22 April 2012

Review: Alma Mater

Alma Mater
Fish & Game and Arts House
18 April 2012
Arts house, North Melbourne
to 13 May

We have such intimate relationships with the too-many screens in our lives. I'm not brave enough to try a screen-free day; I even read books on screen. Theatre is one place that they get turned off and we share an experience with a room of people. But Alma Mater claims to be the first iPad theatre and you're handed a screen when you arrive and sent you into a small white room by yourself.

The Arts House program continues to challenge our perceptions of performance and encourages artists to find new ways to reach us. The idea of Alma Mater is that you're looking at the room through the digital screen, like a camera, and move around the room lining the screen up with the room with its white bed and seat. Then as you turn around two pairs of shoes appear on the floor...

I was nervous and expecting something creepy and told myself that I could just look away from the screen if I wanted it to stop. I never did because a gorgeous little girl in a stripey jumpsuit is in the room and looking at me. Over the next 20 minutes, the on-screen room changes as she plays and we see her family and friends as she does in her imagination.

It is a little bit creepy, but all fairy tales should be as they're created in a dark subconscious world where the rules don't apply.

I wonder if taking the story out of the room breaks the illusion, but there wasn't a moment when I wasn't glued to the screen because I didn't want to remember that I was really alone in white box.

Fish & Game are Robert Walton (from Melbourne) and Eilidh MacAskill (from Glasgow), who are based in Scotland.  With original music by John de Simone, performed by Ensemble Thing and Cinematography by Anna Chaney, this is much more than watching a video on YouTube. Being glued to a screen is easy, but this is a much more personal experience. The characters see you and make you react and move, and even as the mere recorder of the girl's story, you become part of it.

Alma Mater takes watching a screen beyond the passive ease of entertainment and into the active world of heart-awakening, brain-engaging art.

It's only 20 minutes and there are performances every ten minutes from 2pm to 9pm (Wednesday to Sunday). There's plenty of parking near the North Melbourne Town Hall or the 57 tram will drop you at the door.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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