31/10/2014 - 31/10/2014
Set in the Lounge Bar of a hotel, four ghosts from different eras meet for a drink in the hotel where they died. These career ghosts discuss life, love and opportunities lost of those still living and those long gone. It’s true what they say – it’s easier to confide in a stranger than a friend and it’s even easier after a few wines.
Bringing together for the first time a quartet of highly engaging, intelligent and charming improvisers – this piece will showcase rich character driven story-telling.
Ghost Conference is a brand new fully improvised one-act play performed by Christine Brooks (Wellington), Anna Renzenbrink (Melbourne), Catherine Crowley and Ben Crowley (Canberra). They all meet yearly at an Improvisation Festival in Canberra.
Fri 31 Oct 6:30pm
Part of the New Zealand Improv Festival
28 October – 1 November at BATS (Out of Site)
3 show passes available! Contact the Box Office for more information – email@example.com
Review by Alex Wilson 01st Nov 2014
The stage is dimly lit and there are four wine glasses sitting in front of four empty chairs. Ambient alternating chords play hauntingly in the background. Unlike the initial mise en scène of other shows in the festival so far, this one leaves us with more questions than answers; the whole scene is a tad unsettling.
This is promptly broken by a chipper delivery boy bounding from the back of the audience onto the stage with a bag of Chinese food, grabbing some cash that’s been left under a wine bottle and blithely gambolling away.
It seems that The Maldon Project have organised a special treat (or trick) for us on this hallowed ween. But as with the contents of the Chinese food boxes, it’s a little difficult to work out what it is they are serving up.
After the delivery boy leaves, the lights dim and quickly come back up to reveal four ghosts who were, presumably, sitting there invisibly the entire time. They have arrived for the eponymous Ghosts’ Conference, and are played by Christine Brooks, Catherine Crowley, Ben Crowley and Anna Renzenbrink.
Their friend ‘Trent’ (Robbie Ellis) sits in the corner playing keyboard, his face masked by a column so, for the most part, all you can see are two disembodied hands floating over the keys. Trent’s job is to provide some much-needed high spirits to his four ghoulish pals as they discuss various elements of their life, the afterlife and the after-after life.
The tone of the piece is similar to a film by Jim Jarmusch: brooding and contemplative but also lacking a clear narrative or plot progression. Because these characters have all ceased to be, their days consist of scaring people for no particular ends, they are stuck in a vacuum, their lives are inherently meaningless.
With the threat of death removed and nothing to live for, there are no stakes and therefore no need to change, which provokes an interesting question: can a long-form improvised story with no scene changes be sustained in a format which strips a scene of many of the ingredients traditionally needed for success?
Based on the Maldon Project’s first attempt at this format, it seems there is possibility even if it does not quite come together this time around. But then this is a monumental challenge indeed. The show succeeds when the actors explore their characters with us, such as how they came to be here and what baggage they bring with them. How did the person they were in life make them the ageless ghost they are today?
Ben Crowley is a stand out in this respect. Lying to the others about his life as a high-stakes mafia accountant reveals his inherent insecurities, even in death. A scene where he puts a plastic bag on his head to play a ghost-ghost is also rather endearing. These revelations of character are particularly welcoming, especially when – apart from the ever-cheerful Renzenbrink – the cast play parallel moody characters.
A good reference for the cast for a second run might be Waiting For Godot. Didi and Gogo are homeless tramps stuck in a world they cannot leave, living out an absurd existence. To pass the time, they take issue with what the other one says, they play games and tricks. They let each other be changed by being in the other’s existence even if, ultimately, they will return to the original place.
The Maldon project do not let this happen to their characters; they seem resistant to change. Actors raise offers but often they are not advanced. There is a ‘yes’ but no ‘and’. Relationships do not seem to be altered despite the issues that are raised. A prominent example of this is where it is revealed that Christine Brooks and Ben Crowley’s characters once had a relationship that ran afoul, leading Crowley’s character to flush himself down the toilet. This is dismissed after the first 15 minutes without being resolved or brought to a natural conclusion. Both characters not really changed at all, with Crowley’s sacrifice at the end seeming quite hollow.
There is no doubt the four actors are excellent improvisers, based on their collective efforts in the festival thus far. It just seems that the exact purpose or game of this format isn’t exactly clarified. It is never fully explained why the ghosts are attending the Ghost Conference in the first place. With some minor retooling of the format and focusing on characterisation and contrast, this format could be an extremely unique and successful show.
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