If Wes Anderson and Tim Burton conceived a lovechild, and that lovechild splattered the wicked espresso flowing through its circulatory system on a stage, A Tribute of Sorts would pretty much be what that would look like.
As a winner of multiple Matilda awards following a sellout season at La Boite in 2012, it was obvious why the Queensland Theatre Company picked up Ben Schostakowski’s twisted little tale this year for the Billie Brown Studio.
The Monster Appear’s production, A Tribute of Sorts, paid homage to the deaths of 26 children (in alphabetical order) re-enacted by cousins, Ivan and Juniper Plank, with the morbid dissociative conviction that only adolescents can. It’s deliciously creepy and dysfunctional with something for the whole family – death, incestuous urges, explosions and sweet dance moves in an eisteddfod-inspired showcase. The pace was syncopated and unpredictable with plenty of room for squirming in your seat and unexpected “laugh out loud” moments that left you feeling a tad guilty; all the ingredients for a “perfect shade of ebony” tribute to end all tributes. But lurking underneath this seemingly straight-forward memoir, the once-innocent relationship between Ivan and Juniper was evolving.
Ivan’s (Dash Kruck) and Juniper’s (Emily Burton) chemistry was palpable. Burton’s committed and creepy portrayal of Juniper made you want to drop any moral preconceptions surrounding incestuous love, leaving a conflicted knot in your stomach in the hope she’d win her pledge to profess her true feelings to Ivan. A particular mention needs to be made about her realistic sound depictions of “making out” behind the bike sheds at school and her voice of regret. Kruck’s commitment to Ivan’s passion for the performance craft was riveting and thoroughly entertaining. Every word was spoken with solid conviction rendering even the most absurd believable. The comedic timing of both performances was exceptional; a clear indication of the hard work and strong relationships developed between the actors and the director.
The set design was clever – velvet curtains, dysfunctional bells and whistles, confetti and vintage lighting reminiscent of the childhood of every 30+ audience member. Nothing was particularly niche to any time period but mildly relatable to flashbacks of school dances and eisteddfods. Kudos to Ben Schostakowski, designer Dann Barber, and lighting designer Jason Glenwright, for taking the audience back to their own awkward and hopingly forgotten adolescences.
In one memorable vignette, a doll’s house was used to project a simple, but spine-chilling animation of one child’s meeting with her life’s end. Animator, Pete Foley, showed his flare and love for minimalistic art deco in a disturbing tale of murder. But, of course, the story wouldn’t have been complete without the accompaniment of an upbeat silent movie tune. This scene was a true indication that traditional storytelling can collide beautifully with modern technological stage concepts.
A Tribute of Sorts was polished and well structured. The subtle story arc was brought to life (or death) by the strong development of characters and the solid contributions of a tightly rehearsed team of competent collaborators. Conventional theatre-goers may struggle with the erratic nature of events and seemingly loose narrative, however, for the more scattered-minded creatives, this play most likely made a whole lot of sense.