Review: Coil – UnWrapped at the Sydney Opera House (NSW)

Staged by re:group performance collective, Lead Artists Solomon Thomas, Steve Wilson-Alexander, Carly Young and Mark Rogers

Review by Charlotte Smee

“Streaming killed the video store”, and re:group performance collective are determined to pay homage to the communal space of adventure, possibility, camaraderie that was the aisles of Leading Edge or Blockbuster or the many others lost to time across Australia. Coil is an innovative and semi-autobiographical piece of “live cinema”, in which Steve Wilson-Alexander and Carly Young play themselves, and Solomon Thomas follows them with a camera to capture tiny snippets of footage that they edit together onstage and then later play together as parts of a larger film.

The charisma of Wilson-Alexander and the way that the re:group performance collective work together is what really shines in Coil

The style of this piece is firmly meta-theatrical, or perhaps more appropriately meta-cinematic. Right from the beginning, Steve addresses the audience as himself and explains the circumstances that the work was made in. In the context of Thirroul’s Leading Edge Video, with the very same sign he retrieved when developers knocked it down hanging above him, he and his best friend Jackson used to play silly buggers and make movies. Jackson was the one who brought the original re:group performance collective – numbering up to 15 people – together, and then abandoned them for the more practical career of nursing.

Set realisation by Alistair Davies builds a very faithful video store, complete with posters of various movies looming over white library-style shelves. A little counter with a large glass jar of killer pythons and community notice-board style signs made it feel just like my childhood local Kooringal Video Ezy. Right at the end of the performance, the audience was able to browse the Coil video store and show each other the weird and wacky films lost to the days of actually picking things up before you watched them.

Screenplay by Mark Rogers, along with sometimes lengthy monologuing from Wilson-Alexander, told the story of losing the video store and the friends we made in them in the style of excited teenagers making their own art for the first time – in the best way possible. But like excited teenagers, the story sometimes got lost in the background of the performance collective, of Wollongong, of video stores across the country. The relationship between Wilson-Alexander and Young playing versions of themselves could have been a really interesting focal point for an exploration of nostalgia and what it means to move to different places in your life, but took a back seat due to the project at large.

Nevertheless, the concept and execution of creating a film in front of a live audience is exciting, novel and riveting viewing. The charisma of Wilson-Alexander and the way that the re:group performance collective work together is what really shines in Coil – and this love and kindness breathes new life into the discussion of nostalgia and what we lose in a growing, adult, fast-paced world.

Reviewer Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

COIL is sold out for the rest of their season. You can find out more about the performance collective re:group here. Look at the rest of the UnWrapped series here.

Lead Artists: Solomon Thomas, Steve Wilson-Alexander, Carly Young, Mark Rogers
Performers: Solomon Thomas, Steve Wilson-Alexander, Carly Young
Screenplay: Mark Rogers
Video Design: Solomon Thomas
Automation Programming: Chris Howell
Sound Design: Liam “Snowy” Halliwell
Set Realisation: Alistair Davies
Accessibility Training: Nilgun Guven
Creative Producer: Malcolm Whittaker
Administration: Intimate Spectacle

Coil was originally commissioned by Next Wave Festival and has been developed with the support of Arts Tasmania, Australia Council for the Arts, Next Wave, PACT Centre for Emerging Artists, Salamanca Arts Centre, Merrigong Theatre Company, Punctum, Regional Arts Fund Tasmania and Creative Partnerships Australia through MATCH Lab.


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