Have you ever sat at your local pub, observing the machinations of the punters around you? Watched them eye each other off; listened to their conversation and played the scene out in your own head, whilst sipping on your own libation? The bristling macho-dude, shouldering into the crowd, wanting to be noticed? The workers, after a long day on the potholes, coming in to wash the gravel (we wish for gravel around these parts) from their throats. The desperate and the delightful, strutting, dancing, eating and living their best lives.
We arrived at the Eltham Pub on Thursday night, knowing we were in for a treat. Didn't know what sort of a treat, but being a NORPA production, with Janis Balodis as writer and devisor; Julian Louis as director and devisor, with the 'team that never let you down' holding creative hands throughout the entire performance – well, let's just say NORPA has form! NORPA never let's you down, let's get that out there from the go-get. The audience knows – a capacity crowd (on a Thursday night, with the chance of rain, made more prevalent by the past weather and the fact that this is an outdoor event) waiting to take their seats in the makeshift arena (overheard one of the bar staff saying it took one week to set up). A dedicated audience following each production, enhanced by the recent devastation in the Lismore region and environs. Also eavesdropped, in true pub anonymity, Julian Louis sitting at a table near us, talking to Eltham locals and gleefully sharing stories of then and now. Before the show even began, we were embraced by the community feeling. And it is ALL about the community – Love for One Night indeed.
The Band (Jamie Birrell musical director; Luke Bennett and Ben Cox musicians, take a bow) were set up outside the bar, and many a change would happen throughout the evening. Different stories; different music; different persona – stories ("everyone has a story") playing out in elaborate ways, yet so simple it makes you want to cry with joy; with heartfelt emotion; with passion and with memory of times you, too, might have experienced. Life is a stage – oh yes – and at the Eltham Pub, with regular pub patrons (not part of the show) part of the background noise, making the experience all the more poignant and real. The Band of three were tantamount to an orchestra, to my ears, playing songs throughout the scenes that dropped the audience right into the picture – highlighted throughout by imagery and lighting that inspired the gods (Alex Torney, you amaze me, Charlotte Haywood, production and costume design, fabulous). Wow, seamless and faultless production – how do you do it, NORPA? Collaboration, visualisation, choreography (Kimberley McIntyre, movement consultant, love your work). Music selection and physical theatre at its best, hand-in-hand with theme, story and dance.
Time to take our seats (did I mention CAPACITY audience?) and as we shuffled along with the band playing us to our seats, Julian Louis (we were right behind him) was looking to the heavens, hoping that it would not rain. A few little spits and a drop here and there, did not thwart the performance. As I had just got the perfect park and had the perfect hot chips and gravy (I love pub food) and the perfect beer selection – I assured Julian that it would not rain. He, of course, would not know who-n-the-hell-I-am, but I wanted to set the heavens in order! I'm sure he has many crazies 'accolading' him at any given event.
Wam – suddenly the bar we were just drinking at turned into the theatre. Claire Atkins (performer and devisor) appears on the top floor of the Eltham Hotel, in her role as the cleaner (one of many roles assumed for this evening's performance) and we are instantly immersed in her story. Not only do we see the actors in real time, the projection (and imagery therein, Mic Gruchy and Poppy Walker, video producer and designers, respectively) envelope us and we are absorbed, feeling part of the show. So many scenes, so many stories – a true reflection on life-in-a-pub: The tango-tussle (brilliant, Lloyd Allison Young and Zoe Gameau) and "always Charles, never Charlie" with Katia Molino and Phil Blackman. Threaded with physical theatre and music to dance to, "can't smile without you" Brad and Rosa are sublime. Katia Molino with her lightening speed costume change on stage (stage being the outdoors of the pub) and the 'mime eating scene' is surely acting on steroids. The 'stud male-off' with everyone cracking up with instant recognition! "Call me" and the band heralding the 'mating-dance' at the pub. Laugh? Oh yeah!
Meanwhile, Sunny (Claire Atkins) talking her son through rehab, getting all emotional as she is in the Heartache room at the Eltham Hotel. 'The Other Man' with "midlife male menopause thing" saying, "you got the girl, I got the cabinet" mentions that the world would be "bleak without women." The pool-cue play-off was worth the freight alone, to the accompaniment of Flame Trees as I have never listened to before and will be my favourite version from now on. "My lawyer would rather be a comedian", reflecting losing his wife to a Cult. The cult-dude 'wot took his wife' going by the handle "Shaboom....psycho sexual massage," with a touch of self-love thrown in for good measure. Post-flood clean-up scene, so contemporary (fresh theatre) offering Sunny "still an old tin, a bit banged up, a little like Lismore," was such heartfelt emotion, spot on the money, saying, "I've driven a lot of crap roads to find you." The 'couples therapist' with the "stacked deck of cards" trying to converse in a new way (Young and Gameau, spellbinding) unleashed such lines as, "I'd have a penis" and "We're over 40, don't we have the right to be happy?" and the "Clamando" (had to be there) made the audience roar with laughter.
Physical theatre at its best, I will never view a pub table or bench in the same way again and the cavorting under the Cooper's umbrella! That Old Get Up and Gone, with the band's rendition of "get on top of me woman" and the ensuing sliding, lifting and displacement of pub tables! Sunny's phone and her conversation throughout, "you are somewhere" and "just being." Just sit. Just beautiful. Woman on the Run, "rock and roll mole in the back of the van" with Molino admitting, "Running away with permission is not as much fun" and "ordeal of insane and heroic proportions" admitting that to "like someone is the absolute best... to love someone is a given." Love endurance. We all want some of that.
What a joy. Pure joy. As the last song played us into the night, the audience knew they had found pure gold.
TO QUOTE: "Love for One Night has been created through a devised theatre making process. It's a collective creation, a method of theatre making in which the script and performance originates from a collaborative, often improvised process by a performing ensemble. It's a process we love, and why we describe our works as being built from the ground up."
Bravo. Standing ovation. Yes, there is "more than one kind of love" and Love for One Night is theatrical magic on every level. Can't wait for the next performance.
Love for One Night
by Janis Balodis
Director Julian Louis
Venue: The Eltham Hotel | 411 Eltham, Rd, Eltham NSW
Dates: 8 – 24 September 2022
Tickets: $20 – $59