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Based on the novel by Duncan Sarkies
Created by Duncan Sarkies and Sean O’Brien
Produced by Show Pony
Welcome to the world of Tom Spotswood, an insurance investigator who has lost his socks, his suitcase, his ex-wife and his son, Frank.
Fresh from performances in the New Zealand Festival, Auckland Writers Festival, Tauranga Arts Festival and Nelson Arts Festival, Demolition of the Century sees author/performer Duncan Sarkies (Two Little Boys/Scarfies/Flight of the Conchords) stage a humorous and sometimes heartbreaking look at families, memories and the fragility of the human mind. He is accompanied by musician Joe Blossom, who plays a soundtrack that is both haunting and invigorating.
“A series of brilliant vignettes, delivered in an inspired cabaret-style reading by the multi-talented Sarkies, and outstanding musician Joe Blossom… Blossom not only creates fluid and essential musical transitions, but his beautiful vocals, self-accompanied on piano and guitar, imbue this work with a powerful pathos that allow glimpses of the inner landscape of these characters. Demolition is a fast-paced, darkly captivating cabaret-comedy, which leaves us fully entertained and tantalizingly close to solving a puzzle.” –Bay of Plenty Times
A TANTALISING TASTE OF SUBJECTIVE HUMAN EXPERIENCE
The way Duncan Sarkies illuminates the human condition in The Demolition of the Century is somewhat redolent of the Beat Poets and fiction writers like Raymond Chandler; he writes Kiwi noir. His onstage persona suggests a Kiwi cousin once removed of Leonard Cohen. Sarkies is the better singer, though.
Not that he’s here to sing. That primary role is assigned to vocally versatile Joe Blossom (aka Sean O’Brien): as slickly pristine in his presentation as Sarkies is shambling. The composer of three of the show’s nine songs, Blossom employs an electronic keyboard, electric and acoustic guitars and a row of effects and loop pedals to represent the music Sarkies was listening to while writing his idiosyncratic novel (published in 2013).
This stage presentation – Sarkies at a stand-up mic, reading excerpts, littering the stage with pages as he discards them; atmospheric noir lighting designed by Jason Morphett – offers a taste of four key characters and their off-centre lives. Subtle changes involving a fedora, a jacket and a pair or spectacles help to distinguish the characters.
“Yes, it’s all part of a much larger jigsaw puzzle,” Sarkies advises in his programme note, “but I won’t be giving you enough pieces to work it out, so just relax and enjoy the mystery.” By way of a prologue, he reads the blurb from the back of his book.
While the novel opens with insurance investigator Tom Spotswood waking bewildered in a hotel room (the image that sparked off the whole creative journey, I believe), Sarkies takes his theatre audience straight to the paddock in which Tom rumbles a scam involving a dead stud stallion called Fire Chief. A vivid scene, it sets the disreputable tone.
We are introduced to Spud as he suffers the trial of a marriage counselling session, in which facilitator Brenda and Spud’s wife Kimbo draw the authorial short straws. Yet we are free to empathise with their pain too. The account of Spud and Kimbo’s joy at an Alice Cooper concert is a gem.
William McGinty’s abortive attempt to escape the confines of the retirement village where, he claims, he is being kept against his will, is as poignant as it is funny. The relevance of this – of his name – to the bigger picture is lost unless or until you have read the novel.
An eerie, mysterious, possibly magic-realist tone creeps in as we discover Spud’s job – his commitment to which is a bone of marital contention – is demolition with his beloved ‘T-Rex’: specifically of The Century Cinema, the last great brick building in town. And it’s only when I find, online, Shane Gilchrist’s 2013 Otago Daily Times interview with Sarkies that I realise the town is Dunedin, where The Century Cinema was indeed demolished in 1994. Bright light, deep darkness and Spud’s mention of Tom add to the disturbing intrigue … There are unexpected links in the jigsaw.
A return to Tom in the hotel room brings his lost 10 year-old son Frank into focus. And it’s Frank’s perspective, recalling the night Tom told him a bedtime story, at 2am, about what happened to a racehorse, that brings the vignettes to a book-ended conclusion. Blossom and Sarkies in duet close the show with Nina Simone’s ‘Seems I’m Never Tired Loving You’.
The storytelling is so entrancing, and the music so evocative, I could swear I have seen the scenes and actions described. The instrumental amplification fights with the lyrics at critical moments (do they have foldback speakers on stage or are we being blasted so they can hear it?). And Sarkies could work a bit more on his dancing.
Those quibbles aside, The Demolition of the Century – as produced by Show Pony’s Adrianne Roberts with Brita McVeigh and Kate Marshall as creative and music consultants respectively – is a tantalising taste of some very real aspects of readily recognisable, yet often buried, subjective human experience.
Of course you can buy (cash only) the full text ($30), and Blossom’s 12-inch vinyl Nocturnes ($20), in the Circa Theatre foyer after the 70 minute show. And if you have already read it, you’ll get the benefit of the author’s actual voice and echoes of his musical muses.
Created & Performed by Duncan Sarkies & Joe Blossom