We are greeted by a controlled and yet frantic Troy Matthews, played by George Fenn, who ushers us safely to our seats. Bat’s Propeller stage is on fleek. A projector, on stage right shows an image of us the galaxy. This relaxes us into a philosophical mood and builds the expectation that life’s most challenging answers will be sought after here, tonight, at Bats Theatre. To create the theme of TED Talks, a red, 3D cut out, of the letters SED stand proud downstage, a red circle shaped carpet colours the foreground and red bats seating frame stage left.
Our host for this evening Gavin Toohey, played by Johnny Paul, announces the beginning of our show as he energetically makes his way from the lighting box to the stage, making sure to high five each audience member he passes. Paul is dressed in a white shirt, red tie, black pants and Dad sneakers. With his religious energy I’m suddenly transported to an Apple conference with Steve Jobs like authority inspiring greatness.
The panel of speakers are brought out to meet us. They’re a diverse range of large characters. And I hate most of them. The characters are geniuses, all experts in their own field. It's perfect. I feel the same patronized and belittled feeling I get when I watch a TED Talk.
If you had been watching Playshop on Facebook you would have been prompted to add images to a Dropbox account. This was used as a handle throughout the talks to try and slip the actors up in a fun way. This SED Speeches format involved monologues based on various ask fors from the audience. The actors did well to convey a story coloured by their predetermined characters, weaving metaphors, and incorporating the random images projected on the screen.
I thought this was a tough format for an audience. Having solo speeches can be disengaging and difficult to focus on. I personally see improv for the relationships created. One thing I look forward to with companies that know one another well is the cheekiness and play between the actors. That being said there were stand out moments. In the second half we were treated to a panel section where the actors were asked audience questions via Twitter. This allowed the actors to riff off one and call back to backstory revealed by the speeches.
The audience interaction also served to break up the format, at different points throughout the show, Paul asked us to hold hands, close our eyes and breathe deeply. Simple but effective – I felt more involved. Føndler Nordqvist aka Matt Powell had us shaking hands with one another to bring together a generation of people who had forgotten how we shook hands in the 90s. My favourite interaction brought out the marketing nerd in myself (marketer by trade). Paul encouraged us throughout the evening to whip out our smartphones and Tweet / Instagram to the #SEDX16. The hashtag was lit up on the projector and the next day my Twitter feed was full of beautiful stage images (props for creative marketing!). This use of technology added to the TED Talks theme of smart, sophisticated and tech savvy experts having their 15 minutes of fame.
Of the solo performances Rosie Cann’s Chapstick was my favourite as she bristled with energy and exploded into rap on stage. This was a peek into Cann’s other Comedy Festival show, Chapstick. Our muso for the evening, Roland Johnstone played by Liam Kelly, offered her an upbeat poppy tune to which I thought, “my god! What a meanie! He’s messing with her.” But low and behold that melody worked wonders. I compare thee to an Eminem sampling such as Till I Collapse and Sing for the Moment.
The guest idea didn’t hit home for me. I don’t know Carry Green so I may have missed something. She was however, fantastic at incorporating the visuals on the projector into her speech, even taking risks by confidently announcing what would be shown as though she knew what would appear next. Even though she was impressive, I found the convention jarring. The Playshop cast had come prepared with large characters and costumes and Carry was herself. Again, maybe I was missing something; feel free to correct me in the comments section below.
Paul connected with the audience well, looking up at us, speaking to individuals and keeping his energy throughout the show. This was desperately needed to keep us engaged in this format. Stevie Hancox Monk’s character Pisces Prince contrasted effectively with Gavin Toohey. I would have liked to see more of this dynamic throughout the show but with so many actors and games to get though there wasn’t time to explore relationships deeply.
I marvelled at Blue Fitzgerald’s (Sam Irwin) twist on genius. He began by sharing that people always assume being a genius made life easier for himself. Strangers always assume that delivering a speech must be easy when you can choose from 6 different languages to deliver it. But that’s the crux of Fitzgerald’s problems, there are too many options, there is too much noise in his brain, “it's like a noisy party next door that you’re not invited too.”
Kale Hebe, played by Ryan Knighton, did well with what my friend described as a boring ask for (dishwashers). Knighton begins with the story of a broken home and ends with a beautiful metaphor of being cleansed.
I thoroughly enjoy seeing improvisers bring predetermined characters to the stage. To me, it’s reminiscent of the Italian art form, commedia dell'arte. My favourite character, before he even spoke, was Jurgo Flammenrot played by Jed Davies. His portrayal of a film maker exuded sexy, seventies rock, royalty. I wanted to snort cocaine off his exposed chest and roll it around on his tongue.
Improvisation is an art form to be compared to the daylily, a flower that blooms for only one day, and because of that, here are a couple of quotes:
“I’m a head chef in the kitchen of inspiration” - Johnny Paul
“Take that hand and grab that dildo” - Rosie Cann
SED Speeches Theories of Stuff runs for two more evenings. You will see a completely different show filled with colourful characters. Actors I missed were Jennifer O’Sullivan playing Dr Hester Van Haagen-Dazs and Tom Hutchinson playing Huntly Palmer. There are also other guests, James McKinnon, Uther Dean, and Maria Williams.
Book your tickets here