressive ensembles competently, Wells is undoubtedly an actor’s director. His attentive style elevates mediocre characters from the doldrums whilst shining spotlights in their eyes. Despite the previous comment’s darkness, Wells’ controlling direction and attention to detail elevates this otherwise frustrating affair. However, Wells can’t detach this project from its stage-based roots. Walking an uneasy line between stage and screen, the movie’s scope, subtext, and characterisations are pushed overboard. Unfortunately, Wells and Letts butt heads over this movie’s intentions. Showcasing Oaklahoma’s countryside at opportune moments, Wells seems intent on separating this narrative from the play’s restrictions. However, Letts sticks to his creation’s most claustrophobic aspects. Sadly, this confrontation throws this dramedy’s tone off balance. With Wells and Letts’ visions not reaching their true potential, this dramedy awkwardly mixes Secrets & Lies‘ dramatic beats withDeath at a Funeral‘s farcical hijinks. Despite the narrative’s faults, August: Osage County hurriedly sweeps up its audience. Targeted at 40-something women, the movie, after its sombre epilogue, delves into modern romantic-drama’s typical and uninspired traits.
“Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed.” (Barbara Weston (Julia Roberts), August: Osage County).
Meryl Streep, Margot Martindale, and Julianne Nicholson.
With its familial dramatic moments, strong-willed women, and picturesque cast, the movie acknowledges its monstrous advantages compared to similar Oscar-starved fare. However, with Letts’ piercing dialogue steering his thought-provoking story, the movie becomes a cynical, cold, and visceral black comedy. Like most families, August: Osage County crackles whilst set around the dinner table. Two table sequences – elevated by smashed plates, cruel jokes, punishing insults, and physical violence – switch from elaborate set pieces to hysterical and identifiable shouting matches. Charlie’s woeful attempt to say grace is met with kooky ringtones, rolling eyeballs, and mean-spirited laughter. Like most family gatherings, startling revelations, broken relationships, detailed anecdotes, and shattered perspectives define this movie. Several harsh one-liners are burned into the consciousness. Beverly, accepting of his alcoholism-controlled sanity, is inexplicably told to: “F#cking f#ck a sow’s ass!”. Unfortunately, the symbolism goes overboard from the opening frame. Violet, stepping out from the shadows during her first appearance, is defined by obvious idiosyncrasies. Receiving pharmaceutical-based relief from mouth cancer, this matriarchal character is disgracefully over-the-top and unlikeable. Unfortunately, Streep’s overt impersonation of Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There spectacularly misfires. Thankfully, everyone else is top notch. Roberts provides her best performance since Erin Brockovich. As a stranded-in-denial character, Roberts’ intensity and verve elevate certain sequences. In addition, Martindale and Nicholson provide scintillating turns in valuable roles. Meanwhile, the male performers become witty, kooky, and insightful comic reliefs. Cooper and McGregor steal scenes as the resilient husband-and-father figures. Mulroney and Cumberbatch provide impressive performances in understated roles.
Lacking Festen‘s dramatic weight and You’re Next‘s brutal murders, August: Osage County lacks subtlety and uniqueness. Despite the movie’s overt metaphors and broad characters, the emotionally resonant moments, cutting one-liners, and solid performances boost this intriguing and kinetic dramedy. Ironically, this movie is perfect for lazy days on the couch…at home…with the family.