2010 Melbourne Fringe Festival Reviews Part 7:
* Secret Door
* Paper Theatre

Posted on 13 October 2010

Asher Treleaven in Secret Door

Yes, I saw Secret Door twice: once as a volunteer ticket-taker staring through the stage door window, and once as an audience member. What Asher did with his body to tell his stories and deliver his punchlines was fascinating viewing. This is of course all I could experience the first time, but it was deeply educational.

Asher was always very clear about where centre stage was located. He used it as his point of power from where he would direct illustrative moments and his cast of characters. One moment he would be centre stage expounding his thoughts about a drunkard and what he represented,  the next he would be portraying that drunkard downstage left.

More than just well-placed stage movement, he had full control of his body as a theatrical tool. I wasn’t surprised to learn that he spent a year and a half studying at the National Institute of Circus Arts. Legs, arms, hands, torso, face were all rallied for comic effect. It was almost like we were watching mime or dance. The effect was dynamic, creating a memorable animated tableau. Why would anyone want to see a movie like Avatar when Asher’s live performance showed so much more genuine vitality?

With my second engagement of Secret Door I finally heard the jokes. Asher’s comedy is insightful. He likes leading the audience down twisting paths of narrative that appear to have one destination, but take a sharp turn in order to make a more powerful point. He used this method to discuss the flaws in our sexual caricaturisation of ourselves. The surprise ending potently drove home his argument.

I was particularly fond of his reading from an old romance/erotica novel and pointing out the absurdities.

I am probably not the best person to have in the audience for his last story. In this anecdote he speaks about his job as a product tester for an airline. Technically, it is the best story to get the biggest laugh in order to round out his performance…provided no one thinks too hard about it. As you can tell from my blog, I think very hard about things all the time. I’m also tender-hearted and it’s easy for a creative work to bring me to tears.

From a certain perspective his last story was hilarious. From another it was mortifying. Either way it was a good story and made a superb point about human behaviour, from which I hope the audience learned. And it was all I could do to keep from crying. No wonder Asher gave a worried look my direction. My apologies.

I wonder if it might be worthwhile for him to put another story at the end of Secret Door, then use the airplane story as the core of a different and deeper work?

In any case Asher Treleaven is a talented young man and fully deserves the awards he received from the Fringe Festival.

Cardigan Comics presents Paper Theatre

One of my top favourite films is Ghibli Studio’s Tanuki Pom Poko. In a scene from this film an old raccoon dog teaches the youngsters how not to be tricked by hunters. To illustrate his points he uses kamishibai, Japanese paper theatre.

Paper theatre has been around since the 12th century when it was used at Buddhist temples in order to communicate moral precepts.  However, Japanese people are most aware of its revival in the late 1920s. Men would ride around on bikes to present kamishibai performances in one town after another. Upon drawing children to their shows with a wooden clapping instrument, they would sell them candies. Those with candy were guaranteed a seat near the stage. They would then use wooden frames into which they would insert one illustrated card after another while telling a story.

Paper Theatre by Cardigan Comics sought to recreate this art in Australia with the help of local cartoonists. Jo Waite curated the artwork, Bernard Caleo performed the stories, and artists Chris Downes, Sarah Howell, Ben Hutchings, and Jo Waite provided the illustrations.

Performance comedy has swayed largely toward one person, in front of a mic, caricaturising their life. Prop comedy has been limited to musical instruments. However, once you experience the charm of something so simple and so affecting as kamishibai then the question arises, why have we so narrowly constrained ourselves?

Works such as those performed as part of Paper Theatre serve to enlarge our imaginations. We are challenged to concoct bigger and more absurd scenarios than we might have previously. The night I attended began with a speculative fiction story, followed by a surreal work, and concluded with a ghost story written by M.R. James. The style of art changed significantly between these stories: from the cartoonish to a print style popularly used by Edward Gorey.

Bernard’s performance as the storyteller was lively and engaging. He brought to life the scenario of being a kamishibai trouper handing out lollies and entertaining the young and young-at-heart. The diverse accents he took on to portray the characters, though not always accurate, were distinct and, most importantly, funny.

I believe Cardigan Comics should be congratulated and thanked for bringing kamishibai to these shores. Well done.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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