Looks can be deceiving. When a show opens to a lean spiff youngun’ crouched down with jazz hands looking intently at his audience proclaiming, “I am the void” of course your options are limited to fighting the performer or flighting to the foyer. Internal groaning won’t appease such a mockery of theatrical watchability. What if this was followed by two other equally taxing proclamations?
“I am the gathering, growing, changing.”
“I am the night, I am the light, I am the explosion.”
As was the kick-off of The Glass Boat, which then thankfully progresses into a systematic mockery of itself as a piece of absurd-melodrama, of Australian folk-law, existentialism and cosmic contemplation, pop-culture electro-style, and talking frogs.
Ensemble work at its best, Nick Coil, Charlie Garber and Claudia O’Doherty join creative forces as Pig Island. Playwright Coil has hit these stage planks running, fresh from a critically acclaimed production of October Sapphire at New York City’s 2006 Fringe Festival.
First and foremost it must be said that this spanking piece truly masters irony and bears a refreshing and exuberant lack of cynicism. It is a VERY WELL DONE farce on ‘the youth of today’, an Australian new-work oh-too-aware of itself as in fact that, played out as a warm-spirited montage of skits, with dead pan action and full-frontal story-telling as it’s prime tactics for cultural upheavalage.
Garber is the standout performer, with comic timing at his muster like cattle to a third-generation farmer (but without the suicide). The best segments include Garber’s frustrated French Waiter’s nostalgicisms and Rural Mum’s Christmas-hums-come-break-down (and the aussie-idiosyncratic-one-liners that go along with her), Coil’s Mike-the-Dork who unravels from a giant golden cocoon to find emancipation in his feet via slick dance moves to the tune of Jam and Spoon’s 1993 hit “Right in the Night”, and O’Doherty’s deadpan demands as Russian immigrant wife to her larrikin drop-kick hubbie (“Give me another Ucla Toby’s moosi bar”).
Bubbling with bouncy banter including every ludicrous Aussie-vernacular-cliché under our collective sunburnt brow, it loosely themes itself on time-travel, Christmas and a mental institution. The times it plays out like a bad sitcom are entirely redeemed by a pregnant pause where it's laugh or bust or a swift transition to a new story. Rhythm precise as a metronome and subtlety bobbing from bed-bug to sledgehammer, its references span further than the back of Burke where even Dusty Springfield gets a wet toe in the nonsense (“love is an apple spinning silently in space”).
The costumes are ridiculous. Dark blue velveteen medieval-come-Eastern-Flare dress-tops bearing a mesh of cosmic and Australian folk-law symbolism (moons, a lighthouse, a bushfire, an owl, trees) placing the two-dozen-or-so characters in the never-never of outer space and inner-fear.
The set is simple. Whoever knew glow in the dark stars could be so effective but it works. With a budget of zilch real talent can’t hide, thank the galahs above for that.
At times there was a threat of teeter into student-theatre-realms and certainly the songs had a flat-tone or two, but quid pro quo the show undermines itself as anything that should be taken home with a hint of verbose pretension (touché), so any lack of polish is absorbed with a grain of salt. By the time The Glass Boat sails to Melbourne Comedy Festival anything left under-attended will no doubt be a device to make you laugh even more.
Pig Island has a very promising future. If Australia Council don’t recognise gems like this perhaps Crowe himself will lean his new year toward philanthropic tendencies.
At the risk of sounding like Barry Bissell, this is a smash hit new work you’d be a bandicoot to miss. It’s for the young, the old and anyone who’s lost faith in theatre’s sense of humour. Just don’t expect any cool special effects or cheap jabs at flag bearers. The Glass Boat is much too clever for that.
The Glass Boat
by Nick Coyle, Charlie Garber and Claudia O'Doherty
Venue: The Tap Gallery Theatre Darlinghurst
Dates: January 30th to February 17th
Times: Tuesday - Saturday @ 8pm
Tickets: $15 adult, $10 concession. And two for one for Jan 30, 31st and Feb 1st shows.