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SELFLESS ORCHESTRA: GREAT BARRIER – FRINGEWORLD FESTIVAL 2020

Selfless Orchestra
Selfless Orchestra

SELFLESS ORCHESTRA: GREAT BARRIER
FRINGE WORLD FESTIVAL 2020
GIRLS’ SCHOOL
27 January to 2 February

One of the supposed benefits of the post-Trump world was an expected resurgence of musicians writing protest songs.  Based on past experience, turbulent times bring forth enduringly good music, just think back to the 60s and 70s (or do a bit of homework if you’re too young to know).

The show closes with the words, “Thank you for being selfless.”  It’s a clever and emotive way to end proceedings.  I’m still thinking about what that means for me and I’m sure most of the other patrons from last night are, too.

SELFLESS ORCHESTRA’s Fringe show, Great Barrier, could readily be seen as a natural consequence of the ills of the world.  Focusing on human destruction of planet Earth through a story arc that takes in the abundance, investigation, ‘discovery’, destruction and, hopefully, regeneration of the Great Barrier Reef, the show is a musical and visual immersive event that invites punters to get up close to the performers, to be part of the show. It’s a 45-minute protest soundtrack, with visuals.

SELFLESS ORCHESTRA is a post-rock ensemble that unites a group of established musicians from a variety of disciplines, including the Perth Symphony Orchestra and popular contemporary groups Injured Ninja, Last Quokka, Karnivool, Mile End and more, live scoring a cinematic journey exhibited upon multiple screens and surfaces in an intimate setting.

Patrons attending last night’s opening of Great Barrier were invited to get up close to the musicians and singers, to join them by sitting on the floor in front of the stage.  A few took up the opportunity, but most chose to sit in the first few rows of seats.  You can’t blame people for being wary, Fringe shows have a high probability of audience participation and some of the instruments in the set up looked decidedly difficult to play.

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“What’s that one over there?”
“Dunno, looks like a Webber.”
“They might get you up to play the barbecue.”

Audience participation was, of course, the major point of the show, but not the broad comedic sort of takedown that patrons have become used to at a lot of Fringe shows.  The intention of Great Barrier, is to draw the audience into an immersive experience that puts them in a contemplative state, carried along by the combination of the visuals and music through which we’re asked to consider the fate of the Great Barrier Reef, and, through this, the broader issues of environmental destruction, conservation and the ongoing viability of life on Earth.

The music and performance are top notch.  The score for Great Barrier sees a diverse bunch of local musicians stretching out with great effect.  The visuals they accompany tell a story to which we know the current ending, but leave us with hope.  The fate of the Great barrier Reef and our planet’s environment remains open ended, for the time being.  What happens next is largely up to us. 

The multi-layered visuals were displayed on a large screen at the back of the stage, with complementary visuals wrapping around the side walls of the Girls’ School auditorium.  The intention is to envelop the audience in the sound and vision that carries the narrative.  In this venue, it didn’t seem that the desired visual effects were delivered as effectively as they could have been.  The secondary vision disappeared somewhat into the sandstone walls of the auditorium, so the sense of being immersed was lessened.  There were some neat visual effects on the main screen, in particular the use of GIF-like animations to drive home the impact of tourism on the Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier is an ambitious project that deserves your attention, even if it feels a little bit like a work in development.  Perhaps the main tweak would be to find a venue that will do the visual scope and ambition of the project justice.

There are a lot of people concerned about the state of the environment and world politics.  Most of them seem to either assuage their guilt by posting memes on social media or telling their fellow humans what they should do and consigning anyone who disagrees with them to pariah status.  SELFLESS ORCHESTRA lay out a narrative and leave their audience to make up their own minds.  The show’s progenitors are no less committed to their cause than the millions of keyboard warriors flailing about in cyberspace, they just prefer a less preachy approach.  Amen to that!

The show closes with the words, “Thank you for being selfless.”  It’s a clever and emotive way to end proceedings.  I’m still thinking about what that means for me and I’m sure most of the other patrons from last night are, too.

I recommend you put Great Barrier on your list of Fringe shows to see this year.

Get your tickets here.

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