Review by Emma Green
Grand Theft Theatre is a joyful, expansive, intelligent gift of a production that gifts the audience the beating heart of theatre.
The premise of the form is simple: six performance makers (the members of PonyCam plus David Williams) take turns recounting and re-enacting moments of shows that they have seen that have been meaningful to them. The live catalogue they create ranges from international stages to dingy fringe venues with green carpets at the Adelaide Fringe. Within the simple form we are reminded of the DNA of storytelling: there are echoes of retelling stories to each other around campfires, and also of the early impulses of children to mimic the performers and experiences that we admire for and putting on DIY performances for friends and family. Those little bubbles of primordial storytelling sit inside a post-dramatic assemblage of distilled moments.
Entering the venue of St Ambrose Hall, I am struck by the place’s sense of community gathering and history, two elements that are honoured in the show as the backbone of theatre. From the checking in ritual through to the end of the piece we are invited as an audience to reflect on our own moments of theatre, and to connect with one another and share our stories. The show is built around the acknowledgement of lineage: recognising that what we create as artists is possible because of those who have passed before. On each chair the names of artists and past teachers are stuck in printed labels- a cute DIY nod to those whose names could be in metal plaques in the hall of fame of the makers’ worlds. .
The piece was commissioned by the Melbourne Fringe as part of its 40th birthday year and it's a generous birthday gift. Hopefully it will have a life well beyond the birthday party and be a little resource of joy to more audiences. It’s a timely and much needed reminder of what live performance so precious after the years of the pandemic where the purpose and the role of live performance is having to be rediscovered and redefined from other forms of storytelling.
For performance-makers it could stand as textbook for theatre-making. The moments chosen from the catalogue when read as a whole form a type of manifesto for what makes powerful theatre: moments of amazement, of surprise, of admiration, of disgust, of deep recognition. Moments that expand your understanding of what can be possible, of the extremities of human experience, moments that articulate feelings that we have felt but never been able to express fully. And then there is the staging of the piece itself, which is packed with key and timeless ingredients for a good time in the theatre: Fake blood. Naked skin. A host of other visceral and sensate experiences. Discovering easter eggs, both performative and literal (well Ferrero Rochers!).