March 10, 2020

Adelaide Festival – Morbid pleasures within theatrical invention

Cold Blood
by Thomas Gunzig.
Michele Anne De Mey, Jaco Van Dormael,
Kiss & Cry Collective.
Ridley Centre, Adelaide Showgrounds.
March 5. Duration: 1 hour 15 mins (no interval)

by Kieran Hurley
Traverse Theatre Company
Odeon Theatre.
March 6. Bookings:
Tickets: $30 – $69. Duration 1 hour 35 minutes (no interval)
Until March 15.

The Belgian Kiss & Cry Collective, led by choreographer Michele Anne de Mey and filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael have turned Cold Blood into a “nano-dance” spectacle. It is forensic, funny, romantic and macabre – and presents aspects of death you usually can’t put your finger on.

Surrounded by cameras, small scale props, miniature cityscapes, and numerous lighting effects, the team of performers, in full view, re-enact seven sudden, untimely, even stupid, deaths and the final moments of consciousness.

An accidental death in a car wash shows the vehicle enveloped in soapy blood – the image projected by live video feed to the large screen. There are dance routines performed by pairs of fingers, tap dancing in thimbles. The digital choreography is dazzling as are the art deco sets screened in silent screen monochrome. The ungainly human hand is transformed in close up, making twirling palms and nimble fingers inexplicably, often kaleidoscopically, expressive.

The action – whether a 1940s bombing raid, a Busby Berkeley swimming ballet, or a space rocket launch – is bathed in evocative music. Operatic arias, Nina Simone, Bowie’s Space Oddity – all combine to make this seemingly effortless theatrical invention a delightful if, sometimes, morbid pleasure.

Mouthpiece is a small play with plenty to say and asks timely questions about who gets speak. Scottish playwright Kieran Hurley’s intricately constructed two-hander begins with a chance meeting on the Salisbury Crags above Edinburgh. Libby (Shauna Macdonald) a forty-something struggling writer, is standing on the precipice poised to jump. Declan (Angus Taylor), sixteen and unemployed, steps in and drags her back from the brink.

From there the narratives of the two characters interweave to the point of transference. Recognising Declan’s artistic talent (he gives her a drawing of a giant orb he calls Mouthpiece) Libby takes him to the Scottish Museum of Modern Art where he revels in the “big mad mental mouths” of Francis Bacon paintings.

But the Pygmalion fantasy turns sinister when Libby records his life story. This becomes the basis for a comeback play she also calls Mouthpiece – “speaking for generation austerity, a voice for the lost and the voiceless.” Declan’s indignant response is clear – “you have stolen my life.”

Traverse director, Orla O’Loughlin keeps the tension high and the story and meta-narrative lucid. Kai Fischer’s deft lighting and simple three tiered set work well, as does the projected text.

The actors are excellent. Shauna Macdonald‘s Libby is a study of lost purpose and desperate opportunism. As Declan, Angus Taylor memorably captures the anguish of a working class teenager whose eloquence is pre-empted and appropriated. Mouthpiece is a festival highlight.

“ Morbid pleasures within theatrical invention” The Australian, March 10, 2020, p.14.

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