Sep 26, 2013

The first thing I thought was: “Wow, I love that title – SuperEverything.” But about halfway through the show, it seemed like this UK-Malaysian collaboration, this uber-funky and multi-talented crew, had trapped itself with that enticing label. With a moniker such as SuperEverything, you expect both greatness and … well, everything.

Do you get everything? You certainly do. You get everything there is to know about Malaysia in a one-hour blitz of multi-projector, screen and scrim, DJ, VJ, Gamelan and found-object, ancient and modern percussive glorious overload.

It’s all there: history, industry, tribal meld, character clash, doubt, nationhood and spirituality – all held up for us to experience in everything from timeless drum beats to creepy Theremin, from archive footage to tweet to HD storm. Nothing is left out, no sense deprived – even the subtle waft of incense completes the memory or adds subliminal touches to the message.

Hang on: it’s a message? I’d say yes, and this is both SuperEverything’s strength and its weakness. This amazing creation – the epitome of colour and movement – suffers the task of being “everything” and, in making sure we really get everything, borders on the didactic at crucial times. It both shows and tells – the latter through the voices of Malaysian commentators or residents riffing on about the dilemmas inherent in such a mix of cultures, what it feels like to be a part of that nation of assembled sources today. That’s okay; a personal touch (albeit 2D, so still part of the photon mix on those screens) was most welcome among the technology, but it seemed to over-reach the charter when the voxpops started on the “shoulds”.

The voices and the faces are frequently there underlining the images (or vice versa), making sure not just that we get it right but that we get it, right? For me, this is a potential flaw in the production. A comparison with other multi-ethnic, all-encompassing collaborations by the likes of Jamie Catto shows that they wisely pulled up short of being quite so overt. People had things to say on, say, One Giant Leap, personal things, but were held back from that fatal line that separates Theatre from Education, the line of telling us stuff directly. When the Giant Leap voices got close to “telling”, Jamie and Co would crank up the beat and allow us to fill in the gaps with our own versions of such, our personal universality, while the music built.

In SuperEverything we are seldom allowed that space, and the music is seldom allowed to build. Only in dealing with industry does the amazing live “band” really take off and we find ourselves grooving along. I’m not saying I expected PopAsia music (although that, and the true, breathtaking beauty of Malaysia were omissions), but allowing the audience to absorb the personal for a while, allowing that collective out breath, was a level of trust that I wish the makers of SE had given us more often.

Trust us. We won’t turn off (we’re in an amazing space being exposed to liquid wonder); it’s all gorgeous, but let us do some of the cerebral work. The comparison with Catto’s cannon may be unfair (dealing as it does with such ephemera as the Soul and Death) but a shift towards pure art and the audience as interpreter may have made for less Everything but more Everyman.

That reservation dealt with, I commend this mammoth undertaking by the Light Surgeons and their musical ensemble crew. It is stunning to see and hear that mix of cultures and styles and, when it works, the “just right” nature of it takes the breath away. I loved the musicians squirreling away in half-light and bike torches; the Gamelan players at their odd, seductive craft; the aural mix and quality, the use of scrim against solid image.

This is serious, cutting-edge work – trying to assemble a complicated nation in the air in one hour. SuperEverything may have bitten off way too much but it is a lot of fun watching them chew.

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SuperEverything is at the Space Theatre until September 28.

More OzAsia Festival coverage

Review: Parah
Review: Heart to Heart
Review: OzAsia on Screen – The Great Passage
Review: Fight the Landlord
Review: Meeting with Bodhisattva
Review: Malaysian singer Yuna
Preview: Yegam Theatre Company’s Extreme Jump!


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