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Review: Grand Theft Theatre at Tālava - Wayville’s Latvian Hall

Updated: Mar 20

Review by Kate Gaul


Pony Cam is an experimental collective of five theatre makers from around Australia.They are driven, we are told, by a desire to bring people together to create experiences that could not otherwise be had. By subverting well-known forms, activating unexpected spaces, and inviting audiences into the work in unexpected ways, they create moments where audiences are challenged to question their assumptions, laugh at themselves, and reject habitual recourse. The current line-up for Pony Cam is Claire Bird, Ava Campbell, William Strom, Dominic Weintraub and Hugo Williams. Joined by theatrical adventurer David Williams, the company presents “Grand Theft Theatre” at Adelaide festival 2024. The intention is to recreate the theatrical experiences that changed their lives. It is lo-fi, gently chaotic and an ode to theatrical memories that we all carry – if we are middle class, white and have the privilege of indulging our broad interests in theatre.   “Grand Theft Theatre” is a paean to theatre’s power to create community and a recognition of our collective and personal memories.


Through reappropriation and recreation, moments remembered are bought back to life – these moments are from significant shows that have toured the world and from mostly well-known western cultural institutions and mostly male-driven iconic events. The company even include bits from shows in the Adelaide 2024 program. It is intentionally autobiographical, highly amusing and could have left us on an emotional high – but I will get to that.


The audience arrives at a beautiful Latvian community hall in Adelaide.  G&Ts and a warm pretzel can be purchased – also a reference to a formidable experience in the past.  We are asked to write on and wear a sticky label announcing a memorable theatrical experience of our own. These become prompts to conversations between guests during the short intervals in the action. On the way out that conversation might be with a Pony Cam performer if they are not cleaning up after the crazy mess the show leaves behind (a metaphor?).  I wrote “1980” – a seminal work by Pina Bausch which I had the good fortune to catch as a teen at the 1982 Adelaide Festival (clang!). Frankly, its imprint on me is indelible.  I see its influence on my most recent work now decades later.  In a larger way the Bausch experience in Australia of the early 1980s pointed the way for the impact of German performance practices and – probably – leads us to this performance in a Latvian community hall in Adelaide 2024.


David Williams’ experience recalls theatre across decades, the young performers of Pony Cam tell us about theatre from this century – shows that changed them when they were teenagers and when they were starting out making theatre themselves. David tells us his PHD is in the work of UK company Forced Entertainment and it’s easy to spot FE’s confessional style and some structural features in this work – but that’s the point.  The scattered chairs, seeming chaos, a formless meandering event.  But the community inside the hall know that we are pushing back against accepted theatrical mores.


Across the evening, we see a stunning recreation of Simon Stone’s “Thyestes”, an actor reads from this text.  It’s a repetition of the word “remember’.  It is a powerful reminder that theatre is ephemeral. We experience it and then, once we leave, it’s gone. It remains only in our memories. To be remembered. It lives again when we talk about it. We cover everything from Betty Grumble’s vagina to “Charles Horse Lays and Egg” to events witnessed in Berlin to a three-hour journey to Hobart to see “Chicago”. And many more. During the various “acts” the audience is moved around the hall into different seating configurations.  By the end we are sitting on the stage gazing out at the company as we feel things conclude.  “Grand Theft Theatre” moves from humour to something more profound in its sideways exploration of theatre as a metaphor for death.  But it doesn’t stay there – rather it loses energy, and emotional connection towards its end.  Sure, this is intimate, there are moments of genuine vulnerability as we get to know each performer. There is great talent on display here and I am pleased to have encountered Pony Cam’s more “polished” version of this work after its premiere in Melbourne last year. But are we moved?  What sensation will survive this viewing to be remembered? Perhaps that’s the extraordinary experiment of “Grand Theft Theatre”.


Image Supplied




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