Going by their past productions, the ensemble of neo-vaudevillian company PO PO MO CO are not afraid to get their hands - and minds - dirty when it comes to bringing their queer lensed physical comedy to life. As part of the Midsumma Festival, the company has bravely decided to unleash itself onto what is considered to be one of the most significant Australian plays in history.
Written by Ray Lawler in 1955, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll takes place during the summer of 1953 and follows the events that impact the lives of six people. PO PO MO CO will be taking this script and delivering parts of it to various queer theatre companies in Melbourne and giving them free rein to reimagine their scenes in any way they see fit for their season of Summer of the 17th Doll. It's an idea that PO PO MO CO's Artistic Director Kimberley Twiner is very excited to watch unfold for a number of reasons. "We’re passionate about queer representation. We grew up with basically
no one like us on stage or screen," she tells me.
"There were no depictions of real queer
characters or voices or aesthetics or culture. There was The L Word
and Queer as Folk but that’s more or less it! And sure, there’s now Ru Paul, but in terms of performance opportunities there has been little
change. As queer performers, if we want to be cast in
mainstream theatre, then we need to mask our queerness. And at PO PO MO
CO we say ‘fuck that! If I want to be a raging homo and star in
Australia’s most important heteronormative play of all time, then I
Twiner is looking forward to engaging with other queer companies and showcasing the talent and ideas that the queer community can harvest when given the opportunity. "The
collaborators we have for this project are super diverse in
the performance forms they work in. We’ve got classical
singers, comedians, theatre makers, drag, burlesque and clown," she says. "We can tell
you some of the people on board are Kerith Manderson-Galvin, Nikki Vivica
and Charity Werk. Each of them have
different pieces of the script to develop from and varying instructions on how they should approach the text. The finished piece is going to
be totally epic and potentially quite bizarre."
While Summer of the 17th Doll is a few steps removed from the expected clowning and comedy seen in PO PO MO CO shows, Twiner explains that they all remain grounded in these two elements regardless of what they are putting on. "We never move far from clowning or comedy. We’re always aiming to make
the audience laugh as much as physically possible. Ideally we want
people to laugh so much that they have to take a nap after the show and
maybe buy a new pair of trousers."
"Clown inevitably underpins
everything that we do. To us, clown is about really looking at the audience
and really talking to them, and approaching your subject
matter with a level of stupidity. The word ‘stupid’ comes from ‘stupere’
which means amazed or stunned. So in our work we look at the
world around us and we are amazed by what we see, and then that is what
we put on stage."
If you thought blowing up Lawler's play was enough for this company, then think again. Twiner's plans for subsequent adaptations of celebrated texts are only beginning. "Oh heck yes we do! YES YES YES. We absolutely have sneaky future ambitions for mischievous reworkings of classics. Just you wait!!!!!" In the meantime, you'll have to settle for this brief two night run of Summer of the 17th Doll next month.
1. The one food you can’t live without? Pasta - did you see our recent Melbourne Fringe show Flutter and Flounce? There was some serious pasta consumption.
2. What is the worst smell in the world? Our costume basket. Thanks for the reminder. We really need to go to the dry cleaners.
3. What is the strangest fact you know? If you keep cabbage in the fridge it’s good to eat for like six months.
4. How long would you last in a zombie apocalypse? As a human or a zombie? We probably wouldn’t do to well as humans but as zombies we’d be right in our element.
5. Which animal are you most like? Definitely axolotls. Because we have gills and can grow new limbs if they’re eaten off by predators.
Venue: Hare Hole (Hares & Hyenas), 63 Johnston St, Fitzroy
Season: 31 January - 1 February | 7:30pm
Duration: 60 minutes
Tickets: $40 Full | $25 Conc
Bookings: Midsumma Festival