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Hole in the Wall

Mogo Zoo present HOLE IN THE WALL at Performance Space, Carriageworks.

The production that I saw at B Sharp the other night, PARLOUR SONG, was followed by HOLE IN THE WALL at Performance Space presented by Mogo Zoo. Mogo Zoo seems to be a spin-off group from MY DARLING PATRICIA, with some of the same artists working together in this newer collective: Claire Britton and Halcyon Macleod, for example; although this company has also shown in Sydney another “performance, installation” called THE TENT, (see LIVEWORKS). I put together the coincidence of PARLOUR SONG and HOLE IN THE WALL because both deal with the sameness of some domestic lives and a yearning for something else. They seemed to resonate with each other for me. I was also reminded of the Malvina Reynolds song from my youth, LITTLE BOXES:

And the people in the houses
All go to university,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
And there’s doctors and lawyers
And business executives,
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.
And on it goes…

The audience meet in the foyer and the production manager, Jenn Blake gives us necessary OH&S warnings about the interactive nature of the performance we are about to see, experience! A group of about 36 or so are then divided into equal parts and we are guided to a back door in the Bay 20 space at Carriage works. Nine of us enter a white door into a square box with period-feeling wallpaper of white flowers, green stemmed and leafed, on all four walls. Even the barred double window is covered with the pattern. Claustrophobic and yet familiar. There is a roof to the room with a white pill shape light fitting, that works (Lighting, Mirabelle Wouters). ( Set Design Claire Britton, Matt Prest and Danny Egger).

The door closes and the room starts to move. Instantly, we are all quite disorientated and collectively laugh, hold each other and advise how best to navigate the journey we are on. The walls travel across the performance floor and sometimes turn on an axis, we study the floor or touch the walls to manage our equilibrium. Much hilarity masks our anxiety. Finally, we stop and after a time the light in our room blacks out and we listen to a recorded voice regaling us about the ground and the holes that can be made in it that could be our grave.

In the dark, I anxiously looked in the gloom to see if the floor was solid, not wishing to end in a premature grave. Instead of the floor moving, a wall does, split in the centre, it opens, hinging into a space where a double bed and a young woman lies (Claire Britton). But more startling is the sight of three other, perfectly identical boxes that surround or box in the bed, all filled with the rest of the audience we had left way back in the foyer. Little boxes, little boxes…

After some noisy behaviour with the young woman wrestling between the mattresses and the bed foundation she is joined by a pyjamed young man (Matt Prest) who calms her, makes the bed, and with her beside him, drift into a vocalised dream filled sleep, until a “giant” is summoned from their unconscious and thunders us back into darkness and hurt ear drums and a re-configuration of the walls of the little boxes.

Over the next 50 minutes or so, the walls close to form other spaces in the ‘house’: a hall way, a lounge room etc in which different scenarios are enacted by the couple. Seemingly trapped in these little boxes in the bigger box of their domestic home, the frustrations, aspirations and longings of the couple are explored (Text: Halcyon Macleod) and witnessed by us who sometimes are invisible to the couple or sometimes addressed as participants in an event in the house. At one time a flown bed is used as a screen on which a thoroughly delightful animation of a couple and the suburban sameness of the neighbourhood lives is played out (Animation: Claire Britton, Matt Prest, James Brown) – (this, for me, is the most intriguing and exciting part of the performance).

As the performance went on I was not sure of the quality or insights of the text. I had time to vacillate and debate my dilemma as the performances by Matt Prest and particularly Claire Britton were played in a style that was presentational and tended to overwrought shouting and superficially engaged ownership. (Screaming and shouting at full capacity is not a consistently useful choice to communicate with.) I was pushed to a disassociated state -observer, and horribly, assessor, of the technique employed. Directed by Hallie Shellam, I could not discern whether my gathering alienation from the work was the text or the performance of the two actors. I remembered my other experience with Ms Britton and Matt Prest, so, I came, subsequently, to consider the performance choices to be the cause of my disaffection. It seemed to me either Ms Britton is a fairly inexperienced actor with no real solid craft skills, that is, vocal and physical technique, enormous straining instrument tensions were alarmingly observed or that the company had striven for a slacker/grunge/hipster art invocation of the nonchalant amateur, that is reflected in so many contemporary art forms, particularly in the visual arts, music and pop culture presently (i.e.VICE Magazine). Matt Prest seemed to be, mostly, in a much more secure place as a performance artist, relatively, in charge of his technical instrument and so much more absorb-able (the party sequence, for instance).

I query this because, I have great admiration for the imaginative and inventively executed work of this company, MOGO ZOO and also MY DARLING PATRICIA. The work of both these companies combines so many creative elements from so many disciplines of performance, the work represents, for me, possible directions in theatre experience for the Australian audience that tantalise with anticipatory bliss, like no other form. But what has been a nagging flaw, in my experience of the work, for my full, unequivocal embracement of the works, e.g. THE TENT or NIGHT GARDEN is the relative coarse, ‘slacker’ approach to skill in the ‘acting’ of the texts. This nearly always undermines the full potential of the impact of the work, for me. I nearly always leave the performance behind me with appreciative but disappointed memories. If the style of the “acted” performance is deliberate, then, it needs more refinement or study. If it is not a deliberated choice, then ‘trained’ actors should be introduced as part of the creative teams to perform. (Or more rehearsal time?!!) Often, in the closeness of the performers to me, sometimes almost speaking directly to me, I longed for Ms Britton to drop-in the physical expression of the text into a personalised or revealing place, for the ideas and the pain, grief of the narrative and images of the text were potentially overwhelming and confronting.

The difference between the possibility of ‘good’ and “great’ work is, in my experience a very narrow margin but it is a margin that needs greater preparation and concentration in application in performance. Both these companies have, for me, the option to be great, but so far have not truly, achieved it. (The production POLITELY SAVAGE by MY DARLING PATRICIA has that indelible afterlife for me, and is possibly the exception, but then it was my first introduction to their work).

I recommend the work of both these companies but have a restless qualm about the efficacy of the communication skills of the performers that prevent it from being totally transcendent.