Saturday 4 May 2024

Hold Me Closer Tony Danza review

It's been over 50 years since Elton John asked Who's The Boss? sitcom star Tony Danza to hold him closer. Or did he? We have Friends to thank for this confusion. Queensland-based dance company The Farm have taken this malapropism and turned it into an immersive dance-theatre show with Hold Me Closer Tony Danza, where two dancers seek out connection and understanding in a world that is overflowing with information, and misinformation.

This work is intelligently presented yet retains an element of fun and silliness. A large gold circular sheet of thick plastic rests in the middle of the room, and running across the centre of it is a wrinkled gold wall with artists Kate Harman and Oli Mathieson standing on either side of it. The audience is also split, where they can see one performer and only hear the other behind the wall.

What unfolds is an almost duet for one, where Harman and Mathieson perform together but not together. When one dancer moves around the screen, the other one appears on the other side. They get physical with each other but it is through the screen that divides them. This firmly establishes the suggestion of contrasts, opposites and an urge to communicate, and it continues to evolve and be played with throughout the production.

Harman and Mathieson do a marvellous job of not only pulling all these disparate ideas together to produce a cohesive piece of live art, but also with how they use their bodies to tell this story. The display an impressive skill in being able to change who they are as needed; being loud and comedic in one moment and swiftly moving to being intimate and emotional in another.

Audience interaction is heavily encouraged but not enforced, so those who are keen to participate can throw themselves into it, including a West Side Story-esque dance-off between two gangs. In doing so, The Farm creates its own community and allows this agitation and confusion to grow within the space that is sensed by everyone. 

The composition and sound design by sonic artist Anna Whitaker brings - and holds - this production together. It guides, it leads and it supports, allowing for a truly immersive and transformative experience.  Similarly, Govin Ruben's lighting design includes a mix of moving, flashing colours, warm white lights and creative play with darkness and shadows, encapsulating everything that Hold Me Closer Tony Danza is exploring.

However, the final 10 -15 minutes is where this show loses some of its impact. Ideas become repetitive and they are missing the playful nature or engagement that earlier acts did. The false ending could have been a great way to have a legitimate ending emphasising misunderstandings and lack of communication.

The Farm's Hold Me Closer Tony Danza brings together a community of strangers - all with different thoughts, beliefs and systems - and gently asks how can we stay connected when there's so much else happening in the world that makes it so easy to splinter off?

Hold Me Closer Tony Danza
was performed at Monash University Performing Arts Centre, Wednesday 1 May to Friday 3 May.

Image credit: Jade Ellis

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