17 October 2009

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places

MIAF 2009
The Dictionary of Imaginary Places
The Store Room and Melbourne International Arts Festival
16 October 2009
Meat Market

Tonight’s television news showed the CCTV footage of a child’s pram blowing under a Melbourne train, with the baby still inside. The baby wasn’t hurt, but anyone who saw the footage will never let a child out of their grasp at a train station again. Melbourne may be known for its iconic trams, but more of us catch trains.

Director Anna Tregloan and sound designer J David Franze spent over a year sitting on trains recording conversations and the resulting The Dictionary of Imaginary Places uses the direct transcripts of these overheard conversations and turns them into something remarkably surprising, unexpectedly funny and curiously beautiful.

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places has been created through The Store Room Theatre’s Artistic Associate program, which allows artists a three-year tenure to develop work. If is the first result of this process, I’m looking forward to more.

Tregloan is best known for her stunning theatre design (it’s no secret that I think her designs are wonderful), but when she creates her own work, she shows us the core artist that controls her.

Like Black (2007), The Dictionary of Imaginary Places combines performance art with design, but this time she doesn’t deconstruct an existing narrative, but starts with the most disparate mass of words.

The conversations people have on trains are mundane. They are filtered because they can be heard, but unfiltered because people assume that no one is listening. In this dictionary, these stolen words mean nothing or everything. The words are just sounds and glimpses of what could be. They don’t belong to the characters or the space and tell their own stories away from what we are witnessing, and Franze’s sound design ensures that we also hear them in unexpected ways.

Rows of train-like seats fill the tunnel-like cavern of the Meat Market and four passengers (Heather Bolton, Christopher Brown, Rita Kalnejais and James Wardlow) recreate what the overheard conversations could have been like. Well, make that what you could never have imagined them to be like. Unless you close your eyes and imagine a red-gowned women stuffing MX’s in her dress to give her a large arse or a jazz hands dancer in a blue sequined jacket prancing among the old coffee cups.

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places is a view of Melbourne that could be imagined by none other that the creators, but still resonates with us who live on train lines, and even those who can only imagine the joys of public transport.

And Anna continues to put the most glorious of gorgeous shoes on display, but that’s just my obsession.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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