Five audiences

The Art Student doesn’t blog, except by remote control, as in saying to me, ‘You should write on your blog about…’ This is one of those posts.

In the last week, in spite of my otherwise debilitating head cold, we’ve been to five cultural outings. This is a brief review of the audiences. (Distances in brackets are from our house to the theatre.)

1. The Drama Theatre of the Opera House: Nina Conti’s Talk to the Hand (7.9 km)
We got a pretty good look at the front row of this youngish, well-heeled crowd, as Nina and her monkey held them up to ridicule one after another. The foul-mouthed monkey made a series of outrageous remarks, shocking sweet, well-bred Nina. ‘Are you married to her?’ the monkey asked one man, indicating the woman next to him. ‘Sometimes,’ the man said, which I think you’ll agree is a pretty good response. ‘What do you mean, sometimes?’ Nina asked. ‘Well, at other times she’s [insert your own misogynist end to sentence].’ Even the monkey was taken aback, and moved on quickly. The joke was in danger of failing as the audience promised to be even more obnoxious than the monkey. The same man called out further insults about his wife later in the evening. Of course, it would be wrong to tar the whole audience with his brush, but whenever Ms Conti or one of her dummies called for suggestions, the replies were mostly sex- or bum-themed. The show was fabulous, but the audience had a significantly vocal leavening of misogyny and middle-class yobbery.

2. Gleebooks: Gerard Windsor and Giulia Giuffrè in conversation about the latter’s book, Primavera (3.7 km)
The smallest, most serious and most mature of the five audiences. When we arrived, the two performers were mingling with the audience-to-be. Someone asked me, ‘How do you fit in?’ and told me Giulia had commented with pleasure when she saw some strangers arrive. (I probably count as a stranger: I met Giulia a couple of times in the early 70s, but she didn’t remember me.) Someone from Gleebooks  introduced the event in 10 seconds flat (‘perfunctory’ doesn’t begin to cover it), leaving Gerry to say who he was. This only deepened the sense that we were at an intimate gathering – friends, family (Giulia’s 20-something daughter was there, and spoke briefly), colleagues.

3. Seymour Centre: iOTA’s Smoke & Mirrors (3 km)
In many respects similar to the Nina Conti audience, this crowd were hip rather than heeled. An older woman in the front row opposite us kept her face fixed in a scowl the whole time except for one brief smile. She applauded politely at the end of most items, and winced when the stage lights fell on her, as they did often. But the great bulk of the audience applauded enthusiastically not only the songs, acrobatics and magic tricks, but also iOTA’s sexually ambiguous clown-crying-on-the-outside musical performance. When the lyrics got, as they say, explicit, the crowd was unfazed, but when a decorous striptease ended with the unveiling of the stripper’s beard there was no noisy clamour for more intimate exposure. This audience, with nothing to prove, seemed happy to be entertained and challenged.

4. Dendy Cinema Newtown: special advance screening of Sunshine and Oranges (1.6 km)
This was a 6.30 screening for Club Dendy members, of a movie about Margaret Humphries exposing the secretive deportation of 130 000 children from the UK to Australia. There was a lot of silver hair in this packed house and, at least near us, a smattering of English accents. The Art Student thought there was a preponderance of women, not young, but not yet of a certain age, who could have been social workers. I was struck by the number of phone screens that stayed lit up until the last possible moment, by which I mean several seconds after the film began.

5. The Factory: Fear of a Brown Planet Attacks (.7 km)
Another packed house. My guess is that the vast majority of the audience were young Muslim Indians or Pakistanis.Here we were definitely in the minority, as white people and also as people over 40. There were plenty of hijabs and other headscarfs, but I didn’t see any older women in saris or salwar kameez. Aamer Rahman’s performance of a Bollywood song in (I’m guessing) Hindi provoked a lot of recognising laughter. And when Nazeem Hussain, the other half of Fear of a Brown Planet, did a caustic impersonation of a white Australian calling him ‘Zeemo’, ‘Nazzer’ and so on, he had the audience right there with him. Racism was mocked. A child ran about noisily at the back of the large auditorium for most of the show’s second half, and no one got into a state about it. Perhaps the White People were a little more subdued than usual as we left, but my impression is we were among people who not only had been entertained but also had had significant issues named out loud.

All but the first of the events happened within walking distance of our house. It’s as if we live at the junction of different worlds. Ah, city life!

8 responses to “Five audiences

  1. I’d like to know what you thought of the show Smoke and Mirrors, Jonathan. It’s been a huge success of course, but do you have to be ‘hip’ to appreciate it?

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  2. shawjonathan

    I expect you’d be easily hip enough for it, Richard. There’s an excellent magician, breathtaking acrobatics, a bearded lady with a fabulous voice, and iOTA, who has a lovely voice, and I can tell is brilliant but who doesn’t do anything very much for me at all. The Art Student enjoyed him more than me, but as you know she is much more sophisticated than I am.

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  3. They performed an excerpt from Smoke and Mirrors at the Helpmann Awards. Very intense, tight performance by iOTA in rabbit suit, but I didn’t quite get it.

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  4. shawjonathan

    That’s how I was with the whole show, Richard. There were a number of rabbits. The best I could do with them was to think of them as deliberately enigmatic, actually intended to leave the audience with a feeling that some murky stuff from the unconscious mind was being played out. But maybe I just missed a very clear narrative line.

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  5. Hi again, Jonathon. Just wanted to say I’m not even remotely hip, but I thought “Smoke And Mirrors” was quite wonderful. Certainly among my all-time-fave theatrical experiences: the final song burrowed straight into my little heart and has refused to be dislodged – it was a glorious night.

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    • shawjonathan

      Mccardey: you may not be hip but you’ve got taste. I’m slightly deaf and couldn’t make out the words of most of iOTA’s songs, so my lack of enthusiasm is almost certainly a reflection on me rather than a respectable critical judgement

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  6. PS: Always love reading your blog. 🙂

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  7. <>

    Yes – more hip-replacement than hip. But still a little bit in love with iOTA… 😉

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