Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mini-Reviews: Little Mercy; At the Sans Hotel

The Comedy Fest has just kicked off so free time will be in short supply for the next few weeks, but I wanted to chuck out a couple of reviews while I had a second. These are just quickly written responses to shows I can strongly recommend. I'll be shovelling out the comedy reviews, too, so be warned of the impending deluge.


By Sisters Grimm

The list of classic films to have put the fear into any parent-to-be is almost too shocking to repeat here, so I'll repeat it here. From the still-disarming thrillers of the early postwar period (Village of the Damned, The Bad Seed) to more graphic depictions of nightmare kids of the 70s and 80s (The Omen, The Exorcist, Carrie) to the attempted revival of the genre in the 90s, where The Good Son saw prepubescent Macauley Culkin and Elijah Wood struggling to throw each other off a cliff (and really, whoever loses there is still going to be a win for the audience), there's no monster like the monster you created yourself.

Little Mercy could be titled Rosemary's Baby-Bonus: it's a camp and affectionate reworking of all of the generic cliches of the Evil Child film with suitably hysterical performances and hilarious grotesqueries throughout. A childless American couple are blessed with a little girl from a mysterious orphanage who turns out to be a psychopathic serial killer possibly possessed of infernal powers. It made me laugh.

There are two kinds of laughter genre can provide, and each seems opposed to the other. In the first instance we can laugh at the artificiality of genres, at the obvious formula, the stock characters, the setups and lingo and structure that we see repeated again and again. This isn't the ivory tower laughter of the holier-than-thou critic, however. Laughing at a genre's conventions requires a knowledge of those conventions and the ability to interpret them. This kind of laughter is, for the most part, a complicit, even sympathetic enjoyment of genre.

The other kind is the laughter of the person who doesn't get it: who ridicules the same generic artifice from the position of outsider. How absurd these customs seem to a normal person such as I! How much more absurd must be those who fall for them!

To theorists of genre, the first of these positions is the more critically valid one: to scoff at fans of the popular romance genre, or horror, or whatever, isn't too far off laughing at the silly accents of people whose language you don't speak. There's not a great deal of difference between sneering at soap operas and dissing actual operas if you haven't spent much time with either. Usually the criticism ends up directed toward the assumed audience of each example, and in both cases that target is generally way off the mark. (It's what made Peter Craven's gushing appraisal of Neighbours in a recent Age op-ed so unintentionally hilarious – spend two years (two years!) watching anything and you'll develop a hardwired respect for its nuances. That Craven was so startled at the intricacies of the show at hand appeared to be a weird cross between those two great critical narratives of the modern age: “This is Me Hangin' with the Plebs” and “Oops I Got Me Some Stockholm Syndrome”).

You don't need to know the tropes to enjoy Little Mercy – it helps, but it only adds another tier of pleasure in a piece with plenty more going for it. The performances are super, especially Ash Flanders (who is a pretty lady) and Susie Dee (who is a very odd-looking little girl).


By Nicola Gunn

Don't really want to say too much about this one, but it's an absolute must-see. It's as much about our expectations in a theatre as anything else, so I'd be best off telling you lies about the piece. God knows that's what the advance publicity did, which is brilliant strategy in my book. If it helps, though, it's reminiscent of Forced Entertainment's more successful work and has the generous charm and accessibility of last year's exquisite Floating by Hoipolloi. Get yourself along.

What else, what else? I saw Jersey Boys again last weekend. I can't recall if I've trumpeted it here but, damn, it's one fine show. I can't imagine anyone being less than impressed with it.

And I really want to write something up on Ngurrumilmarrmiriyu (Wrong Skin) but I don't have time to do it justice here – I'll attempt to get onto it this weekend. Short version: definitely worth catching.

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