THEATRE REVIEW: XXX NEON SIGN

XXX Neon Sign is the inaugural show for the newly established Rumpus Theatre collective of Bowden in the repurposed space previously occupied by Fontanelle Gallery on Sixth Street. South Australian composer Dan Thorpe, with a growing reputation for experimental nous, cuts an isolated figure at the piano as he navigates Australian poet James Andre’s work of the same title, illuminating Andre’s personal recollections of working in a porno store in Brisbane.

Thorpe’s jagged piano work provides a jarring accompaniment to Andre’s titillating tales of the symbiotic relationship between the gratuitous fantasy of pornography and the disconnection from reality shared between consumers and Andre himself during his time behind the register. The chosen setting for the recital imitates the intimacy of a campfire in silent woodland; a juxtaposition of the cosmopolitan origins of the tales themselves. Thematically, they include characters who are ultimately isolated too, including Thorpe as the narrator, who encaptures powerless passivity to the subversive circumstances he is placed in by the store’s customers.

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As an exploration of sex and the sex industry at large, this interpretation of the poem emphasises the absurd, comedic, tragic and perverse. The free verse narrative is paced well throughout and the constant failed attempts to “light one’s fire” are amusing. The masculinity portrayed by Thorpe’s recital is quite clearly toxic, but is it a product of pornographic manipulation or a mirror to something broader in society? Thorpe, sympathetically at times, suggests Andre is attempting to maintain a sense of the real world outside of the manufacture and manipulation of pornography. The included nudity, a reflection of open vulnerability that is quite clearly and painfully attempted to be covered is a punch which only half connects.

Technical issues with the sound at times rendered punchlines inaudible against the deliberately fragmented piano accompaniment, but Thorpe was comfortable to work with any momentary breaks in immersion.

The sex industry, and sex at large is not an open topic of discussion in Australia. The poem highlights atypical perversion and perpetuates the myth of the seedy if not slightly humorous instances of pornographic transactions. Thorpe has succeeded in re-illuminating Andre’s poem with unpredictable and amusing aplomb. Ambiguous as the original work may be, many will be satisfied by this introduction to Rumpus.

XXX Neon Sign is showing from 12-21 Sep. Tickets are available via TryBooking. To see the full Rumpus season, visit their website.

3.5 stars
Written by Sarah Burley

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