Stunt Double. The Farm

14 March 2024. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

Stunt Double is a jaw-dropping immersive theatre experience bringing audiences inside the filming of a 1970s Aussie action flick.

So goes one encouragement to attend a performance of Stunt Double, the latest production from the Gold Coast based dance-theatre company The Farm. The work of The Farm, going by the previous productions I have seen to date, pushes dance into highly physical areas and uses the theatre aspect of a production as a means to comment on aspects society and social behaviour in an outrageously flamboyant and conspicuous manner. OTT perhaps? Stunt Double was no exception.

The title Stunt Double does not relate to the narrative behind the work (if the work’s ‘storyline’ can be called a narrative), which is a reflection on filmmaking within the time frame of the 1970s—think (I am told) Wake in Fright, Razorback and BMX Bandits. The phrase ‘Stunt Double’ refers to the fact that the main characters in the story have a double who is able to perform the exceptional flips, falls and flights of the body while the main characters get on with the acting and dialogue. There are several separate scenes relating in some way, I guess, to one or other of the 1970 movies, while also looking at the production of these scenes in a way that suggests that those who push the production along often have little regard for the actors. There is much so-called ‘coarse language’ throughout, the atmosphere is loud and the scenes for the most part brightly lit.

But what about the dancing and the physical movement, although the work does bring up the question of how we define dancing!? According to my feelings about what is dancing, the highlight in Stunt Double was a section in which two women dressed in long red outfits perform a duet that has them working sometimes closely together and sometimes side by side mirroring each other’s movements. I have no idea who the dancers were as there was no easily accessible indication of who was who and who played which role. So, it was a bit hard to locate this scene within the overall context of the work. Perhaps it was in place of interval as there was no regular interval break in the 90 minute show?

As for the stunts, which to me represented the physical movement side of things, they were brilliantly performed. In one spectacular scene, a cricketer, after being part of a winning team, bashed up one of the performers (although actually I’m not sure why?). This section was distinguished by the dramatic sound of those hits (sound design by Luke Smiles), the involvement of the cricketer (who was he?) through his use of the body, and the stunt man who took the hits, flew about and fell to the ground on numerous occasions in such an exceptional manner.

Perhaps the most mind-blowing section, however, was towards the end when a yellow car arrived onstage. It stayed on the spot, but with its wheels turning simulated movement. It became the focus of attention as the performers variously interacted with it, simulating being hit by the car. They threw themselves in the air, landing on the car at times, with one amazing moment when one stunt man threw himself onto the bonnet of the car, slid across the bonnet towards the front window and burst through the window into the interior. (The glass on the front window had been removed I might add!)

But despite some spectacular tricks and a few beautiful moments of dancing (according to my definition of the word), I was not a huge fan of the overall production, although there were plenty in the audience who were. I admire the way The Farm takes on its criticism of society in a unique manner, and the way it focuses on spectacular movement. But Stunt Double seemed somewhat episodic, continually coarse and mostly quite loud. Sometimes a bit of subtlety goes a long way in getting an idea across the footlights. It would have been useful too had there been some king of program material available. Was this kind material available in other venues, I wondered? Or was it Canberra missing out, which sometimes happens?

The Farm is co-directed by Grayson Millwood and Gavin Webber both of whom were performers in Stunt Double. The script was written by Webber and the idea for the show was conceived by Millwood, Webber, Kate Harman and Chloe Ogilvie.

Michelle Potter, 15 March 2024

Images: © Jade Ferguson

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