FEAST WITH FOOLS
03/05/2020 - 03/05/2020
His Quite Excellent Lordship & Master of Ceremonies Baron Alfalfa l’Falfalfa Romeo di Trampolino requests the pleasure of your company at our annual Feast* in celebration of Fools past and present.
Sunday, May 3rd
Please be seated by 5:55pm
Dinner will begin promptly at 6:00 p.m.
*This year, due to unmentionable circumstances, our annual feast will be digitised. Baron Romeo and his formal guests will be eating via live-stream from his castle. Peasants (like you) will have to supply your own meal at home.
Admission is Pay-As-You-Wish
Featuring the foolish talents of:
Theatre , Clown ,
Good components but lacks structure
Review by John Smythe 05th May 2020
Never in the long and esteemed history of clowning have clowns been so restricted by technology. The rustic fool of ancient Greece and Rome, the zanni of commedia dell’arte and its wider European equivalents, the court jester-cum-fool (as in Shakespeare plays) all had plenty of physical space to work in and, crucially, other characters to play off and live audiences to interact with. Even the silent movie clown (Keaton, Chaplin et al), unable to speak, had plenty of scope when it came to filmed and edited action – often re-edited following audience testing.
Of course constraints can be a boon to creative artists. Necessity is the mother of invention (as noted in Plato’s Republic) – hence Theatreview’s declaration of a COVID-19 Lockdown Festival 2020, as a means of grouping, honouring and critiquing the range of performing arts experiences available online, in a variety of formats.*
According to Wiki, the Feast of Fools was a medieval festival where lower-ranking clergy would be elected to the roles of false Bishop, Archbishop or Pope and mock ecclesiastical rituals. More recently, the annual Bread & Circus World Buskers Festival in Christchurch has featured a Feast of Fools billed as “An eye-opening gastronomic and theatrical escapade. This is a masked moving feast of unexpected food and theatrical adventures unlike any other. Think medieval banquet meets adult Alice in Wonderland. Think Heston Blumenthal meets Carnival of Venice.” Also billed at an eye-watering $199 per ticket, it promised an exceptional communal experience.
Back in the unreal world of COVID-19 Lockdown, we attend the Feast with Fools (note the recent change from ‘of’ to ‘with’) at the behest of His Quite Excellent Lordship & Master of Ceremonies Baron Alfalfa l’Falfalfa Romeo di Trampolino. “This year,” the invitation notes, “due to unmentionable circumstances, our annual feast will be digitised. Baron Romeo and his formal guests will be eating via live-stream from his castle. Peasants (like you) will have to supply your own meal at home.”
It’s a ‘Pay-As-You-Wish’ event that continues the ‘Zoom-to-your-rooms’ experiment that has been explored for five weeks so far* and the impressive line-up of talent bodes well. Rather than classic clown (aka fool) personae, the performers bring a range of archetypal and/or mythical characters – many clearly sourced from medieval times – to the virtual table, plus two from actual history and a ring-in from ‘out of town’. While the show was planned and prepared, I have no idea how much was rehearsed.
As Baron Alfalfa l’Falfalfa Romeo di Trampolino, the MC, dressed in the style of a circus ringmaster and sporting an Italian accent, Thomas LaHood eschews the usual ‘hoopla’ of the role for a relatively fumbly intro, possibly exacerbated by things not turning out quite as planned. Indeed he admits to talking rubbish while waiting for the guests to arrive online.
Anya Tate-Manning manifests as Swamp Witch Hinriikau, adorned in fresh green foliage despite being from the frozen swamps of the North.
The Actress from Out of Town is Australian Comedian Tessa Waters, who has eschewed the pizzazz her known range of performance personae for a sweet and friendly domestic home-body.
Angela Fouhy sports marker-pen eyebrows and beard as Longbottom Geoffrey, peering rabbit-like over a plate of fresh figs alongside a large jug and a wine glass.
Sedate and earnest in her cloister is Ania Upstill’s Abbess of the Eternal Foreboding, ready to regale us with readings from a good book (containing, if I decipher my notes correctly, the insights of one Baroness Clarissa de Champignon).
Elle Wootton brings us into the realm of medieval witchcraft with her Ethel Klum – I can almost smell the putrid potions – although her front is a old Curiosity Shop offering 50% off everything.
A facsimile of Ferdinand Marcos – not the actual historical one, we are assured – is brought to the party by Filipino-Kiwi David Correos.
