You know it’s going to be a big-budget, blockbuster show when, squished into the Tower Room at the Malthouse, a glow of moody red lighting spills through from offstage OP; and then the sounds of thundering hooves – destriers charging, the clashing of swords, the cries of men – and it’s so close, so life-like, but better, like a movie…
And that’s as far as willing suspension of disbelief gets me. Which is lucky, because, just as I’m reflecting on whether there even were horses in the Greek army that conquered Troy – other than the big wooden one, obviously – and inwardly smirking at what a pedant I’m being because, even if there had been, there were no documentary film crews out recording atmospherics, he enters, in tight-fitting leather jacket, tight-fitting tights and a really, really big ruff.
He is Starr-ticus.
Not that that has too much to do with anything that follows.
But you can’t say Garry Starr lacks ambition. In last year’s Garry Starr Performs Everything, he attempted to single-handedly revive theatre by performing as many genres of it as he could in a 50-minute show: from classical to Shakespeare, from farce and Butoh, to contemporary dance.
Not content with that act of resurrection, these days, the man is on a new mission: to reveal the truth (or as he says, “truthfulism”) about the art of acting itself. It’s pretty complex:
“Acting was invented by the ancient Greeks. Before that people were just pretending.”
What follows, while not perhaps, so conceptually focused as the previous show (for which he won the Emerging Artist Adelaide Fringe Weekly Award), almost picks up where that one left off. And, no! Starr isn’t going to hide behind “Craft Mystique” this time either!
The show contains genuine trade secrets: pretending, suggesting, faking the kind of emotional range and physical stamina the industry demands. He’s against The Method (‘Methodone’) and in favour of Skacting (skilled acting).
There’s some bitterness here, and also some sage advice. But is it too jaded to link the show to the imminent publication (once it’s been written) of his forthcoming book: An Actor Pretends: How To Do Good Acting...? Perhaps. Even with that caveat, what other show tracks from Homer and the Trojan War to Neighbours and The Brady Bunch in under an hour?
The phenomenal section on dance auditions alone could save you years at drama school! This is a man who’s worked to retain his creative integrity, while ensuring career longevity.
As clowns go, Starr’s (AKA actor Damien Warren-Smith‘s) heritage is as impeccable as Philippe Gaulier. And seasons developing work with Plague of iDiots have not been wasted. Though I suspect it’s growing up in regional Australia that’s made him truly anarchic.
He’s physically adept – at one point he jumps, from a standing start, onto the top of a wheelie bin – and capable of casually initiating fabulously adequate mime.
And the audience are with him from the start, so much so you wonder if he’s using some form of hypnotism on us. People seem to offer themselves up to go along with him even before he’s told them what he wants. I know I wanted to assist him.
It’s almost disturbing. But maybe what’s disarming is how genial he is, how likeable – he meets you at the door to say goodnight.
The show, which British actor/director Cal McCrystal had a hand in shaping, is a little bit hotch-potch and, despite a season at this year’s Adelaide Fringe, still feels a bit undercooked, but that hardly seems to matter. It’s genuinely welcoming of audience, and you feel slightly daft and happy just watching it. It’ll either tighten (or become more chaotic) as it plays.
So park your cynicism at the door. Time to tickle your inner child.
And sit near the front. You won’t want to miss his floor work.
Garry Starr Conquers Troy is at The Malthouse until April 21.