Pete Reid is an Australian performer and musician who’s made a big name for himself in his native land with his innovative, imaginative and highly physical performances (particularly with the band the Tar Gang). This year he’s going solo at the Fringe with his Helmsman Pete: Postcards From The Edge Of The World. I interrupted his sushi lunch to ask him a few questions about the show:
How would you describe Postcards From The Edge Of The World?
I would describe it as magical storytelling featuring live original music and theatrical vignettes which thread together themes emanating from stories coming out of the different postcards. And it contains the evocative atmospheric elements which my work tends to have!
Your previous work has had a high physical nature to it, with you occasionally injuring yourself in pursuit of your art. Should the audience expect the same from this show?
Er…yeah there’s a definite possibility of that. Once again it’s very physical as a lot of my other work is. It’s quite dramatic. I wouldn’t say over the top, but grandiose is a word that might describe it. It’s highly imaginative and there’s certainly an exaggerated quality to it which lends itself to bold physical action which can lead to injury or shedding blood. With another ongoing project I do, The Tar Pit, which is a band featuring the same character – Helmsman Pete, the music is at times grandiose, at times anarchic and at times more poetic in nature. Much of the music is sort of sea shanties and I’ve been known to shed blood simply from the way I play the guitar. Some nights we’d also end up handing out rum to the audience and it did occasionally get pretty wild. This being a one man show it’s more subdued than that but it’s just as physical in another sense.
Well that’s one of the great things about the Fringe is that it provides a home for shows that can’t be explained in soundbites.
Yeah that’s always one of the challenges with my work, finding a way to easily define it. I guess to call it physical storytelling with music pretty much captures it in a nutshell. Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s seen it have their own way of describing it. I think the key thing is that there’s a wide variety of influences at play such as the music hall tradition as well as theatre, film and visual arts.
One thing that seems to be an influence is the 1920s Weimar cabaret style?
Yeah absolutely I love German Expressionism, Otto Dix paintings and the silent films – and there’s a pretty distinct influence on the work I do certainly in terms of style.
The description of the show is of being influenced by the fossilised memories of postcards, which is an intriguing phrase – what does it mean in practice?
In essence I just liked the idea of all these stories emerging from postcards like memories that come to life and create these worlds before your very eyes. I really liked the idea of these postcards being sent from the edge of the world, literal or symbolic. One of the stories is about a scientist who works for the SETI institute (The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence). It’s about his isolation both in the sense of him being alienated on the far reaches of the universe as he scans for life as well as being alone in his little room.
Would you say the idea of isolation is something that fascinates you?
It’s certainly a theme in this show and it’s appeared in other things I’ve done but has been diluted by other elements – particularly the fact that those shows were with other artists. With this being a solo show you have one man portraying all these solitary characters so the isolation is emphasised through that. Also this show had a pretty long writing process which is in itself fairly isolating work so perhaps that fed into it as well. There’s also the fact that I come from Tasmania which is a pretty isolated place, it’s very much apart from the rest of Australia and breeds these solitary characters so I do wonder if some of it comes from that.
Do you think the island existence also feeds into the idea of voyages of discovery which are part of your work?
Absolutely, that’s certainly a common continuing theme in my work. The sense of the whole world being out there and you being on the edge of it in a geographic sense, as well as in terms of a whole world full of people being out beyond the horizon, feeds into the prominent theme of wanderlust in the shows.
Finally anything else you’d like to say about the show?
I think the key thing with the show is that it examines the idea of what it means to be on the edge of the world both physically and emotionally – and it does it in a thought-provoking way. But it’s also a very funny, and hopefully very engaging show featuring great characters, music and even puppetry. The end result should mean that people leave the show illuminated, questioning but also entertained.