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Review: TRAIN LORD at The Bakehouse Studio Theatre

Review By Lisa Lanzi

Oliver Mol is an author and poet (published in Rolling Stone, The Guardian, ABC, Sydney Review of Books, Meanjin and The Saturday Paper amongst others), widely travelled and with many tales to unravel. He has performed at Queensland Poetry Festival and Jungle Love festival, and in the United States of America, Canada, Vietnam and Spain.  Mol’s first novel was Lion Attack! (Scribe Publications 2015) which was met with great acclaim. His offering for the Adelaide Fringe is Train Lord, an honest, entertaining and complex rendering of a life; truths, a ten month headache, failed orgies, love, drugs, trains, family and the ‘detail’ in things.

A bare stage, a white screen, a simple wooden chair and uncomplicated lighting set the scene as the audience files into The Bakehouse Studio Theatre, an intimate 40-seat venue in Adelaide’s CBD. Oliver Mol enters, a tall, rangy and seemingly gentle personality in white singlet and half-mast dark overalls. He says “hi, how are you going?” and begins this hour-long solo, autobiographical show which was first performed in Barcelona. There is a hint of nervousness, understandable given we were at the preview, though bit by bit as memories and anecdotes masterfully unfold we are drawn into the slightly quirky world of the Sydney train guard who aspires to spice up his station announcements with some apt puns to stir up gloomy travellers.

Mol’s writing is a revelation. It is nuanced, at times dryly satirical or melancholy, and loops about in a non-linear fashion. Yet the narrative meets up with itself time and again and momentum is never lost. There are moments of textual repetition that spin like lingering notes in a melody as they draw out with a ritardando before setting off again at tempo. The rhythm and meter of the rich, poetic and sometimes stream-of-consciousness language has the feel of beat poetry, or rap patter and as you get used to it, is intoxicating. There are self-deprecating, humorous asides too that serve to draw in the audience and make us complicit in the adventure, the absurdity or whatever emotion is relevant.

The crux of this performance is the tale of the ten month migraine pain that Mol endured until a less mainstream doctor was able to end it through some muscle and joint manipulation. The pain was all-encompassing and rendered Mol unable to work, sending him back to live with his parents in Brisbane. There is life before the migraine, life during the affliction and life after the pain is gone. However, the ‘after’ is coloured by the remembrance of the debilitating pain and the horrific anticipation of its possible sudden return.

There is honour, truth, soul and humour amidst the Train Lord tale. At times the honesty is brutal such as covering the invitation to participate in an orgy - wildly unsuccessful - and pre-loading with booze and drugs to set the scene. Touching reminiscences appear that recount conversations with each parent and speak to a supportive family environment. Soulful stories about an absent partner also resonate but it is the beautiful language which shines and graces these self-aware vignettes with utter honesty.

Overall Mol has a pleasant voice, in fact a beautiful voice when he sings one of his made-up song mash-ups or delivers an accent to define one of the characters he speaks of. My one disappointment was the prevalent falling intonation at the end of sentences or phrases to the extent that words were totally lost, and these are words you want to hear. His general ‘poetic’ voice was also too soft at times, sat low in his range and seemed to sit back in his mouth so that successful projection was affected. Even though this level of performance is new to him, I feel Oliver Mol has a reasonable feel for it. The work would definitely benefit from some judicious direction from an experienced director around such simple things as stance, placement in the space, stagecraft and gesture.

The use of accompanying music by Thomas Gray & Liam Ebbs, Seekae and Nils Frahm was mostly successful but again, would benefit from a director’s input to streamline the counterpoints between text, sound and music. The colourful, pulsing visuals by Kat Chellos were superb, if uncomfortable at times. However, the discomfort was a device that linked the audience to the discombobulation of a migraine state, whether that was intentional or not. Footage of train tracks and stations as seen from the rear end of a moving or stationary train also added to the atmosphere, though I wish the screen might have been larger.

This was excellent Fringe fare and I would happily watch Oliver Mol perform more of his exceptional writing with his pleasing stage presence. I hope the work continues to develop and that it is performed widely. It certainly deserves an audience.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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