By Taylor Kendal
It is a daunting task for a debut company to put on their first performance, and even more so when the piece is not overly well known to Australian audiences. But Antipodes Theatre Company is up to the challenge with their inaugural performance Ghost Quartet, created by Dave Malloy of ‘Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812’ fame, running through August at Melbourne’s Gasworks Arts Park.
‘A camera breaks and four musicians drink as they unravel interwoven narratives spanning seven centuries.’
Our cast is comprised of four incredibly talented musicians; David Butler, Melissa David, Patrick Schnur and Willow Sizer. Each are remarkably gifted in their own right and as a beautifully cohesive group, with a warm and incredible chemistry. Not only are the vocals stunning, but their gifts - playing multiple instruments throughout the 90 minute performance - are astounding and certainly need to be commended. It is with their voices, their talents with their instruments, and their use of hand gestures and body language that they truly are able to inhabit the array of characters that they portray throughout the performance.
The concept of Ghost Quartet is rather unique and ultimately well performed; claiming to be a show about love, death and whiskey, four musicians come together, spinning tales of seemingly separate yet interwoven narratives and ponder the thought of why we believe in ghosts. In a warm and welcoming atmosphere, the quartet charges their shots of whiskey to the audience and prepares to take them on a rather strange and intricate journey. Rather than being staged as a musical in the traditional sense, Ghost Quartet is performed as concept album, much like David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, and the continuation of sides and tracks helps break the scene and move on to the next story. It was this concept, and the promise of being taken into the unknown by the power of music and performance, where nothing is expected or what it seems that had caught my interest about this particular performance. For the most part, it does not disappoint.
Brandon Pape has created a visually stunning piece of theatre in his design and direction. The positioning of the four performers in a corner of the room gives a sense of not only using the space between as a stage of sorts to present the various ‘tracks’, but gives an almost eerie setting. There was a particular scene where Melissa David was facing the other side of the audience, and through a perfectly place photo frame on the other wall, we were able to see the emotion on her face during the scene.
Ghost Quartet is heavily inspired by a variety of mediums; taking influence from the likes of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, and The Twilight Zone. The music performed throughout takes on many forms, including traditional pub style tones, doo wop and an incredible presence of Murder Ballads and torch songs. All these performed with incredible finesse and talent by vocals, piano, cello, Celtic harp, percussion and an array of other instruments to create, at times, such a beautiful and haunting soundscape.
Unfortunately it became quite apparent that there was a lack of balance in sound and dynamics between vocals and instruments. Whether that was intentional as part of the show’s design or whether the microphones simply were not loud enough, but there were times throughout the performance that the voices were drowned out, and therefore lost in the sounds provided by the instruments. In a show that relies heavily on voice and narration to convey the stories and narratives, some of the power and importance of the interconnecting stories was lost among the music, and in some areas, particularly in the penultimate moments, it became difficult to follow the story arc and how the characters were connected. I will admit that this reviewer had to go home and do some slight research to connect some of the missing dots about who was who and how these characters fit into the story.
There is not a single doubt in my mind that I would have loved the show even more while sitting in the audience and observing it in the moment had I have been able to follow it more coherently and not struggle to hear or find connections in some places. Upon reflection and piecing the story together, I can appreciate the way the stories are connected and the stunning way it is portrayed on stage, but am only saddened that I could not experience that in the moment. Had I the opportunity to do so, I would see it again in a heartbeat and experience its beauty and tragedy all over again.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.