Event Review: Spineless Wonders Presents, 26 November 2013, The Wheatsheaf Hotel

For a while now I have been eagerly trotting along to the Wheatsheaf Hotel four times a year on a Tuesday night to attend Spineless Wonders Presents. So it is an absolute pleasure to finally get around to writing a blog about it. Don’t know what’s taken me so long!

I guess the benefit of having taken so long is that I can now reflect on SWP as an established event, one that has earned its rightful place in the folklore of performance storytelling, and one that Jen Mills said is a ‘reliably enchanting event … closer to New York’s Selected Shorts than anything else in Australia’.

Well, I ain’t been to New York, but what I do know is that I look forward to SWP more than any other event on my calendar – and that is a calendar that has been filled in recent years with more Fringe shows than I can count, and plenty of Festival, Cabaret and other miscellaneous events. As wonderful as many of these events have been, going to SWP feels like visiting a favourite friend. This friend, who I have come to rely on and trust, takes care of me. She sits me down in a cosy room lit with twinkling fairy lights that encourage intimacy and revelation, puts a bevvy in front of me and proceeds to keep me entertained until I am fortified by the communion and wonder of story and ready to return to the real world.

While I sit there, surrounded by the warm feeling of trusting what is about to happen while simultaneously being excited by the prospect of being surprised, some of Adelaide’s finest actors take to the stage and read – no perform – stories written by some of Australia’s finest writers. And in between, beautifully unique musicians fill the spaces with melodies and musical stories.

One of the many things I love about SWP is that it is not an event for the literary elite – although they are just a welcome as anyone. This is an event for the punters, people who don’t care who is published by whom, but just want to be entertained, to hear a story, to remember the simple pleasure of being read to.

In a world that focuses so much on screens, SWP takes your gaze up, up, up. Higher than the screen in your hand or on your desk, back onto a stage, which is an entirely different experience. Sitting in front of actors on a stage is visceral, energising and just plain fun. You smile, you laugh, you might even cry: you feel the actor’s energy coursing through your veins, you respond to their energy.

It is a filling up, not a sucking dry. The stage is beautiful whether you are on it or watching it.

Curator Caroline Reid hand-picks stories, actors and musicians for each event, and the most recent event on 26th November 2013 had some old favourites as well as some newbies.

A highlight of the first set was Threasa Meads’ ‘The Wish’ (read by Holly Myers). Meads’ story imagines a new world order and a child’s poignant wish. The moment of silence from the audience as Myers finished reading spoke infinitely louder than rapturous applause. We had all been transported by Meads’ extraordinary imagination and just for a moment forgot the protocol of the performer-audience contract – we forgot to clap. This surely must be the mark of a magical experience.

Tamara Lee’s reading of ‘Bulldozer’ by Mark O’Flynn had the opposite effect – instead of sheer fascination and transportation, the audience laughed – hard. O’Flynn’s ability to write a child’s voice is utterly convincing and was supported brilliantly by Lee’s terrific reading. Lee’s timing and gestures were immaculate.

Reid challenged seasoned performer Emma Beech (pictured above) with A.S. Patric’s ‘nothing to do with anything’, a story written without punctuation. If ever there was a challenge to an actor, that was it. Beech pulled it off with panache. Nothing phases her. She found her rhythm in the story, connected with the voice and nailed it.

Choral Grief, who describe themselves as ‘a choir that sings sad songs’ provided the musical interludes. They performed two a Capella sets – the first consisting of sea shanties cleverly constructed into the chapters of a story, and the second consisting of Christmas carols. They certainly do sing sad songs, but they perform them with infectious joy and wonderful skill so that the audience is lifted and is never left feeling the weight of that sadness.

SWP is taking a break over the Fringe season, but will be back in May 2014. For more info, head over to the SWP Blog, and I hope to see you at the Wheaty in May!

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