Imagine Michel Gondry meets Don Hertzfeldt meets a parody black-and-white western.
Bad Baby Jean may be a work in progress, crafted and rehearsed in just four weeks for a single YouTube Live show, but it is an absolute marvel of homespun invention and comic charm.
Brilliantly crafted through an interplay of quaint cardboard props, low-fi animation and live performances streamed from five Australian suburbs, this new piece by Perth’s The Last Great Hunt gifts us the wholesome joy our lonely hearts needed.
The plot itself is a simple tale that cleaves to all the time-worn tropes of the classic western: a train heist, a femme fatale on the run, a moustachioed baddie and a fateful romance.
The familiarity of this affectionate genre homage is welcoming, and coasts along under the sure, slow, Texan tones of our narrator, Chris Isaacs. Where other online adaptions to COVID conditions situate themselves in present and futures, in both their thematic interests and engagement techniques, The Last Great Hunt looks back.
What it dispenses with in original story, Bad Baby Jean makes up in character. The whole cast render excellent if brief performances (the piece is just a half-hour long), interacting with cardboard props and screens from their separate locations. Gita Bezard is our drop-dead gorgeous rebel. Adriane Daff and Arielle Gray are her gunslinging conspirators. Chris Isaacs is her lover, and Jeffrey Jay Fowler is a ferryman who meets an unfortunate end.
Then there’s Tim Watts, the villainous Thaddeus Bickley, who has all the absurd grace of a comic savant. As director Matthew Edgerton was seen to comment in the stream: “Tim’s eyebrow and moustache acting is next level”.
Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd’s technical direction – from the seamless scene transitions, to the creative angles and cuts– and Max Juniper’s Atari-esque music are masterful, too. The handcrafted elements bring a delightfully amateur whimsy, like the old-fashioned intertitles, the shadow puppetry, and the simulation of a train reaching the end of a tunnel.
Unlike the previous two shows created with Google Creative Labs this week, The Last Great Hunt chose to minimise audience involvement during the performance proper. Our chat stream didn’t have a bearing on the narrative flow; instead it replicated the traditional venue foyer – where people could mingle and share thoughts about the show – and a behind-the-scenes sneak peek.
Before Bad Baby Jean began, we got an informal introduction to the performers (all of whom are co-creators), across Surry Hills, Victoria Park, Bayswater and Melbourne. Gita let us know her mum was watching (“hi Gita’s mum!” we chorused) and that a backyard poultry in Arielle’s home was named after her.
Afterwards, we were invited to ping forth questions about the making of the show, and given a tour of the production tools behind the theatre magic. Tim Watts’ room was central command, we learned, where a computer processed his collaborators’ Skype streams into the cue-based multimedia software QLab, a projector flung scenes on the wall for performers to interact with, and a monitor overlayed with a cardboard train glowed.
This production might not be the best demonstration of what Google tools are capable of for theatre-makers. During the show itself, we mainly sat and watched together in the typical attitude of an audience (which was something of a relief; chat windows can be distracting and even intimidating for those less confident broadcasting their digital selves). It is, however, an excellent example of what The Last Great Hunt is capable of.
The live performance is preserved as a recording on the company’s YouTube channel, and has already racked up almost 2k views following last night’s live audience of 145.