Nigel KellawayPhoto - Heidrun Lohr

Two women take our names as we enter the space. One is holding a microphone, and she repeats the name into the microphone, so everyone in the theatre can hear. The other holds a clipboard, making a private jotting for each person. I am quietly pleased that I chose to enter the space early, so not many people are subject to my embarrassment. An embarrassment that, predictably enough, becomes most entertaining to watch as a spectator. Having just sat down and settled in, I can watch and listen with glee as others are subjected to the same fate. Soon enough, someone gives a fake, celebrity name, so the next few people follow suit. Somewhere near the end I hear the name “Nigel Kellaway” read out, and indeed, there he is, walking in like any other patron. He takes a seat at the front.

Sleepers Wake! Wachet Auf! is the new performance piece from Nigel Kellaway. It defies easy description, except to say that it is based around the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Kellaway clearly adores the music, and nearly every time it plays his body takes over in a full-body conducting dance. A piano trio (piano - Michael Bell, violin - Margaret Howard and cello - Catherine Tabrett) occupy centre stage, and Kellaway often interacts with them: calling them by their first names, vaguely conducting them, asking them about the sheet music in front of them. I wait for the moment when the aforementioned list of names, innocuously placed on stage, will be called upon for another moment of humiliation. Surprisingly, he uses the list sparingly, mentioning only a few people’s names throughout the piece.

There is no narrative to be seen - rather, Kellaway stitches together a collection of moments and stories - leading him to flippantly refer to it as “The Nigel Kellaway Hour.” Such metatheatrical statements abound in the piece, from the beginning discussion of the two ‘worlds’ of stage and audience, to the declaration: “This is my performance.” Many of the ‘variations’ are based around remembering and forgetting. He flits around the space from desk to chair to stool to musicians, seemingly drawn to each place to recount a story, talk about his psychiatrist or withstand a shower of loose pages.

The music of Bach (and variations) weaves in and out of the piece, along with recorded music and even canned laughter. Kellaway is an engaging performer, the text is eloquent (by Virginia Baxter, Jai McHenry, Amanda Stewart and Josephine Wilson) and the music beautiful, but I found the piece rather dry. The tone and mood of the piece was subdued and monotonous, and the significance placed on verbosity was, at times, tiring. There were some amusing moments, where a line from the text or a gesture of Kellaway’s body gave way to slight laughter in the audience. But for a piece that is self-declared as based around ‘variations,’ I felt variation was precisely the thing lacking.

Performance Space @ Carriageworks presents
Sleepers Wake! Wachet Auf!
Nigel Kellaway

CarriageWorks | 245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh
8 - 16 June
Wed - Sat 8pm
$25/$20/$15 + BF, Student Rush Wed & Thur All Tix $12

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