Decent Spinster

(Christine Johnston)


Seeking something quirky? Do you want performance art that actually leaves you satisfied? Then you need to share in the bizarre reality of the Decent Spinster, where chaos seems to make sense and the sounds and signs of music can be found anywhere and everywhere.

On entering the performance space you are greeted by the unnerving sounds of music closely resembling a primary school recorder band. (I still shudder at the thought!) The stage is sparse and black dressed only with a film projector, an object resembling a furnace, and a still-life tableau of a standing hair-dryer and mirror. Christine Johnston’s Decent Spinster enters the space in conservative, Victorian garb (with amazingly large hair), illuminated by a hand-held fluorescent camping light..

Enter the Modern Spinster. The musicians accompany her entrance with a brassy dirge. When the Decent Spinster acknowledges the music around her, the musicians mysteriously disappear. Are they really there?.

This is performance art with a narrative. The Decent Spinster takes us on a quest for adventure, art, music, and the inner rebel. Her eclectic journey encounters the beauty of the saw, skateboarders, hotted up cars, netball, bumper stickers and 20th Century music notation. Did you know that you can sing Sports Stripes from the side of cars?.

Decent Spinster is a seamless production thanks to Louise Gough (dramaturg) and Lisa O’Neill (creative and directing consultant) who should be commended for facilitating a production that is fluid, delicate and humorous. It is extremely well constructed and each vignette is tight and concise.

Christine Johnston is an absolute powerhouse performer who is dynamic, controlled and exceptionally talented. Her voice is a virtual mythical instrument producing husky alto tones, crisp bell-like notes, inhuman mumblings, and bird and insect sounds. Christine’s Decent Spinster is always poised, even with the intermittent presence of the odd rap routine.

Sounds all too incredible to believe? Then you must see this!

The other binding force in the show are the musicians attired aptly as modern monks. Trent Arkleysmith, Peter Nelson and Owen Newcomb are highly skilled and competent. They switch with ease from cello and double bass to electric guitars. I must admit that the switch to brass instruments is little bit uneasy, with some tentative playing. Despite the breathless horns, they master a variety of music genres and complement the show admirably.

Decent Spinster doesn’t challenge or shock. Oh no, any performance art can do that. This Spinster welcomes us and invites us to share a slice of her surreal reality. But is it all that strange? Decent Spinster sits somewhere between the unashamedly new and the deceptively familiar. This is a projection tour into the world of the innocent academic. is created through subtle association and repetition. It is the art of taking objects literally, then twisting to find the music and humour within.

This performance is all about the power of endowment. A touch, a sound, a facial movement are all so economical that their meaning is weighty far beyond your everyday, superficial interpretations. That’s not to say it makes the interpretation “deep”. It’s just that you are suddenly looking at and hearing things from another perspective. And what a fun and playful perspective it is!

Decent Spinster is an endearing, charming and palatable piece of performance art. The Decent Spinster is decent, not because she is prudish, but because she is open-minded, adventurous and non-judgmental. She is willing to try anything without bias.

Is there anything more decent than that?

— June Tretheway
(Performance seen: Mon 21st May 2001)