Tag: Bare Naked Theatre

CHANGES: A Theatrical Tribute to the Music of David Bowie

It’s all about the music

By Sally McKenzie

David Bowie was a theatrical performer, so it makes sense for Kendall-Jane Rundell and her team at Bare Naked Theatre to deliver the music of Bowie in a theatrical format. They promised  ‘a personal, raw account of storytelling through contemporary and physical theatre’, but unfortunately I felt that the ‘storytelling’ aspect fell short in many aspects. The music, however, particularly the magnificent accompaniment by Robot Child, was pure Bowie indulgence in every way.

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Musically, this show was quite an ambitious project, as it included roughly 35 Bowie songs, no dialogue. I was in music heaven. Songs included Bowie’s better-known hits such as the title song ‘Changes’, ‘ Space Oddity’, ‘Life on Mars’, ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘China Girl’, ‘Fashion’, ‘Starman’,  ‘Under Pressure’ , ‘Rebel Rebel’ and ‘Golden Years’.  Some of his more rare gems such as ‘Oh You Pretty Things’, ‘Where Are They Now’ and ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ also played an important part in this musical tribute. With the absence of a conductor, the band executed every song with confidence and flair. The transitions between songs was mostly smooth with only the occasional brief pause while musicians changed instruments or to allow for dramatic pauses on stage.

Robot Child with guest musician Matt Arter (guitar, sax, harmonica) has one of the finest line-ups of musicians I have seen. The arrangements were very close to the original Bowie tunes. The sounds produced on the keyboards of Owen James and David Hartney were great replicas of those included on Bowie’s albums, and the piano solos played by James in ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Oh You Pretty Things’ were a highlight. Waleed Aly is indeed a virtuoso on the electric guitar. His solos were a feature of the night as they soared through the venue.

Together Dan Slater (drumkit) and Daniel Lijnders (bass guitar) provided a rock solid foundation for the band, executing every riff and rhythm with absolute accuracy and a great understanding of the vast collection of Bowie’s ‘substyles’ of alternative rock. I also particularly enjoyed the backing vocals provided by Hartney and Arter. Those added harmonies and the conviction and passion by these musicians were a huge asset to the show.

The main vocalists of the night were Jeff Wortman (who was also the music director and the regular lead vocalist of Robot Child) and Rundell (director). Wortman’s vocals were impressive. I was amazed by his vocal stamina as he sang in almost every song – and with 7 or 8 shows remaining, has a huge job ahead of him. Rundell was the other lead vocalist, and although her voice suited the range and androgyny of some of the Bowie songs,  she unfortunately did not have the vocal flexibility or security required. Her intonation wasn’t always accurate and I felt her voice lacked the power and impact required to match the energy and professionalism of the band.

With no program, director’s or musical director’s notes and no biographies of cast for the show, I wondered initially: what was the original concept for Changes? What was the purpose?  I waited for the actors on stage to tell me a story but struggled to connect to any of the themes. The six other performers in the cast portrayed the ‘fans’, ‘party-goers’, ‘drug-takers’ etc. in Bowie’s life, and attempted to provide a more abstract account of Bowie’s songs and lyrics with physical movement – some choreographed, some not.  Costumes by Jessica Allie were simple and neutral, and make up was ‘Bowie-esque’, but the performers seemed to lack an overall sense of purpose and commitment. Jacqui Essing was the stand-out in this hard-working but under-utilised ensemble. She looked completely comfortable on stage and was the most confident with her movement.

Lighting and sound was fabulous. A wall of light rigged behind the band shone into the audience as if to represent the ‘outer space’ theme in the relevant parts of the show. Large hanging spot lights were scattered and clearly visible over the largely open stage, giving the sense of Hollywood or TV studio. Handling such a big sound in a high-ceiling venue is a huge challenge, and LSS Studios triumphed again. The band was mixed perfectly and the overall sound was at ‘Rock Concert’ level, which was much needed. At times though, it was difficult to hear the words of the vocalists. Bowie’s lyrics are often abstract and difficult to understand, however, so this wasn’t a major deterrent.

Admittedly, this is not the cohesive, meaningful or enlightened dramatic performance the publicity suggested, but I was truly impressed by the hundreds of hours put in to rehearsing and performing such an epic collection of songs, and if you are a Bowie fan, you will revel in the sound of this show.

Changes: A Theatrical Tribute is at Gasworks Arts Park until the 6th August. Book at http://www.gasworks.org.au/event/changes/ or barenakedtheatre@gmail.com

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Bare Naked Theatre Presents 4:48 PSYCHOSIS

Deeply moving and memorable

By Margaret Wieringa

Sometimes, theatre is heavy; weighed down by the topic, by the experiences of those making it and those watching it; weighed down with every line uttered, every movement. 4:48 Psychosis is one of those pieces: heavy, and difficult – and wonderful.

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Written by British playwright Sarah Kane, it explores mental illness in a variety of forms, including self-harm and suicide. Knowing that the playwright herself tragically committed suicide without ever seeing the work performed adds a whole extra weight and emotion to the performance.

The show is made up of twenty-four sections that seamlessly flow from one to another, moving through naturalistic conversations to more abstract movement pieces, and back. The script gives no specific settings or characters, but it felt to me that there were constants. Director Kendall-Jane Rundle seems to have interpreted the work to have a single patient, a doctor and two others – internal representations of the patient or, at times, possibly forces outside of the patient. Sometimes the patient is aware of them, other times not. The Metanoia Theatre was sparse, allowing the actors to transform the space throughout. Lighting designer Shane Grant used bare bulbs hung around the space at varying heights and these were attributed with meaning throughout – although sometimes, a light bulb is just a light bulb.

Kendall-Jane Rundle not only directed this performance but played the character of the patient and was magnificent in this role. She was subtle and intense, humorous on occasion, and so very real. The script has lines that are filled with overwrought poetry that could easily be melodramatic and possibly ridiculous, but Rundle delivered them with such truth that they worked. At times, it was difficult to hear her, but I felt even this was planned. Jessica Stevens and Alisha Eddy played off each other as the two mysterious characters, often echoing the patient, moving through the space, sometimes still or only very subtly moving. Their performances, both individual and together, were exactly what was needed – strong at times, but able to almost disappear altogether. As the doctor figure, Jeff Wortman was able to infuse each scene with hidden depth. While acting calm and collected, there was a sense that the character was repressing fear or frustration or anger, although every now and then, the professional facade slipped. Wortman made the character not just a tool to represent those attempting to support, help, even cure people with mental illness, but someone who was also a full person, even though we never got a name or much beyond.

Bare Naked Theatre is a new company to Melbourne, set up by Kendall-Jane Rundle. With a first show as powerful and poignant as 4:48 Psychosis, they are a company to look out for.

Where: Metanoia Theatre at the Brunswick Institute, 270 Sydney Rd Brunswick

When: Wednesday June 29 to Saturday July 2, 8pm

Tickets: Full $30/ Conc $25

Bookings: metanoiatheatre.com or called 9387 3376

If you know someone struggling with mental illness, this production recommends  visiting www.sane.org for helpline assistance, information, and donations.