Velvet Helmet’s A Mid-Winter’s Night Dream

When Velvet Helmet sticks to its fantastic monthly themes it is truly a magical experience. The cold weather was no reason to shy away from a night of fantasy with A Mid-Winter’s Night Dream setting itself up as a dark and frosty combination of Shakespeare and winter-themed delights.

11703131_1480578765568240_3768062891910470358_nWith an evident choice of either Shakespearean adaptation or winter aesthetic I was prepared for a lot of deep and cool colour schemes, icy renditions of Shakespearean classics, and a night of fantasy and wonder. Most of the acts delivered with a powerful presence, creative renditions and beautiful creation, but when others strayed from the two primary themes they seemed to lack in impact and resonance.


Post-intermission piano-cello duo James Halloran and Laura Driver stole the show with beautiful music and a fabulous winter-fitting costume. The duo’s original ballads burst into the space like blizzards chilling ourhearts with stories of heartbreak, manipulation and frustration. But, like everyone who has a love-hate relationship with winter, Halloran offered hints of cheeky lyrics that darted humour throughout each song like a welcomed flickering of fire to warm us back up again. Halloran and Driver definitely brought the winter theme with a force, and costume design, that no other act could top.


Thomas Stewart, or ‘Melon the Human’, was an excellent example of clever theme appropriation. Melon began with a silent ‘strip tease’ and built his way up to a magnificent movement sequence that paired rigid robot dance moves with fluid flexibility in time with Houses’ ‘Lost in Blue’. Melon’s gentle smile and endearing little wave matched his clever t-shirt and natural balance between robot, contortionist and gymnast. To top off his act, and incorporate the Velvet Helmet theme, Melon added some magical ice balls into his already mesmerising act. With the musical score seamlessly transitioning to Sub Pub Music’s ‘Tears of War’, ‘Melon the Human’ added a little bit of suspense and Prospero magic to his otherwise contemporary performance piece.


11742809_1480579072234876_982046604188968599_n11703034_1480579088901541_2423574271648628953_nAnother example of successful theme appropriation was Marianna Joslin’s beautiful dance piece. As the dance began and Joslin’s green renaissance dress began to fall off, Duffy’s song burst over the speakers pleading “stay with me baby!” as if to beg along with Joslin for the dress to work with her rather than against her. As Joslin embraced her falling dress, and in turn her vulnerability, she laughed along with the crowd and the dance became an empowering demonstration of ‘embracing the uncomfortable’. As Joslin attempted to use her stockings as a replacement a roar of sympathetic laughter came from the crowed.  Joslin’s final resort of using her floppy underwear to cover her naked chest was hilarious and powerful. Her final charmingly-awkward yet beautiful leaps of self empowerment brought the dance piece to a powerful close.

Claire Cowley took a more recognisable Shakespearean approach to the theme, with a gender swapped costume that screamed Viola in Twelfth Night. As Cowley kafuffled her way around the stage setting up, playing ‘Moon River’ on a harmonica, she set up what was to be a charmingly clumsy and chaotic collage of songs, interpretations, theories and thoughts. While Cowley’s Croon vs. Spoon theme seemed slightly too spontaneous for  its analytical merit, her clever song choice and soulful voice, not unlike an Australian Kimbra, won over the crowed. With a scattered commentary of human nature and fragmented music that awoke the senses, Cowley made us laugh, think and drink as she sung phrases like ‘Today he finally left me’ and ‘You’ll never get to the bottom of me’ in a soulful and truthful performance.


Unfortunately, just as with Shakespeare, where there is love, laughter and beauty there is also often a counter of pain and anguish. While some acts such as ‘Clint – A Guy of Our Time’ seemed to skim over the winter-Shakespeare theme choice entirely, ‘Ophelia Unbound’ took a Shakespearean Ophelia to an unsettling new level.

While ‘Clint’ was endearing and undeniably recognisable, his opening act of dry humour and clashing personality introduced a parody of ‘interpretive dance’ and ‘poetry’ that were adequate, but not enough to prepare the audience for the night that Velvet Helmet had in store. What’s more Clint’s only hint towards either of the themes seemed to be a luminous fluro jacket and a Shakespeare themed line of poetry linking life’s ups and downs with Shakespeare’s comedies and tradies.


Claire Fitzpatrick’s ‘Ophelia Unbound’ continued the theme of interpretive ‘art’ in a much more serious and unsettling approach. While the piece’s homage to performance artist Carolee Schneemann’s ‘Interior Scroll’ seemed more unoriginal than respectful, it was Fitzpartick’s repetitive, cliché movement sequence that had the audience squirming in their seats. With poetry read awkwardly off a scroll and a dance sequence dragging on for one-too-many claw-like grabs to the head, Fitzpatrick’s potential for powerful interpretation was compromised by a distracting costume and cliché approach.


Despite a few acts who either brushed over the themes on offer or took them to a level of adaptation beyond the otherwise welcoming nature of Velvet Helmet, A Midwinter’s Night Dream was a wonderful escape from Brisbane’s cold snap and the dregs of mid-week reality. With the acts that touched, amazed and delivered spanning across so many mediums and interpretations of the month’s theme Velvet Helmet did well to warm the hearts of Brisbane for another month of the cold.

– Written by Rhumer Diball July 20th 2015

WED 15 JULY 2015.

Photo credit Stephen Sloggett.

For more information on Velvet Helmet and their monthly events you can view their Facebook page here, or their wordpress here.
Upcoming Velvet Helmet Events:

August 12th – A Carnival of Unearthly Creatures – Smack bang in the middle of Ekka week (on the public holiday), this is the alternate to the homogenized entertainments on offer elsewhere. Especially seeking magicians, contortionists, mind-readers, dance pieces, vaudevillians and the like. All our events are over-18’s, but this one is especially adults-only.


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