August 16, 1985

A Sense of Amiably Drifting

Filed under: Archive,National Times

Troupe’s latest production, The Floating Palais by Gavin Strawhan (at the Old Unley Town Hall Adelaide) is another of the company’s everybody-join- in ventures in the style of the Kelly Dance and the Centenary Dance.

This time the setting is the late 1920s when a dance hall called The Floating Palais was a popular venue located on Adelaide’s River Torrens.

The occasion is a works outing for friends and employees of the Shiny Shoe Company with music provided by the Shiny Shoe (nearly) All Women’s Star and Garter Band who are then summarily retrenched and scattered in search of a livelihood.

It is a nice idea, but Strawhan’s script and the dance format itself segment the production before its intention has been properly focussed.

A series of vignettes depict childhood in hard times and the various rigours of the Depression. There are songs from the period and new compositions from Strawhan but the show is not anchored enough historically for lyrics about weevils in the flour to be vivid or evocative . It is almost assumed that we’d seen enough documentaries to fill in the details for ourselves.

Then when the production opts for broad spectrum Australiana with bush locations, two-up games and characters with names like Whingeing Pete and Sunny Day Sam we seem to have lost sight of The Floating Palais altogether.

But there are all the familiar hallmarks of Troupe productions – Mary Moore’s strikingly simple costumes, inventive music from Gavin Strawhan and Sue Ridgway and director Jules Holledge’s instinct for bold theatrical effects.

The use of stilts to emphasise the power disparity between children and adults and between classes is eerily powerful and one wonders whether this kind of comic strip expressionism might be an interesting direction for future Troupe productions.

Although the dance sections of The Floating Palais are some of the most enjoyable and accessible of any of their productions, their very success serves to undermine the theatrical gains.

When the audience moves into the acting area the show necessarily loses momentum and the actors have a task just to maintain continuity. The opportunities for audience involvement are at some cost dramatically.

Where The Kelly Dance held its narrative because of the simplicity and familiarity of the Kelly myth, the dissonance · in the script causes this latest production to fragment into a heavily chaperoned dinner dance.

Troupe should now turn their considerable talents to new and different projects: while enjoyable entertainment, this is less a floating palais than an amiably drifting one.

The National Times, August 18, 1985, p.32.

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