BWW Review: ADELAIDE FRINGE 2016: #NOFILTER Is One Of The Most Incredible Pieces That You Will Ever See

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Friday 11th March 2016

This production, #nofilter, is definitely not to be confused with the production with the same name from last year. That one featured 12 to 14 year old students from SAYarts (South Australia Youth Arts), a group which emerged from Urban Youth, when that company folded. That production was about 'selfies'. This bears no resemblance and is very much rated for adults.

This sensational production was performed at a café, My Friend Louis, just out of the city at Stepney. That must be spoken of first. Not only did this venue provide a marvellous location for the production but they also added immensely to the evening by offering a free ticket to the show with every order of the specially created three course meal that was offered before the performance.

That is another story again. My guest and I were of the same mind and started with the pork belly entrée, and I cannot remember having better. The crackling on top was a crispy as you could want, and the moist meat beneath was as tender and tasty as anything. The main course that we chose was the eye fillet steak and, my goodness we could hardly believe how tender it was. Mine was rare, while my guest had medium rare, exactly as we ordered, and they were juicy and falling apart under the knife.

A crisp pino gris saw us through the entrée, and a shiraz accompanied the steak. There is no long, printed wine list of mostly average wines, with a few decent drops in amongst them. Wines are chosen by perusing the small but very fine selection of bottles displayed on the mantelpiece above the open fire, obviously not being used in the late summer. This great idea means that you can pick up the bottle and read the makers' notes on the rear label to assist your selection, and the owners can change their cellar at any time and only have to swap the bottles.

Chalkboards mean that the menu can be changed at a moment's notice as well, and desserts are displayed in a cabinet, every one looking delicious, with a small card telling what each has to recommend it. Again, we concurred, and went with the chocolate caramel tarts, but we saved those until the interval. No regrets there, apart from adding a little more to my waistline.

There were also no regrets over my choice of production for the evening. #nofilter was incredible, and everything that one should be able to expect from a genuine fringe production. It originally only had three performances planned for the penultimate weekend but, with all three selling out in no time at all, two more performances were quickly added for the closing weekend of the Adelaide Fringe. I attended the first of these extra performances and it was packed.

Director, producer, choreographer, and performer, Velvet Chase, and her co-producer, and performer, Serena Wright, must have been rapt at the response to their efforts. There are extra layers to the mixed media work, and cinematography and extra media were the provided by Serena Wight and Jack Halket. Jolie Mystique, Trixie, Raven Baylock, Samantha Fallas, Vee Von Claire, Georgina Fry, Emerson Victor, and Kurt Van Ryswyk made up the rest of the ensemble.

With a rich combination of theatre, dance, film, and live guitar with the recorded music, plus some vocals by Samantha Fallas, Emerson Victor, and Serena Wight, it is a packed work that demands the full attention of the audience. It was challenging, confronting, thought-provoking, and revealing. It is also supporting Mental Health and The Arts in Mental Health. The performers bring all of their own experiences to this production, embedding them in a combination of very dark burlesque, theatre, and circus woven into a sinister, Gothic tale, surreal and dangerous.

It begins in the courtyard at the rear of the café, and then we find ourselves looking up at the action as doors open on a barred window on the upper story of the building facing the café, also part of My Friend Louis. From there, we were ushered into the lower level of that building, to an art gallery with paintings and various pieces of paper, writings from diaries, on the walls. We moved through an anteroom where a shell-shocked soldier in uniform patrolled, barking out his orders.

We were then in the main theatre, where a stage had been specially built at one end of a large room, with a rostrum towards the other end. An eclectic collection of seating was scattered around the room and the audience found seats for themselves. The technician and guitarist sat to one side of the stage, ready to add their deft touches with eerie recordings and striking lighting effects, and extra notes, melody lines, and chords, often discordant, to enhance the intensity of the performances.

Here, the characters were fully developed, and were revealed to be the members of a bizarre circus, led by the sadistic ringmaster, Raven, with all of the alliances and conflicts between his troupe members appearing and evolving as the evening passes. The choreography shows no sign of simplification, it is as complex as one would see at any dance theatre around Adelaide, and the performers rise to the challenge, with almost a dozen separate routines superbly executed during the ninety minutes of the performance.

To analyse and define every possible difficulty each faces, and how they are so brilliantly used as the catalyst for each character, would be to spoil it for anybody who is fortunate to see this production in the future and, if there is the chance, make sure that you are one of them. You will be so glad that you did.

The audience is profoundly moved, not just by the overall production, not even by each character, but by so very many tiny moments, time and time again during this incredible piece. It wouldn't hurt to take a few tissues in your pocket, just in case. "Here, there be dragons." Not corporeal, or even supernatural beings, but the dragons of the mind that attack when you least expect them. Many people now suffer from depression and, in the midst of having what should be a good time, the dragon can appear, the sufferer suddenly questioning what is so good about it, why bother, what is the point, and so on down the abyss, smiling all the time so that nobody knows.

There are so very many things that affect the human mind, and they are all real illnesses, not something that saying "snap out of it" will fix. This amazing piece not only explores some of these, but they are those of members of the cast, so there can be nothing more genuine than this presentation, where metaphor reigns supreme, taking these internal illnesses that only the individual sufferer understands, but cannot explain. Here, they are explained by turning them into physical form, whether they be surreal, other-worldly, characters and events, dark fairly-tales, full of paradox, as Grimm's tales were before Walt Disney sanitised them, or concepts that bubble up and vanish, leaving one thinking.

Each performer brought their own dark places, their nightmares, to their individual characters but, for a short time, it appeared, and one sincerely hopes, that inside they were all filled with light, at least for this one brief shining moment. Each and every one of them should take away from this an understanding of the success that they have achieved, and that all of the hard work was well repaid. They were all new to such an enterprise and to end up with a thoroughly top quality, professional production says so much about the commitment and effort that went into this work. There is not one person in this production who does not thoroughly deserve to be there. Every one is a star turn.

There was, of course, no rush to leave as audience members waited, perhaps over another glass of something special, or a good coffee, discussing the piece that they had just seen and talking to the cast members. This is precisely what should happen after such a performance. It is a good time to indulge in one of the platters with a good wine while talking through what you have seen.

One thing is for certain, and that is that this cannot stop here. It is not only a very important work but it is also highly professional and with great production values. Every mental health care professional should see it as part of their professional development, as should anybody associated with somebody whose mental health is affecting them. The insights provided are invaluable. On top of that, though, it is a fabulous production in its own right as a piece of performing art. I can only add my own small congratulation to the many that they have already received.

It should definitely tour to other festivals and have productions mounted in all capital cities and major population centres, with governments and departments dealing with mental health getting behind it to ensure that this happens. I see no reason why this should not tour overseas and, in fact, it should.

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