**** Stars

By Ash Cottrell

We’re collectively kidding ourselves if we think life in Melbourne is back to ‘normal’. Having said that, I’m pleased to report that being at the Arts Centre for the matinee performance of Oracle was the closest I’ve felt to ‘normal’ for months. Upon reflection, I think it’s been almost a year since I’ve seen live theatre, so you can imagine the anticipation as I rounded the corner of the impressive, NGV, bound for the Arts Centre. Basking in the glorious relaxation of the weekend, I was even pleasantly surprised as a light afternoon rain began to hit my mask. Boy it was good to be out of the house, so good that on this occasion, seeing theatre was merely a bonus.

True to form, I hadn’t so much as looked at a synopsis when I took my seat in the theatre. The logline had me at: A mythical Journey Through the Stars. In my mind, Saturday afternoons are for cocktails and escapism. Or, in the case of the Arts Centre’s Allegro Bar, Pinot Noir from a plastic cup and escapism. Bass Fam Creative produced the work I was about to witness and let me tell you, it was as advertised. Not only was I fortunate enough to have the best seats in the house, but my senses experienced an onslaught of wonder and mythology, from start to finish. Let it be said that this show was consistently good throughout and the performers, solid.

Oracle encapsulated a range of different modes of artistic expression including, but not limited to, dancing; singing; contortion; flame throwing; hoops and acrobatics. The incredible skill, fitness and stage presence of the performers was a treat to behold and was accompanied by loud pop music and a superb lighting and rigging display.  A personal favourite was the story of Cancer, performed by Soliana Ersie as Crios The Crab and Reed Kelly as the vampire squid, Vamari.

For me, the storytelling could have been better crafted. While there was an overarching narrative at play with exotic interpretations of the zodiac signs, it didn’t feel fully integrated enough into the fabric of the show, rather, it served as a device to string it all together. I think this points to something not working about the narration. The other element that wasn’t on point for me, was the selection of music. With that said, I will chalk this criticism up to my overwhelming penchant for nineties hip-hop, as opposed to any artistic blunder. Truth be told, despite my teen fascination with the artist, Celine Dion, I came to realise during a rendition of, Seduces Me, that she doesn’t really cut it for me these days.

One thing is for sure, the costumes and indeed, hair and makeup, were absolutely sublime. Quite possibly, some of the best I have ever seen on the stage. They were visually stimulating, thematically appropriate and dazzled the audience with their jewels, glitter; sequins; exotic fabrics and elaborate wigs. Kudos must go to the many people credited in the playbill as contributing to these departments, led by head costume makers, Helen Valentina and Sheree Selemba. Bass G Fam is credited as the writer, director and producer of this production, clearly an esteemed theatre-maker with an eye for visual storytelling.

Last but not least, it would be remiss of me not to mention the most extraordinary component of the performance, the onslaught of audio-visual precision. In fact, it was an hour and fifty minutes of near, non-stop audio-visual stimulation. My theatre going guest even commented while exiting the theatre, that the show filled a gap in his psyche he never even knew existed. Profound stuff. Jason Bovaird, responsible for the lighting and Soundmoda for the sound mixing and editing, both profoundly impressive, contributed to unforgettable elements of this show.

As I sat in the audience, I thought to myself, while Melbourne grapples with a great many things in the present climate, it’s comforting to know that live performance is still very much alive. It was a pleasure to have been present for such a wondrous piece of theatre, so early in the year.

Images: Ben Vella