I started this a couple of weeks back, but have been caught up in other work. Two very different and interesting shows worth noting for the record. The Disappearances Project is Version 1.0′s latest creation and it’s very fine. Two actors sit – wide apart – in a broad empty space in Carriageworks. The only movement is the moving image behind them – the view from a slowly moving car as it journeys through street after suburban street in the quiet hours of the evening. Someone is searching? For what? For whom?
The two characters – played with great discipline and restraint by Jana Taylor and Irving Gregory – are amalgams of many people who have found themselves in the predicament of someone they love going missing. The dialogue is composed of recorded conversations covering the many aspects of what it is like to lose some from your life without explanation – never to return. From the initial bewilderment and hope, to what it’s like dealing with police, Centrelink, Medicare, family and friends and onto the gaping years that lie in wait that stretch on as the mystery is never solved. In Australia around 30,000 go missing a year. Close to 90 percent reappear – most of them after not too long. But a significant number are never heard of again – and this is what this work for the stage is all about.
Interestingly Taylor and Gregory stick to one ‘voice’ each – despite the varying sources of their material. Each has created a very calm and thoughtful character who has clearly been through a great deal of grief, but has no longer the fire to share the past in tones beyond wistful, slightly bitter regret. When you have been through such a tormenting time, melodrama is cheap. The grief has emptied them, yet they also see more clearly. The effect is odd: as if each us has some such person inside them waiting to grieve a similar loss.
You’d think such a decidedly low-key presentation might come across as a bit limp. Quite the opposite. While the resources put together to make this show are modest, that decision has been deliberate and the impact is big. We hang on every phrase: the experience is quite hypnotic. The whole event rather like watching a car crash in slow motion.
A lot of thought and work has gone into this production. The footage I gather was shot around Bathurst, whose theatre arts people – including Stephen Champion at Hothouse – supported the making of this project. Many others were also involved – with major credits going to Yana Taylor, who not only acts, but worked on its concept and research, devising, co-directed with David Williams, and she directed the film. Williams also played various roles in many aspects of the production, and his outside eye as co-director has led to a finely-tuned work. Others involved, some are Version 1.0 regulars, include among the creatives: Paul Prestipino – composer, Frank Mainoo – lighting design, Sean Bacon – on camera and Deborah Pollard – on dramaturgy. Individually their contributions are outstanding; and together as a team they help create a very powerful work of art.
Out in the western suburbs – Bankstown to be particular – we had a very different two-hander run for a short premiere season. Ama and Chan breaks new ground for this smart company that works in those spaces where our ideas about who we are as citizens rub and sometimes spark. What’s new here is that it’s a comedy – almost I Love Lucy in form. We have on stage the highs and lows of a marriage between two western Sydney migrants – Ama (Effie Nkrumah) from West Africa and Alan Lao (Chan) of Chinese origin. They are not particularly experienced performers, but both have big personalities, and director Drew Fairley has done a great job devising this show with them, which climaxes in them creating a TV cooking show filmed from their own suburban home. Culture and food go hand in hand, so it’s a lot of fun to watch this version of a Punch and Judy show play out before our eyes. Each has plenty to say about the other’s cooking!
Here is the blurb: Part stand-up, part-theatre, part live-to-internet cooking show; Ama and Chan is a witty and savvy look at love, fusion-cuisine and an unplanned flatmate. Ama is a Ghanaian woman who likes Chinese food… a little bit. Chan is her Chinese husband who isn’t afraid of wigs, curves or FuFu… much.
They’re social networking celebrity chefs. Their recipes for Asian-African fusion cuisine have gone viral. The traffic on their Facebook pages often causes a worldwide meltdown. After a mighty wedding and slew of In-Law bickering they’ve finally rented a place of their own. But where is their furniture? Where is the Pork Neck and who is the guy in the spare room?
In this less-than-fabulous situation, they conjure up a plan to buy their dream house. But first they have to get rich. And even more famous. They get a camera, fusion recipes to die for and let YouTube do the rest. Ama and Chan invite you to the filming of their soon-to-be-popular Reality Cooking Show.
Though utterly different in tone and style from The Disappearances Project, Ama and Chan also makes great use of technology without swamping actors. There are connections to Facebook and YouTube as well as the use of Google maps at the opening of the show and then the cooking scenes are filmed live and beamed onto a screen above the stage. Story-wise the show is a little bit clunky as it moves through three quite different barely linked phases. But the idea of the show is fabulous and its energy is very high.
The Disappearances Project enjoyed full houses, partly perhaps because it was for free – and in a now familiar venue. Ama and Chan debuted in the new Bankstown Arts Centre and undeservingly struggled to get a crowd. Let’s hope both these shows get another run. Ama and Chan needs a bit more work before it gets back up – but both these shows are little gems.