I have developed an ‘Independents’ addiction.
I arrive a little too early for the performance, slink downstairs to the fabulous, moody Verve bar where I order a drink and some pre-show nibbles (the arancini is moorish) – the Manager of the bar asks me if I am seeing a show and I answer with a cool, casual affirmative.
The Metro Arts does a wonderful job at putting on emerging local theatre at a generous price and with the Verve bar in the basement of this historic building, 109 Edward Street is your one-stop-shop for a fabulous night out. I am following this year’s Independents Series, which which is a yearly spotlight on five diverse co-presented performance works. Sunny Drake’s production of X, is number two in the series which kicked off in March with a brilliant immersive work by Thomas Quirk, The Raven.
Sunny Drake describes himself as a ‘complex piece of Art’ and that is exactly what I thought of X, a tale of addiction conveyed through puppetry, stop motion and live performance. Visually, the production is a treat as Georgina Greenhill transforms the ever accommodating Sue Benner theatre into a surreal, dream-like setting complimented by Brett Collery’s affecting soundscape. A puppet show stage, come bar, come confessional, is an intriguing design and quite inventive in the way it adapts as the central playground for each reality, which Ingrid K Booker adds to the unusual nature of the performance with her impressive stop motion animation. The latter is projected onto the set giving the characters a green glowing netherworld to which they run and hide from their lives. Often intricate stage designs can prove challenging for an ambitious crew but transitions were seamless and interactions between the different media and characters were executed professionally.
Sunny appears from the shadows to inform us that this is not a self portrait and I am immediately suspicious that we are expected to believe ourselves to be the addicts by the end of the play, which was bookended by a free glass of wine. A strange Hamburglar style chase at the finale reveals the unsurprising revelation that this was indeed Drake’s story all along.
Drake is an energetic and strong performer. He wrote, created and performed this sixty minute piece and effortlessly flits from character to character, medium to medium. This however creates a problem. There was so much flitting between characters, heavy with weak dialogue and realities which confused and conflicted that it was hard to keep up.
Even once one grasped the multiple personalities in this one-man show, there didn’t seem to be enough time with them to discover their very human frailties. If an audience must be confronted with heavy topics like alcoholism, we want all the gory details. We want the humiliation and degradation. We want to see pain that makes us awkward in our seats, and revelations that make silences unbearable. We want to see why these characters are different to any other mildly damaged, staggeringly drunk scenester playing up on a Friday night. In an interview with Rave Magazine Sunny discusses the personal nature of the play:
There’s always a point before I start making a show or during the process that I hear myself say “no way, there’s absolutely no way I’m saying that on stage/in public.” At which point I start cursing madly, because I know I’ve found the juicy bits that absolutely need to be on the stage and in the show.
This is not my experience of X, in fact I would go so far as to say that the juicy bits are exactly what has been left out of the story and any opportunity along the way to delve deeper into the drama was quickly glossed over in a retreat to green glowing netherworld.
On entering the show, we are asked to write down our (censored) judgements of alcoholics on a slip of paper which provided the potential for a confronting interaction when we were then asked to yell out these judgements at ‘Jamie’, who had become a therapist and ‘Naked’ the drunken puppet subject (or was it Fancy?). While the audience may have felt a bit mean in that moment, at no other time in the sixty minutes were these judgements ever really challenged.
I’m sorry to say, as a standalone performance, X just isn’t strong enough to carry the expectations of a night of great theatre. For $20 you could go and see this show or you buy a very nice bottle of wine…. my recommendation is enjoy the wine.