Image by Fringe Festival

Reviewer: Manuel Cortes

16 January 2022
After Dark Gallery & Studio

The premise of Arty Facts is compelling: subjects of famous works of art peel themselves away from the canvas to share their thoughts with the audience through a series of monologues. The execution of this entertaining idea is, however, lacklustre. The opportunity to delve into art history and revel in historically informed satire is cast aside in favour of a more general approach. However, the humour is ultimately not strong enough to stand on its own. The result is a work that purports to have a broad appeal, but due to its lacking relevance to the subject is limited in it effectiveness. Clichéd quips about Shakespeare’s receding hairline or the size of David’s penis take the place of more relevant comedy. Historical satire functions best when humour complements the audience’s historical conceptions and contextual knowledge.

Variety is not the spice of sketch comedy, it is the salt. Each scene ultimately felt very much the same as the last, with every character retaining the same indignant demeanour and dismissive attitude towards the artist in question. In the face of this uniformity of character and tone, however, continuity in humour was absent. For instance, a humorous reference to “an enigmatic smile” in the Mona Lisa and subsequently The Laughing Cavalier unfortunately failed to sprout in the following scenes.

The construction of the characters themselves was thoroughly confusing, with some remaining historically accurate to their real-life counterparts, while others are re-imagined in a new setting. Once again, Arty Facts seemingly cannot decide whether to fully commit one way or the other. The inspiration for Toulouse Lautrec’s Moulin Rouge poster is indeed a Montmartre madame, and the subjects of American Gothic presumably hail from the early 20th century Midwest. However, Michelangelo’s David is revealed to be modelled on a Venice Beach surfer, and the Girl with a Pearl Earring is Cockney. Most jarringly, one of the women representing Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is a thongs-wearing, gum-chewing, cigarette-craving bogan. This variety served only to further confuse the silent members of the audience, unsure as to whether or not the presentation of accents without jokes crossed the line into cultural insensitivity and pointless stereotypes.

Jarrod Buttery, Meredith Hunter and Rachael M. bring force to their roles, lending an entertaining and vibrant personality to these otherwise silent figures. Rachael M. in particular stood out for her engaging and extensive movements while portraying Venus and a Moulin Rouge dancer, as well as her overall profound engagement with her varied roles.

The multimedia features of the show were discrete and effective in communicating the premise of the performance. However, they were hampered by an inconsistency which at times placed either the wrong background or a black screen behind a character.

Arty Facts is a production that hovers uncomfortably between many different dichotomies: Humour that is relevant to art history, or general? Congruency or variation? For the old or for the young? In its attempt to please all, Arty Facts is ultimately a master of none.

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