Created & Performed by Duncan Sarkies & Joe Blossom
Circa Theatre; Circa Two (January 31 – February 21)
Duncan Sarkies is a novelist, short-story and screenplay writer, but inside and around all of that he is a performer. As comedian/spoken-word artist he has a track-record of one-man-shows and musical collaborations where he slips inside the characters he’s created for the page, brings them alive on the stage – offers up his words, knowing exactly the cadence, the placement, the themes and moods and modes.
The Demolition of the Century, currently on at Circa Two (a return of sorts, it has previously played in Wellington as part of last year’s Arts Festival and in similar festival slots around the country) sees Sarkies reading extracts from his novel of the same name. They’re set to music, infused with music, imbued with music by Sean O’Brien (who writes and performs under the name Joe Blossom).
Blossom offers some of his own songs here as well as taking us through the songs that scored the scenes as Sarkies was writing. To the folk guitar-dance of John Fahey and the country-blues of Charlie Feathers and Gene Vincent, via the soul of Oscar Brown Jnr and resting with Nina Simone’s gorgeous Seems I’m Never Tired Loving You, we get to meet Sarkies’ characters via dramatic readings that are served up with his trademark nearly-nonchalance. A world-weariness meets word-readiness when Sarkies steps to the mic. He’s at home on the stage, whether it’s in the way he knows the exact – precise – pauses for (extra) humour or in hints of mime and movement that, when paired with the music, accentuate themes of paranoia (perhaps best illustrated here with the scurry to accompany Blossom’s rendition of Gene Vincent’s Cat Man).
Blossom moves subtly, swiftly between piano and acoustic and electric guitars. It’s intriguing to hear the music as score for this performance but to also think of it as influence on the creation of these characters, a transposition of the score that was in Sarkies’ head as he filled these characters with his/their thoughts for the page. Now, on the stage, we’re treated to something that isn’t, as such, a play but is so much more than (just) an author reading his work.
Maybe next time Sarkies can do something that adds even more of his own singing voice – he harmonised, provided backing vocals and sound effects, gave the music a dramaturgical lurch, but when he joined in, full voice, at the end I heard something that reminded me of the wonderful Bill Fay. A fitting comparison I would hope, given that’s the voice I can imagine inside the heads of some of Sarkies’ best characters.
This is a clever show too – in that it’s the best advert I can imagine for the book (I now want to read the novel) and yet it is clearly stands outside of the book’s covers, its own thing, no spoilers, just a taster, teaser. Another fine spoken-word show – the music helping add breath to this world.