And who is that in a red silk frock coat at a piano but Wolfgang (Amadeus Mozart), played by an almost unrecognisable Carrie Green. His cat-headed servant Pussy brings him a whole chicken
It has taken 15 minutes to introduce and establish these characters, some of whom have a desperate air – brought about, I assume, by the actors’ sense of dislocation and dissociation, as they attempt to ply their trade alone in their rooms in what must feel like a vacuum. While they may or may not be able to see each other in small frames, they are not breathing the same air, let alone feeling each other’s vibrations and rhythms (an essential element of live inter-acting we take for granted until it is subtracted). As for their audience, they have no idea if we are there or not. Even if they see an attendees number somewhere on the app, there is no vibration from us either.
In the spirit of sharing a chicken dinner, Baron Alfalfa opens what looks like a tin of condensed chicken soup but Swamp Witch Hinriikau prefers a goblet on fish and regales us with a ballad, accompanying herself on a harp. It’s The Actress from Out of Town who has seen the memo about proposing a toast and Waters manages to make her lame joke about using a toaster strangely appealing.
Her proposal that they could all play an improv game its met with a resounding chorus of “No!!” however – which has exactly the effect it would have in an improv show: it kills whatever energy has been collectively generated stone dead.
Longbottom Geoffrey is all teeth and tongue as s/he toasts a little friend named Roberto. The Abbess of the Eternal Foreboding offers a reading about who will be a fool by way of toasting the humble egg. When raw onion-eating Ethel Klum toasts “the enigmatic host”, her gift to him is ghoulish indeed: the most dramatic image of the night.
Despite his distaste at being at the feast with “poor people”, Ferdinand Marcos has his own brand of chocolate money to offer. Ever profligate, Wolfgang toasts syphilis, a dear fiancée who died of consumption, the sciences, arts, discovery, innovation, actresses and wine.
The Baron’s attempt to glean who has more chickens, based on his belief his solid soup contains many, falls rather flat – as does Longbottom Geoffrey’s figgy declaration of love to Swamp Witch Hinriikau. The only way is up from here – and suddenly the moods changes.
Every good feast needs a ghost and the Baron’s father obliges in a delectable interlude I only detect as live puppetry by the faint shadows on the curtain behind. I am guessing Jon Coddington has a hand or two in this (given he has been posting messages to the show throughout).
Wolfgang’s well-sung song to a beautiful Actress from Out of Town includes the immortal line, “Perhaps during Level Two we may be able to go the Level Four” to which the reply is, “Oh stay home!”
The Baron plays the piano accordion badly but Longbottom Geoffrey’s 1684 ‘Strep Throat’ ditty melts the frozen heart of Swamp Witch Hinriikau, allowing for a happy ending of sorts. Despite being isolated from each other, the whole cast manages to sing and dance to Abba’s ‘I do I do I do’ by way of a finale in the tradition of an Elizabethan jig.
Everyone has diligently done their bit to bring something to the performative table but it all adds up to less than the sum of its parts because it lacks structure. Everything from a joke to an epic saga needs structure to work. Even improv formats are ingeniously created to ensure the component parts construct a satisfying result.
That said we must applaud everyone endeavouring to overcome the bloodless strictures of Zoom et al to crack the conundrum of how to make good performing arts shows in Lockdown. At the very least what we are experiencing (see below) is reinforcing the dynamic values live theatre brings which we may have taken for granted.
*The COVID-19 Lockdown Festival 2020, to date.
Setting aside the high-end technology brought to National Theatre Live at Home and Globe Player productions, video recordings of Royal New Zealand Ballet productions, and the well-established Radio NZ Drama audio collection, an assortment of shows have been created within the actual Lockdown environment.
To date the highest in quality has been Centrepoint’s 24 Hr Challenge monologues, using the self-taping technology actors have become used to then post-produced for screening on Vimeo. Otherwise the platform of choice for most live shows online has been Zoom (with FB Live and Instagram also brought into play).
From Christchurch, in late March, Little Andromeda hosted Dungeons & Comedians’ Underdogs of The Underdark and throughout April, Feilding-based Motif Poetry’s The House is Open brought talents together from all round NZ over a month of Fridays – the first and third being reviewed.
Based in Wellington, BATS Theatre with Butch Mermaid Productions have facilitated pay-what-you-can live-to-air screenings of: Doom & Bloom’s improv shows Profit and Migrate; Binge Culture’s Break-Up [we need to talk]; and Ania Upstill’s Quarantine Cooking with Claude as well as Feast with Fools. On Thursday Jean Sergent will bring us The Corona Diaries and every Friday at 5.30 BATS continues to host a Happy Hour.
On Fridays 8, 15, 22 and 29 May at 7pm the Auckland Theatre Company will step up with 30-minute episodes of Chekhov’s THE SEAGULL, a new online version by Eli Kent and Eleanor Bishop, directed by Eleanor Bishop.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer