Reviews

Rating : 2 stars

XXX Neon Sign, Rumpus (SA)

Despite a capable performance from Dan Thorpe, the debut production from RUMPUS is disappointingly jumbled.
XXX Neon Sign, Rumpus (SA)

Dan Thorpe in XXX Neon Sign. Image: Jason Tavener, BIFEM.

XXX Neon Sign is the first production by new independent theatre community RUMPUS, and it portrays the experiences of a porno shop customer service assistant. Unfortunately, this debut is like a jigsaw puzzle put together all wrong – the set design, direction and story clash, providing a jumbled and unclear experience.

The script – based on James Andre’s epic poem – contains interesting snippets of the shop assistant’s experiences. Highlights include his recollections of the job interview and telling his friends and family where he works, as well as his thoughts on why his customers do what they do. These moments provide opportunity for reflection on the various kinds of interactions supported by sex and the sex industry.

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The performance space is welcoming with a fresh sawn wood scent, and, whilst most likely an accidental touch, it suits the forest on stage. On the back wall, a film clip of tree trunks plays; in front of it sits a piano surrounded by a few hexagonal wood pillars. It’s well-crafted and inviting, however as the story plays out, the set seemingly has no connection to the work. The forest doesn’t directly connect to any of the action in the story: all of the action takes place within the porno shop. On top of that, the set doesn’t work as a metaphor either. It’s impossible to decipher why the set is what it is. A room with a piano would’ve been just as effective, if not more so because it wouldn’t have drawn attention to itself.

Dan Thorpe performs the show as a double threat, playing the piano and acting, however the two compete with each other. As the customer service assistant, Thorpe provides a good balance of drudgery and amusement, giving the audience permission to laugh and reflect.  However, he sometimes slaps the piano between words and sentences as an emphasising beat. It’s too loud and swallows Thorpe’s words as he tries to speak over it; even the microphone support doesn’t help. Other times, Thorpe plays soft piano tunes that contrast against the scene he’s describing. It reduces engagement because the two elements are so different that they don’t enhance the scene overall. Perhaps the purpose of this performance is to experiment with jarring elements, but this experimentation suffocates Thorpe’s very capable acting and piano skills.

The production has no director, instead just a dramaturge to provide feedback on Thorpe’s choices. There are a lot of choices that remain questionable and unnecessary. At the start of the show, Thorpe enters and exits the stage to bring on equipment for a campsite; it’s a slow and dull process. He later welcomes an audience member on stage to help him and it only becomes amusing when the audience member accidentally knocks over a set piece. Later, Thorpe undresses fully at the campsite without any provocation from the story he is telling. It’s bizarre. It also never becomes clear why the campsite is important. Perhaps it’s how he lived before his shop job, how he wants to live, or a bigger metaphor for how he feels in his job, but which one of these is right, if any, is anyone’s guess.

The creative team show their eye for detail occasionally during the show. For example, Thorpe’s uniform has the sentence, ‘please come again’ printed on the back of it. This attention extends into Gilbert Kemp-Attrill’s film and projection. The film clips play on the projection screen, providing additional visual information and emotion to Thorpe’s work. Kemp-Attrill’s careful use of framing and crisp footage make the projection a feature of the production. The film works particularly well for the sequence on leaving the shop after a long night, as it allows the protagonist’s relief to carry onto the audience. The costume and film demonstrates how well the show could’ve worked if the team looked at how the different elements of the production could intersect with each other.

Overall, XXX Neon Sign is a disappointing commencement to RUMPUS’ first season. The script and Thorpe’s skills are suffocated beneath an array of seemingly pointless elements, with the projection being one of few parts of the production that actually matches with the script and the acting. XXX Neon Sign has the potential to be an interesting and fulfilling experience if it spends more time in development.

2 stars out of 5 ★★

XXX Neon Sign
Presented by RUMPUS
Composer/performer: Dan Thorpe
Dramaturge: Paulo Castro
Designer: Olivia Zanchetta
Film/projection by Gilbert Kemp-Attrill
12-21 September 2019
RUMPUS, 100 Sixth Street, Bowden SA
Tickets $25

Anita Sanders

Monday 16 September, 2019

About the author

Anita Sanders is a writer based in South Australia. She has written for radio, print and stage including The City street magazine, Radio Adelaide and South Australian Youth Arts Company. She is a graduate of Flinders University’s Bachelor of Creative Arts (Creative Writing) and Deakin University’s Graduate Certificate of Business (Arts & Cultural Management).