Sunday, September 14, 2008

Review: Vamp

by Meow Meow and Iain Grandage, directed by Michael Kantor, musical direction by Iain Grandage.
Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Opera House @ the Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse until September 20. Sydney Opera House, September 24-October 5.
Bookings: (03) 9685 5111, (02) 9250 7777

I saw Vamp on Thursday night. I have a feeling it's going to divide us, hoo-boy, how exciting. In fact, it has already done so perhaps.
Before glancing upon my ill-thought-out nonsense, one is advised to peruse the vastly superior musings of Ms. Croggon.

Now, I am a director. I am involved in theatre and cabaret. I am the goddamned target audience of piece such as this. I am an urbane young hipster. I have a beard. I am bald, however, so that's a draw-back.
Thus let us begin: Vamp is stunning musically, but I had trouble with it as a whole. Meow Meow is such a great performer. I left, however, wondering whether I would have preferred the show to be just her and a piano. Without all the flotsam. Now, there's a part of me that was thoroughly seduced by the world of Vamp. There's also a part of me that gets a thrill when classical references land, a plethora here from Wilde's Salome to Pabst's Pandora's Box (with the ultimate vamp - Louise Brooks). But these satisfactions are brief, placatory and somewhat vacuous. They also render a piece somewhat critic proof methinks. (You know... Emperor's New Clothes and all that - who wants to be the one leaving themselves open to 'you didn't get it's? This wide-eyed chump, that's who.)

There is an aspect of the Vamp that Meow Meow thoroughly inhabits. Her control of the audience is total, despotic, maniacal and hugely entertaining. This is not, however, anything new for her. That's what she does. And it's awesome. But here I was expecting promises to be delivered. And there was all too little tragedy, vulnerability, and victimhood. It existed in the content perhaps, but wasn't inhabited by the performance. There must be a flip-side. I was aching for some kind of real collapse, such as Faye Dunaway's sister / daughter revelation in Chinatown, some kind of honest exploration of the Vamp as both manifestation and victim of a morally corrupt society gone to seed. There was never a true sense of collapse. I knew that she was in control every single moment.
Is this a directorial problem? Partly, perhaps. But I think it's indicative of a larger issue, that there seemed to be no centre to this. It was wheeling about without an orbit. It wasn't her show, it wasn't Kantor's show, it fell between the cracks. The theatre and spectacle brought nothing to her performance and she brought nothing to the theatre of the piece.
There are a couple of moments that I loved and would liked to have seen more of, including some stillness and vulnerability during a Radiohead number (she still had to clamber over someone and exert her control in order to express her vulnerability - but it worked. And, oh, those lyrics: 'If I could be who you wanted...'). Also, the dance of the seven veils worked on that same level, but her previous (performative - yes) insistence upon applause destroyed what could have been a marvelous, quiet, awkward moment of her failing. But by that point, the audience were oh-so-keen to please her that the moment was not served.
I think what left me somewhat bereft was that the wonderful content was not matched by the performance and the form. And that the performer and the form had not informed the content. I got the feeling that Meow Meow trusted neither the content or the audience to 'get it', and I know, I know that is a part of her character - so again I say 'critic proof'.
I don't really know who this show was for, or from. This is a problem of under-development I'd hazard to guess. Which is frustrating as there are so many theatre-makers, who can garner support to do not much else but develop material, and then there are these strange hybrid pieces that have resources spewed at them that strive towards a concept without any cohesion, honesty or symbiosis.
But that's just me.

No comments: