Once In Royal David’s City @ State Theatre Centre

 Photo Credit: Phillip Gostelow

Photo Credit: Phillip Gostelow

Director: Sam Strong

Playwright: Michael Gow

Produced by: Black Swan State Theatre Company & Queensland Theatre Company

Cast: Jason Klarwein, Adam Booth, Penny Everingham et al.

 

The title is a hell of a tongue twister and a reference to an obscure Christmas carol that one may have never encountered in childhood, but don’t let that detract from a what is a very good piece of performance theatre.

Once In Royal David’s City is a story about Will Drummond (Jason Klarwein), an idealistic and at times pretentious theatre director trying to make sense of his life and his place in the world when he has to come to terms with the impending death of his mother, not long after he had lost his own father- and it is also Christmas time. To cope with these turn of events Will muses on the writings of German playwright Bertolt Brecht and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, and his faith in Christianity.

The play owes a lot to Brecht himself, to a point of homage, utilizing his style of staging- the ‘alienation effect’ often referenced throughout- where the actors would move props into the blank stage as the scene transitions, and frequently breaking the fourth wall to lecture directly to the audience. Whether the motifs of religion, Christmas and Marxism come too strongly is a matter of personal taste, though arguably one could point out that it is in character at the very least. There are also many moments of joy and levity that break up the heavy and somber themes that anchor the play.

The production aspects of the play looks and feels like money and effort has been put into it- even when one considers the style of the play’s staging. The aural aspects aren’t really utilized, aside from the background Christmas carol cheer (for the purposes of setting) and the pre-recorded choir tracks, but it doesn’t need to. The performances are excellent, and don’t miss a beat, given that each actor plays multiple roles (standard in contemporary theatre practice).

Once In David’s Royal City is a play with genuine, well-crafted, touching scenes, and ponders on the human condition, whilst not delivering it in a way that feels forced. Whilst to a good portion of the audience, the high art references may fly over heads, or find an introductory lesson in Marxism 101 a bit cringeworthy, it’s still worth the time to see the talent on stage.

(Once in David's Royal City runs until 9th of April)

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4

Developer: Bioware (Montreal branch)

Publisher: EA Games

 

At the start of the year, Mass Effect: Andromeda was highly anticipated and a lot of gamers were excited for. A couple of controversies (on a technical level, coupled with the hiring practices of the developer (a topic that will not be discussed here), knocked a little out of that wind. Now that it’s out there, its time to give it a spin.

For those not familiar with the original trilogy that inspired this title- the Mass Effect series, which consisted of a trilogy of games that told the story of John/Jane Shepard, humanity’s first Spectre (think Daniel Craig’s 007 in space), and eventual hero in the galaxy’s war against the Reapers, a terrifying, genocidal enemy. Mass Effect: Andromeda answers a what-if question: What if the series had gone in the vein of the first game (which had a more exploratory feel to it), rather than the eventual Battlestar Galactica + Star Wars mash up that it finished in.

ME:A is set in the Andromeda Galaxy, 2.5 million years away from our own Milky Way (in our timeline, we haven’t found Prothean artifacts or encountered/declared war on Turians), and focuses on the story of humanity’s quest for a new home in a new galaxy, 600 years after the events of the original trilogy. You play as one of the Ryder twins, Scott and Sara, accompanying your dad Alec, a Pathfinder (which you will eventually become) to this final frontier of the human experience as part of the Andromeda Initiative, a privately funded, Elon Musk-esque inter-species effort to scout, settle and colonize this new galaxy.

For all its faults (more on that later), ME:A is visually stunning, especially the alien environments it is trying to depict. From our first planetfall (and what an epic, kick-ass planetfall it was) we are treated to a skyline cascade of floating rocks (someone must have taken took a look at Magic: The Gathering’s Battle for Zendikar art book, and said we should have that). The combat is a massive improvement over the original, and is actually fun. For starters, you get a true 3d space to move around in, a la the developer’s previous title, Dragon Age: Inquisition. Secondly, they’ve finally done away with the arbitrary, strait-jacket, military specialization system, in favour of a supermarket, pick-and-mix approach to character builds to suit each player’s play style. I’m going to be a biotic god that will sweep like a great wind, and there’s nothing the game can’t do to stop me.

 My own Ryder ready for duty. Somehow this one looks good, except under unflattering lighting. Also note racial diversity. 

My own Ryder ready for duty. Somehow this one looks good, except under unflattering lighting. Also note racial diversity. 

It’s faults- and they are stark, and immediately noticeable. Nearly 75% and upward is on all on a technical level. Facial animations- the subject of internet gamer culture controversy (and plus an unfair, detestable Gamergater rant), as well as shitpostery and .gif memes- are way off for a title of this magnitude. One could spend a hour taking one of the absurdly ugly face presets, salvage it and make it presentable, and then have it ruined the moment your character moves a muscle. Following on that, the game suffers from some pretty poor optimization issues across the board- for comparison The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt looks far better and run at a constant 60 frame rate per second, at extremely high graphical settings. And this is compounded by some quality of life issues- for example, the game’s ‘combat profile’ system comes to mind, which lets you save to 4 different configurations, with 3 powers each, and switching from one to the other as the ebb and flow of battle dictates. You know what would be better in a life-or-death firefight? Having access to all of it at once- I get that its extremely lore friendly, technically fluid and easier for the console peasants out there. Oh, and dear Galaxy Map, taking 15-20 seconds to travel from planet to planet in any given system, adds up to a lot of waiting.

The Mass Effect series has always thrilled, excited and inspired sound and score aficionados, and Andromeda is no different. The most iconic soundtrack from the entire trilogy is not anything from all the game’s most dramatic moments, but the humble track when you are exploring on the Galaxy Map. This track, from its first iteration to slightly refined and more harmonic layers as technology improves, remains an inspiration to electronic musicians across the world.

Though it may have tried to go where no game has gone before, and did not find its destination in safe harbor, Mass Effect: Andromeda is still a great, epic adventure and worth your money if you can bear with its faults.