Postcard from Perth: 2013 Postcard Awards

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I have my doubts about ‘best of’ lists, awards, competitions or prizes. I don’t really know what it means to ‘win’ – or how comparatives like ‘better’ or ‘best’ apply – in theatre or the arts.

If I close my eyes, I can imagine an award-ceremony where there’d be no pre-established award categories or even preliminary lists of nominees; instead, surprise-awards would be granted for the occasion, using categories created for and inspired by the individuals and works themselves. To use Kant’s distinction, such awards would be acts of “reflective” rather than “determinate” judgement.
So, as my final Postcard for the year, I offer my own “reflective” list of awards, based on the theatre I’ve seen in Perth in 2013. Needless to say, the list isn’t exhaustive, in terms of what I saw or even liked, let alone in terms of what was on. I’m calling them my Postcard from Perth 2013 Issue Stamps, but you can call them “Postcard Awards” or “Posties” for short. I’m giving them in no particular order, other than chronological.
FringeWorld in February provided me with at least three memorable experiences, in the theatre and out of it. In fact FringeWorld itself gets my 2013 Festival Award for being just that: a genuine festival — that is to say, a seasonal feast of events that capitalised on Perth’s unique small-town summer vibe and transformed the city in and around the Cultural Centre, as people of all ages and backgrounds participated in a manageable array of shows and events, taking place outdoors and indoors, in pop-up and permanent venues, mostly in the immediate neighbourhood of Perth Train Station.
Local emerging writer/director/actor Will O’Mahony’s play The Improved for emerging company The Skeletal System at The Blue Room (where it was part of their Summer Nights Season) gets my 2013 Breakout Debut Production Award. Will’s plays are parables, but they yield no easy moral, message or meaning. They make me think of the stories of Kafka, the novels of Murakami or the screenplays of Charlie Kaufmann; but they’re quintessentially theatrical.
Across the road at PICA as part of Summer Nights was Birdboy, devised and performed by Wet Weather Ensemble. Wet Weather are an ambitious multi-disciplinary group making a dreamlike, hand-held form of devised work that owes a lot to the aesthetics of free play which I’ve alluded to in earlier posts as a distinctive feature of Perth independent theatre-making. Deliberately messy in style and realisation, Birdboy nevertheless gets the 2013 Two Roberts (Wilson/Lepage) Award for Multi-Disciplinary Practice, comprising the Wilson Award for Sheer Beauty and the Lepage Award for Emotional Resonance.
Also in the Fringe but outside the aegis of Summer Nights or the Cultural Centre venues was The Wives of Hemingway, directed and co-devised by Zoe Pepper for her company Side Pony and staged under the dilapidated palms at North Perth Bowls Club. Featuring a car-chassis, giant Tiki puppets and a dazzling and courageous cast of three (Tim Watts, Adrienne Daff and Josh Price) freely exchanging characters, wigs, genders and sexualities, Wives gets the 2013 Postcard Stamp for Transgressive Clowning and Literary-Historical Pantomime.
Scrolling through my iCalendar the next entry that jumps out is Fat Pig at The Blue Room in May–June. Produced by longstanding local independent company Red Ryder, this well-crafted if rather unexceptional Neil LaBute play was skilfully directed by Emily MacLean and featured a dynamic modular design by Fiona Bruce, artful lighting and scoring by Joe Lui and pitch-perfect performances by Alisa Osyka, Brendan Ewing, Will O’Mahony and Georgia King. A show delivered with more finesse would be hard to find on the Perth main stages. Fat Pig gets the 2013 Postcard Stamp for Perfectly Realized Production.
My next award somewhat controversially goes to Alienation, a Perth Theatre Company co-production with Penrith-based Q Theatre Company, in June–July at The Studio Underground — and specifically to two remarkable performances by Luke Hewitt and Natalie Holmwood. This show was much criticized, and indeed publicly disowned by the playwright. Without further entering further into or taking sides in this futile controversy (which lead to the cancellation of the Q Theatre season) I simply wish to record the memory of two actors, characters and stories fearlessly laying it on the line, risking our laughter and finally touching us deeply. Luke and Natalie share the 2013 Postcard Performer’s Award for Onstage Integrity and Courage Under Fire.
Next on the list is writer/director/devisor Ian Sinclair’s Little Mermaid in August–September at The Blue Room. This enchanting show was co-devised and performed by amphibious actor/dancer Jacinta Larcombe and more earth-bound actor/archetypes Ben Gill and Georgia King. Ian’s work is camp, dreamy, post-Pop, Gen Y theatre. Little Mermaid gets the 2013 Postie for Poignant Use of Soap-Bubbles and the Leonardo diCaprio Award for Breaking Up with a Bedroom Wall Poster of Leonardo diCaprio.
September also saw a remount of It’s Dark Outside at The Studio Underground, created and performed by Weeping Spoon artists Arielle Gray, Tim Watts and Chris Isaacs, and commissioned by Perth Theatre Company. I missed this show the first time around in 2012, so was thrilled to catch it before it headed off on tour again. It’s Dark Outside was a low-fi spectacular mix of puppetry, object-theatre and digital animation (Black Light Theatre of Prague meets Pixar, so to speak) and also featured an unforgettable mask performance by Arielle. It gets the 2013 Postcard Stamp for the Use of Mask and Animation (Live and Digital) in the Process of Coming to Terms with Loss.
Weeping Spoon’s most recent show Bruce, devised and performed by Tim with fellow Spoon Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd, also had its debut season at The Blue Room this November–December (and was reviewed in an earlier post). Bruce gets the 2013 Postie for Multiple Animation of a Single Item of Kitchenware as well as the M. Night Shyamalan Plot Twist Award.
Writer/director/lighting/sound designer/composer Joe Lui’s The Tribe for his company Renegade Productions was staged in two parts at The Blue Room in October, with Part One upstairs in the Main Space and Part Two downstairs in the Kaos Room. Devised and featuring Renegade stalwarts Paul Grabovac, Mikala Westall and Ella Hetherington, and fastidiously designed by India Mehta, The Tribe was the latest instalment in Renegade’s steady output of post-dramatic, post-humanist political theatre. The Tribe gets the 2013 Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud Awards.
Around the same time in October, the 2013 Proximity Festival at PICA featured 12 artists performing 12 fifteen-minute works in 12 rooms 12 times a night to one audience member at a time. This was the performance event of the year for me personally, but is hard to judge in my capacity as a participant artist if not a participant audience-member (although the boundary between the two was inevitably somewhat blurred). Nevertheless, the intrepid Proximity curatorial team (producer Sarah Rowbottam, co-curator James Berlyn and provocateur Kelli McClusky) collectively get the 2013 Star Trek Award for Enterprise in Boldly Going Where No Woman Or Man Has Gone Before.
I’ve already reviewed James Berlyn’s Crash Course and Ahilan Ratnamohan’s SDS1 – both at PICA in November – in previous Postcards. Crash Course gets the 2013 Award for Immersive/Participatory Theatre; SDS1 the 2013 Award for Relevance in (and of) Performance.
Last but not least, The Blue Room Theatre gets the 2013 Productivity and Diversity Awards, as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award for Venue (and Bar) at the Edge of the Universe.
The observant reader will notice a pronounced leaning in this list of awards in favour of independent artists, works, companies and venues. Whether this simply reflects my own subjective tastes and tendencies or the objective state of things in Perth I couldn’t possibly comment. In fact, the same disclaimer applies to all these Postcards from Perth.
I’ll be posting the next one on January 7. Caveat emptor, Merry Christmas and happy 2014.

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