Greetings, this week seems to be all about the Fringe events for me and I thought I’d talk about two very different plays I saw at The Arch at the Holden Street Theatres, ‘Doctor Who’s Midnight’ performed by Sporadic Productions and Tangram Theatre Company’s ‘The Element in the Room’ (a musical about Marie Curie’s death and life).
Two plays, two very different reviews – let me start by saying I’m a die hard Whovian (old school and new school) and I wore my TARDIS key necklace to Midnight like a huge dork and got photographed with the TARDIS so you’d think I’d be biased. Last year, I did a project on buying and curating a Dalek in my archaeology museum’s unit. Just need $10 000…anyways it seems one of these things was better suited to the Fringe and let me explain why that’s not actually the case at all.
To start with, Tangram’s ‘Element in the Room’ was a simple two man performance (okay, just one man in a dress and a lady dressed as a Frenchman with an accompanying accordion) amd let their acting speak for itself without gimmicks and relied mostly on acting to carry it through the hour. The acting was a combination of the highly physical process of refining radium, introspective and angry moments from Marie Curie. And constantly the fourth wall was broken to engage the audience and being performed to rather than being performed at like with Midnight. In Midnight it felt like the show would go on even if the audience wasn’t there.
The Element in the Room not only aimed to entertain the audience, but also educate them in an amusing series of songs (Aha! Radium!), other character’s interrupting the main actor’s stream-of-consciousness to tell their stories (I liked the ‘fight’ between Curie’s daughters with the little Curies) and some very nifty anecdotes about radium and its dark side such as the radium girls. Seriously don’t look that up. Just saying…Plus Marie Curie’s contributions to other science inventions of the day. There was also interactive game played by the audience with a yarn of radioactive coloured string and I got to be radium and tied up (every gal needs to feel special!). The thing about Tangram’s show was that in addition to entertaining and educating, the actor truly was of the calibre to carry a quality solo show mixing comedy with tragic crescendos as he painted a very complex picture of Curie, both tortured by the death of her husband and her last words to him, her radical politics regarding the naming of polonium and refusing to patent radium because of a belief that science should be open source and free for everyone. This is the quirky sort of show I believe Alexis Dubus was talking about being pushed out of main Fringe venues for larger crowd pleasers.
Now to Doctor Who’s Midnight, I feel like I’m betraying Russell T Davies (author of the episode which appears during the Tenth Doctor’s tenure and fourth season) in saying they this type of science fiction did not translate well to the theatre. There’s a number of reasons why including that science fiction as genre seems to be particularly best in the form of storytelling from books, film and television for starters. The BBC have spent a lot of time and money perfecting Doctor Who’s modern reboot as a franchise and even then at times it was hit-and-miss.
The cast from Sporadic Productions have done an admirable job in trying to translate Doctor Who onto the stage during the Fringe but here is where it becomes problematic for me as a Whovian, it felt like community theatre. Tangram Theatre in the same creative space left me with no doubt I’d just seen a pair of master actors at work.
Hugh O’Connor did an admirable job of trying to portray the Doctor, however in recent years, all of the actors chosen as the Time Lord, have had serious acting chops and extensive theatre experience and he is competing with Tennant at the height of his Whovian popularity. With a few more years and plays under his belt, O’Connor will be a force to be reckoned with.
The standard out star was Samantha Blackmore as Sky Silvestery, her character development on stage was just spooky and you could believe she was inhabitated by a sadistic alien – it would have been difficult for any other actor to go toe to toe with her and this is why we need smaller community productions at the Fringe too, to develop up and comers like O’Connor and find opportunities for talented actresses like Blackmore to feature in bigger productions and expand her range. She does creepy alien crazy eyes extremely well and kept up the pace with her dialogue with O’Connor in perfect timing. Well down to both of them.
Smaller productions also need audiences for crew, cast, directors and production teams to learn how to operate in bigger spaces and gain bigger audiences. We lose out if we don’t support local artists, actors and creative spaces – there’s both room for the seasoned performer from Brighton and the amateur from Adelaide, I’d like to see us accomodating both because quality acts don’t spring out of thin air.