First published by The Hoopla, 20 January 2015
On the weekend I saw a hip hop artist, a contortionist, some jaw-dropping acrobatics, some nifty tap dancing, a pretty funny striptease and some spectacular fire breathing.
No, I wasn’t flitting from show to show reviewing the entire Sydney Festival for The Hoopla: it was ALL IN THE ONE SHOW, the Limbo circus at the Aurora Spielgeltent.
The show is pretty fabulous. But it was also a little like gorging yourself silly at an all-you-can-eat buffet: in theory, the idea of so much bounty sounds brilliant, but afterwards you realise that one meal, done really well, might have done quite nicely.
We’re reaching the point of peak entertainment. One good idea doesn’t seem to be enough any more. Maybe it’s because we’re all supposedly time poor: when we do book a show, buy a book or see a movie, we want it to give us a little bit of everything.
I blame the marketers. Remember when those classic novels started coming out rebooted with zombies or a little light bondage? You can imagine the publishing house meetings.
Publishing director: “How’s that classics list going?”
Marketer: “I don’t know if Austen really cuts it anymore, she’s a bit one dimensional really – all that stuff about human relationships. She needs something more. I know – Zombies! Let’s add some Zombies!”
It‘s the same grab-bag, hyperkinetic approach elsewhere. At Sculpture by the Sea or in the Bush, art fans flit from one sculpture to the next at ever-expanding shows, barely stopping to snap a photo and upload it to Instagram before they’re off to the next exhibit.
At public talks, thinkers who’ve spent years pondering life’s difficult problems and penned hefty books are given five minutes to speak before they are interrupted mid epiphany so the discussion can move on to the panel’s next speaker. It’s an age where the TED talk rules.
At art exhibitions, we race through the art works with headphones so someone can chatter factoids into our ears, all while we juggle pens and bits of paper so the kids can answer the quizzes gallery staff have supplied them with. Just in case they might get bored spending more than a few minutes doing nothing but pondering art.
You see it in music videos too. If your household includes a certain demographic, you too may watch copious Taylor Swift videos. And you too may wonder if she has a clause in her contract that says the number of outfit changes in her videos must equal the current number of famous ex boyfriend’s she’s clocked up, plus one.
It’s the cultural equivalent of fireworks shows: just as one set of giant sparkles goes off over here, another set is launched over there.
Next weekend I’m going to see The Kitchen at the Sydney Festival. The sales pitch seductively described the show as “a sumptuous, multi-sensory spectacle of arresting sights, smells and sounds, culminating in something for your taste buds too”.
It goes on: “The couple prepares payasam, a traditional Indian dessert, letting the fragrant aromas waft over you. 12 drummers provide a vigorous soundtrack on copper mizhavu drums.” The copywriters must have come straight from writing the Demtel knife ads.
I’m sure it will be great. But I’m wondering if I wouldn’t have much preferred the Xylouris White show. Described as “an unlikely marriage of post-punk drumming and traditional Greek lute”, it too sounds like another piece of slashy entertainment. But it’s comparatively pared back. Two men, two instruments. Cretan lute player George Xylouris and Dirty Three drummer Jim White. Friends tell me it was incredible.
My most memorable night of entertainment in recent years was hearing Neil Finn at the Sydney Opera House signing Paul Kelly’s You Can Put Your Shoes Under My Bed. A man. A dinner suit. A piano. Kelly’s poetic lyrics, Finn’s sublime musicality. Perfect.
So strip it back. Metaphorically, I mean.
And if you want to strip literally, by all means, knock yourself out. But maybe think about leaving the fire breathing and trapeze stunts for another night. The marketers won’t like it. But sometimes less really is more.