The art of storytelling is steeped in rich theatrical tradition. An art form in its own right, it is, at its best, intimate, personal and simple - yet no mean feat for a performer to undertake. It requires a deft skill to gauge audience reactions moment to moment. Their level of engagement and commitment to the story they are being told, intuiting what to emphasise and what to leave out. In this way it is a fluid practice, as no two retellings are ever completely the same. When the listener changes so do the areas of interest and emphasis, if only ever so slightly, and thus the story evolves.
Insane in London by musical duo Whimsical Tricycle, attempts a double purpose. The storytelling is punctuated with original songs, sometimes illustrative of the anecdotes recalled, sometimes interacting with the themes inherent in the narrative. With Kieran Butler on guitar and vocals and Michelle Wilson on violin and vocals, Insane in London is essentially an autobiographical study, full of transatlantic travel and tales of lost and found love.
For all its ambition, Insane in London falls somewhat short. For a show that's been performed for years (at the Edinburgh and Adelaide Fringe Festivals) it certainly needs refining. The pace is mostly the same throughout and rhythmically it would have benefited from sections of differing length. This would have helped to dispel the shows inherent predictability once the convention of song-story-song-story had been established.
Themes of kismet and unfolding destiny were lost in a meandering, seemingly directionless narrative. The piece needs to be clearer and pruned into overall shape that aids in the presentation of meaning. The action jumped backwards and forwards in time and the disjointed timeline that resulted was confusing and unnecessary. A more linear progression would have provided structure and tightened the piece, which was overly and somewhat self indulgently long, and helped to move the narrative forward with more coherence.
The performers seemed ill at ease in front of the audience, and although they loosened up during the course of the show, the relaxed charisma that is necessary for this type of intimate theatre was lacking. Which was surprising given the performers CV's and experience performing to audiences at the above mentioned festivals. The banter between the duo, and the audience, was at times exceedingly uncomfortable.
The revealing of personal and family skeletons within a public arena requires a certain level of performative skill and panache. As the show progressed, it became apparent that the performers were not technically equipped to present such potentially emotionally explosive material with the deftness and sensitivity that it needed and deserved. When Michelle became emotional recounting the death of her mother from cancer, Kieran quickly steered the action back towards his perspective, overriding and trampling upon a moment that had the potential to be genuinely affecting.
However, the informal and conversational tone of the piece was refreshing. Audience commentary was encouraged and the almost naive earnestness of the piece was heartfelt and completely lacking in irony. The travel stories and songs were reminiscent of a night spent around a campfire with friends and a bottle of whisky. Others had the distinct atmosphere of an awkward extended family barbeque. These moments were akin to the retelling of tired family anecdotes that are repeatedly and predictably trotted out on special occasions. These sections would benefit from an injection of new material, adding renewed energy and theatricality.
The songs contained within the piece evoke images of Australians holding each up and bellowing in foreign pubs, and are steeped in Australiana and jingoistic accents. However, Butler and Wilson did accompany each other ably and are a tight and capable musical duo.
Insane in London could be an endearing work. The stories need to be further scripted and refined in order to tease out their subtlety and transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. Kieren Butler and Michelle Wilson seemed to be motivated by a genuine love of performing which is not only completely necessary, but also inspiring and admirable. Unfortunately, Insane in London illustrates that sometimes, it's just not enough.
INSANE IN LONDON
Venue: The Butterfly Club | 204 Bank St, South Melbourne
Date: Thursday 26 to Sunday 29 June
Times: Thurs – Sat at 9.00 pm; Sunday at 8.00 pm
Tickets: $20 full / $15 concession and for groups of 8 or more
Duration: one hour approx
More info: www.whimsicaltricycle.com