BATS Theatre, Wellington

19/02/2010 - 22/02/2010

NZ Fringe Festival 2010

Production Details

Liminal Theatre Ltd proudly presents the world premiere season of BUFFOON’S BIRTHDAY, in association with BATS Theatre and the Wellington Fringe Festival 2010.

A new piece of physical theatre devised from an original script, BUFFOON’S BIRTHDAY is a 50 minute dark comedy, telling the story of the buffoons Bones, Meat, Guts, Skin, Blood and a Herald as they celebrate a birthday in their own skewed and twisted way. Says writer-director Damien McGrath, “We are using mask, ensemble and vocal work to create these bizarre characters and the world they inhabit.”

BUFFOON’S BIRTHDAY has been a something of a passion project for McGrath. “I was inspired by the classical buffoons of the medieval era, a dark court jester with a mischievous streak.” The first draft was completed in late 2005, then gestated until the formation of Liminal Theatre afforded the opportunity to produce it.

The production has a six person cast, made up of professional and experienced actors, improvisors and dancers. Together with McGrath and assistant directors Andrew Todd and Alice Canton, they have worked intensively on creating a vibrant production from the script.

One of two shows from Christchurch in the Wellington Fringe Festival, BUFFOON’S BIRTHDAY is a quirky, funny, deranged vision of a birthday turned upside down.

Buoon’s Birthday @ The Wellington Fringe Festival
BATS Theatre
6:30pm, Friday 19th to Monday 22nd February
Tickets: $16 / $13 concession / $13 Fringe Addict cardholders
Bookings: phone 802 4175 / book@bats.co.nz

Cast and Crew:

The Herald: Julia Guthrey
Skin: Angela Johnson
Blood: Janina Matthewson
Bones:  Lance McBride
Guts: Lucy Mulholland
Meat: Hamish Parkinson

Writer/Director:  Damien McGrath
Assistant Directors:  Andrew Todd and Alice Canton
Technical Design:  Andrew Todd
Costume Design:  Alice Canton and Mary Canton
Set Design: Hannah Wilson
Music and Sound:  Annemarie Du
and Andrew Todd

Liminal Theatre Ltd is an incorporated company formed in Christchurch in 2009. Its vision is to create and produce unique stories that oer the audience an opportunity to go on a journey with the production, taking them to a liminal space, a threshold of potential and change.  

45 mins

Maybe it all made sense once …

Review by John Smythe 20th Feb 2010

This one belongs in the WTF? category, not because it defies categorisation (it is Theatre) but because whatever it is about or means is something the production fails to share with its audience. “I have no idea what was going on,” was a common comment in the foyer following the opening performance.

We’re in grotesque commedia mask/clowning territory here, with performers representing components of the body and speaking in rhyming couplets, not unlike the morality plays of old (where actors personified virtues and vices).

The most verbally coherent character is The Herald* (Julia Guthrey), who welcomes us after the scene setting sequence of collective writhing, moaning and heavy breathing around her supine body, which lies before a festive banner featuring a jester-capped skull and uncrossed bones.

It is she who acknowledges that judgement has already “passed from your eyes to your brains” and explains that we are to be treated to the story of one body, Bones: his Skin, Blood, Meat and Guts. “He is a buffoon,” she tells us, “as am I.” So are they all. The other black-clad wearers of white, grotesquely-featured masks set about straightening his contorted limbs …

In an equally contorted voice, Bones (Lance McBride) speaks of “the false dawning of the façade”, “how I grew into a Buffoon” and something about finding his “vile beat” only to be accused of “politic wankitude” by The Herald. But instead of moving on to greater clarity, Buffoon’s Birthday becomes more and more mangled.

We can be forgiven, I think, for expecting some physical evidence that Skin (Angela Johnson), Blood (Janina Mattheson), Meat (Hamish Parkinson) and Guts (Lucy Mulholland) all meet with Bones in the one body, which presumably also has vital organs somewhere to make it actually function. But if that is part of the rationale behind the highly physical performances and abstract formations, I don’t get it.

Indeed despite the great differences in the masks, there is a strange sameness in the physicalisations – hunched over shoulders, loping movements, lolling tongues – which does little to distinguish the differing qualities we might expect in each personification.

The title, publicity and programme notes, and some of the phrases I glean from the often incoherent text reveal it is Bones’ birthday and the others are going to give him gifts.

An outbreak of anarchic violence is resolved by Meat dragooning the others into some semblance of order in the manner of a fiercely authoritarian corporal who answers to Sergeant Bones. In retrospect (having checked who’s who in the programme, because the play itself does not make it clear), I can see there’s an anatomical logic in this. But what engages me most in this sequence is my concern for the actors whose ears are being shouted into at point blank range. Has attention been paid to ensuring no lasting damage is done to the actors’ actual ear drums?

Much of the problem in deciphering the rest of the show lies with the strained and convoluted vocalisations of the black verse, which is too necessarily contrived in its often clever locutions to be guessed at. Lest my old ears were letting me down I checked afterwards with three others, aged 20 or less, and all reported they were unable to comprehend most of what was spoken. (One suggested the masks were helping to distort the voices.)

There is a sequence involving a doctor’s waiting room where the doctor reveals a vested interest in ensuring no cures are forthcoming. There is a fuss made about a cake with red sauce “running rouge"; a heart beat is enhanced with red pulsating light …

Suddenly, in yet another melee of bodies, The Herald’s mask is torn off and she delivers a delightfully clear speech that starts with breath that fills her “with a giggle” and concludes that she is “born into the amazing absurdity of us”. Then she collapses.

I am sure the writer/director Damien McGrath, for whom this has been “a hobby project … for the last few years, writing on and off,” and the cast and crew who have “continuously inspired, energised and humbled” him with their “endless generosity of ideas, time an ability” all know what they are doing and why, but somewhere along the line the imperative of communicating it to the audience – of sharing the experience with us; of engaging us to some purpose beyond just watching them act – has been lost.

Without knowing those involved and what their priorities are, I cannot tell whether it is redeemable through further development. Maybe it all made sense once and maybe it can do so again.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
*The show is from Christchurch so I don’t think any reference to Auckland’s daily newspaper is intended.
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