centipede. image by gillian schwab.
Naomi Milthorpe, BMA Magazine
Thurs 11 Dec
Serious Theatre’s show was… Awesome. Director barb barnett took David Finnigan’s po-mo dystopia by its fractured, multi-voiced horns to create a live radio play that ticked all the boxes of compelling, original theatre. Five actors (Lloyd Allison-Young, Hanna Cormick, Raoul Craemer, Chris Lloyd and Virginia Savage) stood essentially still for 90 minutes as, through their different voices, they played out the story of seventeen year old Mack Finch, trying to take his driving test in a post-apocalyptic Canberra. Behind them, Gillian Schwab’s set sketched the broken bones of Canberra, a world dominated by steam and decay and monstrous things. Oceans all boiled into sky is what we hope for in theatre: every move, every change of the eerie light, every sound effect, every decision made by Barnett and her talented cast, contributed to the creation of a new world.
The Priest (Hanna Cormick) is probably one of the monstrous things dominating this world. image by ‘pling.
Adrienne Gross, Australian Stage Online
Sat 29 Nov
Have you ever had something important to do, and the night before was full of strange dreams – a playback of snapshots of what happened during the day? Then the dream had by Oceans Boiled Into Sky’s lead character Mack Finch surely was from watching B-grade sci-fi flicks and Fox News the night before taking his driving test. The resulting journey leads from the ‘peace and safety’ of the Dickson Motor Registry to a post-apocalyptic Canberra. Along for the ride in the Mitsubishi Starwagon is the audience, whose smiles and quizzical looks are prompted by expressive cast members and an overall quirky production.
Oceans Boiled Into Sky is a sci-fi black comedy, a 75-minute single act described in publicity as a ‘road-trip coming of age story.’ I’d describe it more of a realisation of consciousness, as we can’t escape our subconscious, it’s hiding in the steam and just when you think it has lifted, it just rains back down – the things we try to block, the other person you want to be.
Oceans Boiled Into Sky is not an A to B story, but one from E to T with bits of C thrown in. The play works well for a Canberra audience who would get the in-jokes and could picture giant creatures lurking about in the fog of Tuggeranong Parkway.
As soon as the yellow doors open on The Street Theatre’s, ‘Street Two’, the atmosphere is set for the unexpected. The wisp of steam fog floats above couches, chairs, crochet rugs and puzzles to create an intimate lounge atmosphere fronted by five microphones with a background of sheer fabric shrouding Black Mountain Tower and outlines of boiling rocks.
The set provided context to what playwright David Finnigan describes Oceans Boiled into Sky as a ‘post-apocalyptic Canberra somewhere in the distant future-past’. Huh? Well, exactly. Though, this confusion is what can be entertaining if you let yourself be taken along for the ride in the 1983 Mitsubishi Starwagon with 3 and a half characters. Half, because one is a ghost. The others are a Fox News-type newsreader with a split personality of a drill sergeant, a peculiar charismatic media-gigolo and a gangly teenage boy haunted by an unrequited love interest – the prim and proper chess starlet.
The characters begin their journey from a cave after being issued a mission by a priest (the Thatcheresque Hanna Cormick) to save the human race. Guerrilla fighters – tough Gwen Macklin and slick Honest Jon – are to be driven to ‘The Black Mountain’ via the Tuggeranong Parkway by ring-in driver, bewildered Mack Finch. Along the way, they must play cassette music to motivate them to fight off nasty steam creatures, one of whom they must eventually capture. Making sense? Not really, but that’s not the point. The characters switch between who they are and who they want to be, eventually finding the truth.
This diverse range of personalities and the complete bizarreness of the story comes from the highly creative mind of Finnigan, who was recently named the tied winner of the second heat of the Canberra leg of the 2008 Poetry Slam competition. The play itself was nominated in 2006 for the Max Afford Award, a national playwriting competition. He has worked on the script since 2005 and has recently brought it to the current iteration with director Barb Bennet who makes the most of the small space and embraces the constraints, by considering every minimal movement made by the actors, such as facial expressions and stances.
