AboutFace Productions were founded in New Zealand in 1994 and they are now a Melbourne-based company “specialising in original and contemporary image-based theatre for all ages.” Past credits include constructing puppets for The Flying Fruit Fly Circus in 2008 and the premiere of What I Leave Behind at Melbourne Fringe 2014.
This year the company bring a new show, Backstage With the Thurmans. It is the tale of a show-biz family, told by wordless performers in masks. The audience gets to see the backstage happenings as the family group of performers and stagehands attend to the business of presenting their magic and variety show. With a G rating, this is intended as a family-friendly performance.
The family – and the show itself – have some early problems. A plodding, repetitive opening sequence didn’t seem to enthuse children in the audience, and adults may be wondering what they’ve signed up for. The following rivalries between performers for attention were also a bit tame. After a little while, I became impatient to see when the puppetry and illusion promised in the show’s fringe guide entry would materialise.
While the tricks didn’t appear, a little charm goes a long way. In Backstage With the Thurmans this takes the form of Belinda the Bear (Annie Forbes). Upon her first appearance in an oh-so-fake-looking suit, she set about some mischief, noticeably engaging the littlees present. (One exclaimed, “That’s not a bear. It’s a pig!” – the kid did pick a resemblance to Piglet. But again, this was just part of the charm.)
Aerialist Dora (Sue Blakely) brought pathos as she privately negotiated what she could do with an injury that keeps her grounded, and her replacement Lola (Nadine Dimitrievitch) brings an abundance of self-importance as the new star.
The finale featuring family patriarch and magician Norm (Tim Denton) built the energy up to fever-pitch with a ridiculous stunt that appealed to young and older alike, and showed the value this company can wring from a good idea. The set has a nice twist, and the music was well-chosen for evoking the bygone times of such a family show.
If some of the meandering sequences can have more of a progression (there really should be some consequences when you poke the bear!) the show will build on its potential and offer a more consistently entertaining experience for its target audience.
Melbourne Fringe: Backstage with the Thurmans
Rehearsal Room – North Melbourne Town Hall, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Performance: Sunday 27 September 2015
Season continues to 3 October 2015
For more information, visit: www.aboutfaceproductions.com.au for details.
Image: Backstage with the Thurmans – courtesy of AboutFace Productions
Review: Jason Whyte