‘Four’ Me: Anywhere Festival 2018 REVIEW by Catherine Lawrence

And… suddenly… May is over. Hopefully, like me, you have spent the last few weeks immersed in theatre, dance, circus, and music—and have chuckled, cried and pondered your way through many of the works that have been available as part of Anywhere Festival 2018.

Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Reflecting on the last few weeks, my fourth Anywhere Festival experience can be summarised in just four words: immersive, involvement, improv, issues.

Immersive has certainly been a bit of a buzz-word this, although the experience has not always been quite as immersive as it could have been. Sometimes audiences need a little more encouragement—or direction—as to just how involved they can be. For example, Here Comes the Bride!  was an entertaining show where the audience might have been more fully immersed with tables set around the venue. However, sometimes audiences can become so engrossed that directors do have to step in. At the other end of the immersive scale Dinopocalypse ended the opening night with some of the audience a little too immersed and having to be directed off the stage for the safety of the artists.

Pictured: To Sergio With Love. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Clearly immersive theatre does rely on audience participation, but many of the events created great opportunities for enthusiastic audience involvement Perhaps unsurprisingly two of these were shows with a musical flavour: The Lounge Suite and To Sergio With Love. Dale Pengelly’s Lounge Suite had most of the audience on stage for two numbers during the show, where patrons clearly loved the chance to be in on the act.  And Chris Osborne and Susan Bennett always make their guests feel that they’ve attended the best party in town at events held at their Carina home (this year hosting The View From Madeleine’s Couch). The third show with some really enjoyable audience interaction was the kid-friendly Super Circus Squad—an action-packed, physical theatre show, combining displays of trapeze, acrobatics, balance and ‘strength.’ Only one audience member got to be a superhero on the day, but the show provided everyone with feisty, feel-good fun.

Pictured: Reece Cooper (L) with superhero Rose (R). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Done well, improv can also make for a really entertaining evening. I understand that A Midsummer Night’s Whatever hit the spot, particularly on the evening photographer—and reviewer for the night—Creative Futures Photography’s Geoff Lawrence attended “The Merchant of Bunnings: As You Like Charcoal.” And I chose equally well in seeing the improvised Kiss of the Vampire Squid. A fun evening with a chance to really experience Anywhere Theatre Festival at its finest, and the Maritime Museum was a great venue choice for a suitably tall (and funny) seafaring tale.

Pictured: Dale Pengelly (centre), ‘Everybody Loves Somebody’ audience participation (with fans) in The Lounge Suite. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Of course, entertainment is not only judged based on the chuckle quotient. Many of the shows I saw this year provoked discussions about very serious issues. Anywhere Festival 2018 included many circus or physical theatre performances which told stories and opened up debate about serious issues. In Invisible Things, Alex Mizzen shared some of the rage and frustration associated with finding her own creative voice—inspired by facing up to the possibility of not being able to continue with her chosen career. Kelsey Laura’s Proximity explored issues of consent. And The Box was an inspiring and insightful piece encouraging audiences to reconsider “what stigma is (especially in relation to the actors’ experiences as people living with a disability),” and to respond to the challenge of “why did you assume?”

Pictured: Danielle Stewart. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

I have tried to summarise my experience in four words and failed (I’m already at over 550…). But when I think back over the last few weeks the most memorable events are not just those which combined improv, issues, and immersion. It is also those productions which had the “right” venue. In 2018, my top four venues were Queensland Maritime Museum, UQ Great Court, UQ Pergola, and Brisbane Modern. Brisbane Modern is always an Anywhere Festival highlight, and inevitably shows there will be near the top of my list.

Gretel in the Great Court: Emer Rafferty (Old Woman) and members of the cast. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

I have found it difficult to identify my top picks… but the four really memorable shows of my fourth season are also those which took place at some of those top venues: Gretel, Super Circus Squad, The Box and Kiss of the Vampire Squid. Gretel was a great piece of new writing, beautifully directed in a compelling UQ Great Court production. The Box was a cast-devised piece of physical theatre and spoken word in an equally well-chosen UQ site. And the Queensland Maritime Museum was a marvellous venue for a number of festival shows: a great space for Super Circus Squad, and a perfect choice for Kiss of the Vampire Squid. Let’s hope all of these venues are part of Anywhere Festival 2019—and that we get to see much more of these talented performers and creatives. Only 11 months to wait for the next Anywhere Festival…

Catherine Lawrence.

All Pictures Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography