Left - Dash Kruck & Emily Curtin. Photo - Sean Young
It's hard not to be apprehensive walking into A Tribute of Sorts. Monsters Appear's latest production operates within a spectacularly risky framework of ambitions.
Firstly, it attempts to wrangle entertainment from an undeniably creepy premise (two, potentially incestuous, teenage cousins staging elaborate re-enactments of twenty-six infant deaths). Secondly, it attempts to do so via a freakishly diverse array of performative influences (multimedia, puppetry, theatre - even magic shows). Finally, it attempts to do all of that while somehow contriving to be hilarious, witty and heartwarming.
Stunningly, it largely succeeds. Not entirely, of course, but it gets much closer to perfection than anyone could reasonably expect. Monsters Appear's previous work The Glorious Nosebleed (for Metro Independents 2011) was a tight, inventive production but a production of a fraction of Tribute's scale. By contrast, a little further development and refining could see A Tribute of Sorts becoming a genuine masterpiece.
The production's ace is precision. Director Benjamin Schostakowski's skill is aesthetic. Even dating back to the earliest developments of The Glorious Nosebleed, he showcased an unnervingly finessed sense of visual style; halfway between Tim Burton's most twisted excess and Wes Anderson's most peculiar indulgence. A Tribute of Sorts is Schostakowski creating the violent, surreal world of his dreams and running wild in it.
In co-devisors Dash Kruck and Emily Curtin, the director has found the ultimate governors of such a world. Kruck has long been one of Brisbane's most brilliant performers and, as tortured teen auteur Ivan Plank, delivers a typically hilarious and faultless performance. Emily Curtin's work as cousin-in-love Juniper Plank is frankly bewildering. Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, hers is a tour-de-force, star-making showcase of talent.
Together, Schostakowski, Kruck and Curtin deliver a seemingly endless deluge of meticulously-crafted moments of humour, heartbreak and horror. From spontaneous confessions of love, to endearingly silly dance routines, to exploding babies, christmas tree suicides and glue-addled little boy demises; A Tribute of Sorts' co-creators deliver so much memorable imagery, with such alarming consistency, that it's almost baffling.
That aforementioned precision is what makes it all work. Particularly, the collective's assured navigation of tone. Constantly shifting between graphic horror, understated beauty and laugh-out-loud humour, A Tribute of Sorts is perpetually at risk of falling apart or over-extending. It never happens. It never gets too dark, too silly or too emotional. If anything, Schostakowski could stand to let his more beautiful moments breathe a bit.
Which is really A Tribute of Sorts' only albatross. It doesn't breathe. Schostakowski's grasp of aesthetic is phenomenal. His collaborators' grasp of timing, dialogue, humour and tone similarly laudable. Unfortunately, no-one seems to display such expertise in pacing and structure. From moment to moment, A Tribute of Sorts is dazzlingly precise. The broader contours of the work aren't as refined.
Specifically, narrative. A Tribute of Sorts doesn't develop narrative well. Nor is it particularly well-paced; veering unpredictably between sudden bursts of information and protracted, mini-narratives. A fully crafted plot takes something of a back-seat to more immediate gags and visuals. It is present (and, when it unveils itself, quite affecting) but it seems almost shoe-horned into proceedings.
Still, that's only a problem for audiences attracted primarily to such things as narrative. Admittedly, those looking to A Tribute of Sorts solely in pursuit of a tale well told will be inevitably disappointed. However, if those expectations are checked at the door, it's hard to imagine any audience not being thrilled by the production. For all of its laudable ambition, A Tribute of Sorts is, at its heart, a work driven by a relentless need to entertain.
And, in honesty, it's harder to sum up or compliment the experience of seeing it any other way. Flabbergastingly damaged and unstoppably hilarious, A Tribute of Sorts will entertain you - and relentlessly so.
La Boite Indie & Monsters Appear present
A Tribute of Sorts
Director Benjamin Schostakowski
Venue: Roundhouse Theatre | Level 5, The Works, 6-8 Musk Avenue, Kelvin Grove
Dates: 24 Oct - 10 Nov, 2012
Tickets: from $20
Bookings: www.laboite.com.au | (07) 3007 8600