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

Food Chain. Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood (Animal Farm Collective)

Seymour Centre, Sydney Festival 2011

I didn’t see roadkill or lawn, the previous works by Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood shown in Australia in recent years. So I have no way of knowing how Food Chain, presented at the Sydney Festival 2011, fits in with their developing (or developed?) aesthetic. I have to say that if those previous works were like Food Chain I find it difficult to understand their apparent success.

Food Chain was episodic—not surprising given the experience of Webber and Millwood, which includes working with Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre and in various situations in Germany. Billed as ‘a David Attenborough documentary in reverse’, it purported to examine the idea of animals experimenting on humans and on how much ‘animal’ was apparent in human beings. Men in bear suits changing into business suits. A woman wearing a bear head backwards or on the end of her leg. A conversation with a line-up of stuffed animals. A game of shadow play of a fairly simplistic nature that morphed into shadowy allusions to bestiality. Crude references to sexual smell. For me Food Chain just lacked any kind of sophistication of thought. Even those polar bear advertisements for Bundaberg rum we used to see on commercial television with some frequency had more to offer in my opinion.

For me Food Chain also lacked any kind of sophisticated movement. With no-one identified as choreographer perhaps this is not surprising. Take the closing scene when the cast spent some time slowly descending a large tree trunk that made up the major part of the set. Each performer would make it, eventually, to the floor and disappear only to return at the top of the trunk and make another descent. It seemed to last an age. The work was also punctuated with the spoken word. Some lines were just inaudible. Not all dancers have the ability or training to speak on stage. Very frustrating.

In the end it was difficult to understand exactly what Webber and Millwood were trying to say other than something on the most superficial of levels. I thought Food Chain was way down the chain of where dance is in the twenty-first century. At least the tickets were only $30.

Michelle Potter, 2 February 2011