Overall each character was expressive and clear, bringing movement to a static situation whereby they flawlessly spoke their lines from a fixed place non-stop for 75 minutes. The furrowed brow and awkward stance of Mack Finch was exactly how gangly teenage boys angle themselves around girls, so that it adds to the cringe moments of chat-up lines involving ‘sh**house teachers’ and ‘parties that are sooo gay’.
The staunch bulldog pose by Gwen Malkin (Chris Lloyd) behind the microphone was an entire presence of stubbornness as she played ‘the strong one’ so common in road-trip storylines, switching seamlessly in her split role of documentary journalist to fearless commando.
As a balance to the seriousness was the deftly played Honest Jon by Raoul Craemer with his pretty-boy preening and suaveness; the equivalent of Fonzie from Happy Days combing his hair just so after levelling a baddie. He delivered the witty muddling lines with winsome charm that roused giggles and chuckles from the audience.
Maybe Lloyd Allison-Young as Mack Finch has really had an out-of-Canberra-Toto moment before, because he was just as contorted with confusion and fear as one could be – face twisted in worry and hands shaking in clenched fists as he drove the mighty Starwagon to their destiny, and his Ps.
Virginia Savage – the Board Game girl – intercepted the story in mysterious voice flashes until becoming her near-real character of a repressed goody-two-shoes teen weary with worldly expectations of her conquering the chess tournament circuit. Holding character in prim poses and sarcastic eye-rolling, she was believable as a teenage girl trying to deal with the inanity of teenage boys.
The nature of the production being in a form of radio play of course means that sounds and music play a significant role. The sound effects such as water dripping added atmosphere and context to the character’s location, while the music served to break the single stream of consciousness into steps up towards Black Mountain. Warwick Lynch and ANU School of Music Composition students compiled the effects and added pieces of composed music from Erika Ikenouchi whose funky beats, bleeps and beeps cause disconnection between real self and expected self. However, the noise got confusing at times with the music being too loud to hear the voice altering tunnel tools.
Gillian Schwab, who also did the set design, continued the multi-sense effects with the lighting design, which was very effective using different colours to show altered modes of the duel personalities/states of mind and provided visual context with the frantic screen sketches flashing from the projector onto a sliver of stage screen.
The highlights of the play were the well-acted one liners from Honest Jon and the part where Mack Finch cringed his way through chatting up Board Game Girl – the script so true to life it seemed lifted from an eavesdropping outside McDonalds on a Friday night.
While I had a smile on my face or quizzical look for most of the time, I felt the fast pace slacken around three quarters before reaching the climax, then the closely followed end. The confusion of each character’s purpose was a bit brain-draining. But then so too can be a Shakespeare play with all the Bottoms and Pucks and Oberons lurking about with their respective motives. Just go along for the ride in the sexy Starwagon and enjoy the groove of the funky music and frenetic scripting with the quirky Canberran characters.
raoul craemer as honest jon. ‘charismatic media-gigolo?’ I think so. photo by ‘pling.
Joe Woodward, Canberra CityNews
Thurs 4 Dec
Serious Theatre have presented an innovative work that integrates all aspects of text, sound, mulit-media and human sculpture into a pictures for the audiences imagination.
Writer, David Finnigan, says he was “creating obstacles and hazards to make the director and cast’s job as hard as possible” and writing “semi-unstageable battles”. This required considerable focus from all involved to create a finely crafted sound and visual sculpture that allows the audience to imagine things appearing as if from real life fragments and dreams. It means the reference points for the audience’s experience are drawn less from traditional theatre and more from the likes of “electronic musicians who use the sound of broken and decayed machinery to build a beautiful aesthetic”. Finnigan suggests Kid 606 as an influence.
At an historical moment where nothing is sacred and all is fragmented, Serious’s work is timely and appropriate. barb barnett has been exacting in drawing out sharp voices tuned to strong rhythmic qualities from the actors. The ensemble playing was a lesson for all performers. This was complemented by a superb sound track that intertwined with amplified voices to shape the imagery of the text. The slight measuring of the sound graphics to suit the characters’ voices added to the feel of a recording that could be listened to on headphones.
