Robert Reid reviews Maude and Anni Davey’s retro-futuristic Brave World at Fortyfive Downstairs
The room is alive already, buzzing like a night club: beats pound, people are talking, haze in the air catches the lights. Anni and Maude Davey, “twin explorers of new performance frontiers”, are already amongst their audience, moving through like gracious hosts, welcoming everyone, chatting, making sure everyone has got a drink and is comfortable.
They might almost be welcoming us to a respectable suburban barbeque, except that they’re wearing shining silver body suits and mirror-bright knee-high boots. It’s a subtly jarring super position of action and image that causes a mild ludo-narrative dissonance which stays with me all night.
Three stages are set up through the space. The audience, for the most part, is in cabaret seating around them. The Davey’\s reappear in tracksuits that have an eighties look, fluro and pastel blocks that shimmer with what might be a hologrammatic sheen which catches the light, flickering it around like errant sparks from a short-circuit. I can’t help but connect them to their pre-show costumes, metallic, robotic. Everything has this sci-fi framing.
They recount the decades that have lead them here, memories of growing up in Australia and world events from the seventies, eighties, nineties and on. They sing, “ticking away, the moments that make up a dull day…” We reach the election of Barack Obama and stop before a name that resonates in its silence, conspicuous by absence.
The show proceeds by vignettes, each distinct from the others within this underground future framework. Each turns a facet on the dark world hinted at just beyond the walls of the show. A series of feminist futures, some subtle, some decidedly not so.
Early on, the singing and nostalgia is replaced by an unsettling, almost formless, naked bird-creature. It moves through the audience, pleading, mewling and crying in pain. It holds out a mobile phone showing footage of a newborn baby, (possibly the moment of its birth, I’m not sure, I was at the back). The cries and howls it makes as it leaves are deep and full of loss.
This is followed by acrobatic displays, singing and some infinitely slow vegetable-assisted striptease. All this before interval.
I notice that some people in the front row seem to be having the greatest show of their lives. Happily drawn up on stage, drawn into the world, to dance with Maude in an Earth costume. I wonder about that moment in this show, about being invited into a longing, aching dance of regret and loss with the earth (Maude is at once awkward, romantic and yet still in charge). The follow spot swings around, following Davey, and catches me in her shadow for moment. She’s brilliantly wreathed in silhouette, sending her shadow out over the audience.
The design brilliantly repurposes cheap op-shop garbage. As Anna Lumb sings and spins on a high loop, suspended above four house hold fans, the air from them lifts the bright orange straps which trail behind her. They catch and flare, sometimes a mane, sometimes a nimbus. The audience cheers and celebrates some of the scenes. A “period piece” draws wild approbation that rings with solidarity. The Can-Can Jesus by Teresa Blake is an acute superimposition of the satirical, scatological and blasphemous. The night shifts from environmental messages and bizarrely surreal interludes, towards more explicitly feminist material. Annie and Maude respond to a male critic of their work with a line-dance set of recorded media quotes of male exceptionalism.
Guest stars include the Tramps, who are terrifyingly brutal, with locker-room bullying and trampoline work-out scenes no less bravura than local footy training. By the end the three naked women are the toughest, blokiest thing I’ve seen all day.
The night is rough. There are a few stumbled lines and missed cues, a casual, almost punk, cabaret aesthetic. It feels like the kind of thing you might have seen at Le Joke or the Universal in the 80s and 90s. The kind of future on display here has elements of rave culture, fluro colours and hair extensions, and a 50s space kitsch of body-suits, beehives and boots. It’s full of ideas, it reaches out to its audience and is a living thing. Props need to be moved, audience hold performers drinks for them. It all creates the Brave World atmosphere which is still like a night club as we leave. Pounding and laughing. A community gathered underground to celebrate the future.
The future that is female.
Brave World by Retro Futurismus. At Forty Five Downstairs. Annie and Maude Davey, Anne Lumb, Terresa Blake, and The Tramps (Gabi Barton, Sarah Ward, Nicci Wilkes). Lighting by Richard Vabre, sound design by Siiri Metsaar. Closed.