It has been a few days now since I ventured out into the bitter pre-spring Melbourne cold to see one of La Mama’s latest performances, Kingfisher. I have to say that it was the title of this play that lured me in initially. I’ve always been mildly fascinated by the Kingfisher (the bird, that is). However, due to my tendency to steer clear of reading a synopsis prior to a performance, I was in for quite the surprise when my colourful, pointed-bill friend was not the central focus of this play. Rather, the play was making reference to the ancient tale of Fisher King, a castrated figure embroiled in the legends of the Holy Grail.
Despite the exclusion of the Kingfisher, nature itself was certainly a theme treated with reverence in this play. While the connection between fertility and the vitality of nature was a compelling theme, the muddled execution meant that it was largely lost and I spent a majority of the play profoundly confused, wondering what was unfolding in front of me. Don’t get me wrong, confusion can be exhilarating when you’re experiencing art but eventually, I require an “aha moment” at some point.
Upon reflection, and lengthy discussion with my theatre-going buddy post-show, the consensus was that it was the pretence of this play that was unpalatable. I’ve never been a fan of getting the overwhelming sense that I’m seeing art for art’s sake and that’s what I felt was going on here.
Narratively speaking, the play opened with an intriguing set-up, as the audience observed a small Carlton based security workplace, monitoring a looming storm from beyond. Sound effects and the dialogue indicated that we were in some sort of post-apocalyptic, radioactive Melbourne. I was immediately interested in the story. I love a good dystopian setting. Unfortunately, despite the strong opening and the tension that was adequately built in these initial scenes, the audience was quickly taken out of this world by an unexpected break in the fourth wall, with the introduction of the ‘famous La Mama raffle’. I remember awkwardly clutching at my crumpled raffle ticket as the winner (not me) was announced. Just when things had started to get interesting eh? I am still baffled as to why this decision was made and for me, it was all downhill from here.
Admittedly, I’m probably not the target audience for dance, be it interpretive or choreographed and non-verbal performance pieces. With this said, had there been a stronger link between the opening of the play and the ‘acts’ to follow I would have been more engaged in the content. For me, the most interesting aspect of the performance (although I struggled to see the relevance) was the Derek Jarman-esque short film that was projected as the performers watched and danced in front of it, seemingly in a trance. I found the short piece evocative in nature and visually intriguing and I’m always one to enjoy a combination of styles, techniques and media in a performance. Let it be said that Kingfisher certainly had variety.
With respect to performance, despite the lack of focus at times amongst cast, for want of a better way to sum them up, they weren’t bad. At times, I found myself engrossed in the physicality of the dances. With this said, there were other very basic things that let this play down for me. The projection of a majority of the cast with lines was an issue (despite the intimate space) and as aforementioned, focus in many cases seemed to be a problem. Blocking choices and the decision to have the audience looking at one another failed to serve the story, in fact, for the first half of the play I found myself feeling like I was at Wimbledon, my eyes darting from one end of the stage to the other trying to follow dialogue that was already difficult to hear. The actor that interested me the most was the creator/director, Jai Leeworthy who had an excellent grasp of comedic timing and performance. While I missed a lot of his dialogue (due to his projection), there were moments where I could see him or indeed a character like the one he created on a show like The Office.
I found the juxtaposition of eroticism and sexuality against a backdrop of a barren wasteland interesting but I don’t feel the play took us into this realm enough or even convincingly. While I can appreciate Kingfisher was a non-narrative, non-linear, experimental piece, what ultimately caused me to disengage with the play was the lack of story and structure. As a theatregoer, I’m content wading in the pool of metaphor, analogy and representation, but at a certain point I need something to hang my hat on.