If the cast’s visual texturing of the moment wasn’t so compelling, one might have closed the eyes and let the sound wash over and around one’s head. Visuals were important and well used in a constrained way by the cast of five: Lloyd Allison-Young, Chris lloyd, Raoul Craemer, Virginia Savage and Hanna Cormick.
I was reminded of watching Jack Kerouac’s film The Subterraneans with its amazing Andre Previn sound track and quick dialogue. The writing of William Burroughs immediately comes to mind as well. Perhaps pertinent in a year where And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, an early novel by Kerouc and Burroughs has been published for the first time!
Virginia Savage plays the part of a pissed off teen prodigy at a crappy house party.
Nigel McRae, Culturazi
Sat Nov 29, 2008
Oceans All Boiling into Foot Odour
For a moment last night, in my panic at finding myself in a warm theatre, with no decent means of escape, as I felt the combined pressures of a beer-bloated bladder, hot feet, a dizzy spleen, sleep deprivation (only diverted from crankiness by the afore-mentioned beer consumption) and the strange sense that I had stumbled upon a joke that I would never get and of which I might be the butt, for a moment, I say, I thought I might pass out.
It was made worse because, at about minute 65, I distinctly remembered the conversation I enjoyed before the bell with the sound guy (the very enjoyable David O’Rourke) who assured me there was an interval during which we could continue our surprise reunion. This in contradiction to the advice I received from someone who attended opening night. If this is just the first half, how long can this thing go on I thought. And is that the smell of my own feet?
Luckily there were quite a few unshod feet in evidence (there being a carpeted and pillow-bedecked space at the front of the packed house where I was ensconsed), not quite enough to eradicate my concerns about people smelling mine and actually take off my shoes (which I was dying to do, and to lie down on the pillow which was mostly occupied by a lovely lady to my right) and I don’t even have particularly smelly feet…
Luckily again, the aforementioned sound guy was right about the interval but wrong about the show, he doing sound for The Idea of North next door and me seeing Oceans All Boiling Into Sky, the reading of which in our back yard caused a minor kerfuffle ten days ago or so.
With all these things buffeting my normally contented soul, I sat on a cushion in the smoky darkness and attempted to penetrate the many mysteries of ‘Oceans’. The first five minutes made no sense. The pace is ‘machine gun’, many times the cast talk over one another and there is music, adding, initially, to the aural confusion. There was also a perceptable low frequency feedback ring on Hanna Cormack’s mic making her short early addition to proceedings that bit more unintelligible. For a while I feared the tech would get in the way of the play. Wasted energy. The rest of the evening was crystal and nicely balanced. Cormack shed a tear during her brief appearance. I don’t believe it was scripted.
But really the problem is mine. I’m bad enough at listening to, say, a poem, read at normal speed in good listening conditions. Normally I’ll be three lines behind by halfway and just give in to the melifluousness of the sounds (or boredom), a pleasant enough experience if you’re being read to by a beautiful young woman while naked in a bath on ‘e’. But I’m not really ‘getting it’.
I guess I’m just retarded in that way. Even with a preview like I had, I was lost at first, but magically, around minute ten, as if the radio had finally been nicely tuned, the multi-streamed avalanche of jibberish, gobbledegook and hornswaggle gelled into a meaningful discourse that I could follow. Or at least part thereof. It’s a road trip, a nightmarish, Kafkaesque journey through both Canberra and the abysmal labrynth of a teenager’s mind.
The character of Mack, played by a real life teenager, is the perfect vehicle for young Lloyd Allison-Young. Plastic faced and fluid in transition from almost hammy angst to suave candour and blithe unaffectedness, Allison-Young proved that barely anyone has to have any idea what’s going on and the whole room can still be amused. The rest of the cast are excellent, at least to my untutored eye, coping well with a very demanding script, the equivalent, methinks, of playing lead fiddle in a Tchaikovsky symphony.
