Blame it on having just seen the exquisite theatre piece, “Sadako” at the NAF just days before, but the much-hyped “Dragonflies & Astronauts” that debuted at Montecasino’s Teatro on Wednesday came across as a massively indulgent waste of time. By DIANE COETZER.
I really wanted to like The Parlotones’ attempt at a rock theatre production because it’s all too easy (and lazy) to join the persistent backlash against a group beloved by so many music fans here – including my own 12-year-old daughter. But even she could see through the confused attempt at constructing a narrative around The Parlotones’ catalogue of songs, the amateur-hour choreography and dancing, and costuming that fell abysmally short of promises that it would be “another character in itself”.
Actually, if anything, the get-ups most likely chosen by the production team at Catalyst Entertainment (no programme meant no clue as to who is actually responsible) made me feel faintly squeamish.
The band, in particular singer Kahn Morbee, gave off a distinct neo-fascist feel with their red-and-black military outfits in which they never seemed entirely comfortable. The strange gold beak-like masks of the dancers only added to their miserable attempt to evoke a post-apocalyptic world with some of the lamest robotic dancing this side of YouTube funnies. And words aren’t sufficient to describe the “devil” character whose clomping cloven-hoof footwear was clearly too uncomfortable for the person hidden inside to attempt anything more than a small semi-circle to the side of the stage before heading back into the wings.
Any hope of real performances in a show described in the promo material as a “futuristic, science fiction yarn” rapidly dwindled as the various characters (three dictators, an alien visitor, a young man) made their presences felt as the band played manfully on. Actually “presences” is too strong a word. For the most part, the characters driving a story about, well who knows what really (though it did involve several small glass orbs with lights in them, an old VW Beetle to keep the sponsors happy and a wheelchair) wandered haplessly about the stage. The space creature – supposedly model Katrina Cope, but again no programme to confirm – might have been impressive from the lower seats, but to us up in the cheaper ones, her hand movements just seemed vague and irritating.
No use was made of the set above stage level – unless you count a character with an odd glowing face whose only purpose appeared to keep looking at a picture frame. There appeared,too, to be no function for the piece of Japanese-themed set wheeled on-stage sometime towards the end. We surmised it was probably left over from another production and was just getting in the way backstage. Whatever the case, like just about everything else in “Dragonflies & Astronauts”, the pseudo-Asian set piece contributed nothing to the kind of transporting experience you expect of theatre.
There’s more, but I’ll stop there.
I will say this though, in a way that was surely unintended, what the strained, passionless theatrics unfolding on stage around the band did was show up The Parlotones’ rock music in a very decent light.
The sound at The Teatro is gorgeous and the fresh arrangements of some of the band’s best-known songs (“Push Me To The Floor”, “Rock, Paper, Scissors”, “Life Design”) as well as the interludes by the talented Brendan Jury add a layer of density that’s welcome. Although Morbee’s voice crackled at times (could it have been that constricting military outfit?) The Parlotone’s performance was polished – the songs near-perfectly rendered, showing off what gig after gig does for this most workmanlike of bands. It was, if nothing else, a potent reminder too that the four-piece really does know its way around a foot-tapping, sing-a-long hit, and can slip in the odd surprise like “Tiny”, off 2005’s Radiocontrolledrobot, a great track that I’d forgotten.
Actually, the best way to experience “Dragonflies & Astronauts” is to sit low in your chair at The Teatro and close your eyes, smartly shutting out the action on-stage and enjoying the pleasure of well-played and written, if uninventive, music.
What’s certain though, is that no amount of critical drubbing will put off The Parlotones’ enviable loyal fan-base from turning out at The Teatro this week – and at 14 Nu-Metro cinemas for a 3-D experience of the show on 16 July. If this first-ever, live 3-D broadcast comes off without a hitch, it alone will be another notch in the ladder of success for The Parlotones. More’s the pity that a badly thought-through, messily executed theatre production of the scale that generally takes years to put into production lets down this high-achieving band. DM
Diane Coetzer is the South African correspondent for Billboard Magazine and its online platforms.