The Farm, Co3 Australia: ‘Frank Enstein’

From Dance Australia.

 

Frank Enstein was staged as part of the annual Gold Coast Bleach Festival – a community arts and musical festival now in its sixth year. It was the first time since its inception that The Farm, a collective headed by Grayson Millwood and Gavin Webber, had performed at an inside venue on the coast, and to a paying audience. Previously they have tested the waters with free outside events – the first in 2015.

Both Millwood and Webber, joint creators of Frank Enstein, are veterans of the dance theatre format. Who will forget their absorbing works, Lawn and Roadkill?The same finely pitched humour was also evident here, delivered with clarity via the medium of movement and spoken text.

Conceived as a work for children, Frank Enstein explores ideas of self-worth and self-acceptance, turning the original legend on its head by making Frank Enstein the doctor who feels marginalised by society. An inspired piece of casting has the actor and filmmaker Daniel Monks (who has a disability) as Frank, maniacally pursuing his mission to create hyper-abled humans to satisfy his craving for acceptance and love.

The work has an inside/outside set design with the front of the stage covered in a green ‘lawn’ and the doctor’s laboratory marked out upstage centre by a framework of white tubular scaffolding. Various pieces of ‘scientific’ paraphernalia, including an operating table, are in the laboratory, with the words ‘Work’, ‘Romance’ and ‘Party’ displayed prominently overhead. These flash intermittently, indicating links to the drama, which is also thematically divided into three sections.

Andrew Searle, Zachary Lopez and Talitha Maslin, all from West Australia’s Co3, collaborated in the work’s creation and also become the three humanoid monsters. Brianna Kell’s character, as the only other human in the mix, allows a more universal take on issues of self-esteem.

Kell opens the show seated downstage right. Her character was immediately engaging as she wrestled with her vision of what she wanted to be, and later with her desire for Frank. Monks, as Frank, was self-absorbed but naive, oblivious to his own charm as he struggled to accept love, lending poignancy to the role. A touching sequence has him self-examine his disabilities, which challenges preconceived notions of beauty.

Searle, Lopez and Maslin embraced the hyper-mobility of their humanoid characters with cleanly executed, beautifully controlled, and (most importantly for comedy), impeccably timed movement that was hugely entertaining. Lopez, springing up from a rubbish bin of discarded humanoid scraps, adroitly coordinated his movement and lip-synching to the spoken text soundtrack, in a witty confrontation with the confused Kell. A later, very clever vacuum sequence, as he ‘sucks’ the other humanoids into different positions with the nozzle of the cleaner, was slick, and smartly delivered by all three dancers.

The relationship between the humanoid monsters and their creator is explored in a lovely section where Monks is carried and manoeuvred by the three dancers, followed shortly after by a crazy monster ‘dance-off’ of contorted, staccato movement to the crackled soundtrack of static electricity – a sign of revolt perhaps.

A final party scene complete with mirror ball and chandelier, to the old Rosemary Clooney standard “Sway”, reconciles all the protagonists. It was a joyful although tepid ending, as I had been half expecting the humanoids to turn on each other in some sort of frenzied loathing of their perfection. To that end it was a disappointing, but certainly child-friendly conclusion to this otherwise engaging work.

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