Raoul Cramer is suitably authoritarian and megalomaniacal, his movember moustache aiding the visual effect admirably. Chris Lloyd, as I’ve previously uttered, gives good female newsreader and effortlessly traverses her multiple characters, and dear Virginia Savage evokes a range of emotions, from lust as pure as the driven snow, to sorrow sweet as mother’s milk.
Laced with local geographical icons, ‘Oceans’ was, for this born and bred Canberran, like viewing the familiar haunts of the past through a fractured looking glass, each landmark a metaphor for something dark or seamy or sad. Are the monsters on Black Mountain the cultural imperialism of the mainstream media? Is Lake Burley Griffin death. Does it matter? Can you enjoy a play like you might a ride on a roller coaster? All sensation and no comprehension? Can you marvellously enjoy a guitar solo without understanding each nuance, every flattened 6th?
Apparently you can, because I did and didn’t (get every nuance). The two blokes in the pisser agreed with each other they had no clue what was happening. Sometimes the best stuff takes closer examination. Perhaps I should go again. This time I’m going early, getting a good posi, and taking my shoes off.
lloyd allison-young is mack the mack finch is dangerously throwing away his mack, mack. photo by ‘pling.
Bic Parker, Culturazi
Sat Nov 29, 2008
Last night I went with my friend to a performance of a play and it was a hoot. For the first time in a long time I enjoyed myself. I was captivated by the delivery and stunned by the fact that it was written about Canberra. I want to tell you about the doo but I don’t want to give it away. I did speak with the director after the production about the production and she agreed, well she didn’t seem to disagree with my assessment so I will tell you.
One first walks into a sixties type speakeasy, lounging around at tables, on lounges and on the floor. Five mics on stage, simple, five characters, one human, the others afflictions of the machinations of that individual. All in all this play deals with a very serious issue of mental illness and its reality and society’s reactions to it which, as you will discover, is to laugh at and be entertained by it. That is a good question. Why do we laugh at disfunctions? A most enjoyable and thought provoking play.
gwen malkin (chris lloyd) is disappointed in you, david. Sci-fi misfires. tsk, tsk, tsk.
Alanna Maclean, The Canberra Times
Thurs 4 Dec, 2008
Go into the Dickson Motor Registry for a driver’s test and you could end up in the hands of aliens, driving through a Canberra that is nothing like the one you know.
At least that seems to be what is happening in Oceans all boiled into sky…
Visually this production is challenging.
The five characters stand in front of a scrim and work to mikes on stands.
Elegant projections appear to one side.
Gradually, behind the scrim, a dark burned-out diorama of Black Mountain looms up, complete with a car driving up it and the tower.
The feeling is part graphic novel, part ancient science fiction radio show as Mack Finch (Lloyd Allison-Young) is kidnapped at the Dickson Motor Registry to serve the somewhat unclear aims of Gwen Malkin (Chris Lloyd) and Honest John (Raoul Craemer).
He finds an ally in the Board-Game Girl (Virginia Savage), despite the fact that she appears to be dead.
A wrecked Tuggeranong Parkway peopled by giant centipedes, dragonflies and spiders makes getting up Black Mountain to capture some cloud creatures difficult and Lake Burley-Griffin is as dry as the boiled-dry oceans of this post-disaster world.
However, despite the splendid set design (Gillian Schwab), Erika Ikenouchi and Warwick Lynch’s disturbing sound scape and some hard work by the performers, it is hard to grasp what drives this show.
David Finnigan’s script is poetic and occasionally funny but it all seems a little aimless and lacking in tension.
Yet it is good to see a Canberra playwright turn places we know into an alternative universe that draws on memories of the bushfires to call up an image of the city in decay.
And the little dialogues between Finch and the Board-Game Girl about school and relationships are so coolly done by Allison-Young and Savage they ring true and local.
Being very well disposed towards the various worlds of science fiction and knowing the power of fantasy genres I found myself wanting it all to mean much more.
SCI-FI MISFIRES! SCI-FI MISFIRES!