Coil | re:group performance collective

Image by Jacquie Manning

Fewer and fewer people these days have memories of pulling into the local video or DVD rental store to choose the selection of titles you would consume over the weekend. The closure of Blockbuster in 2014 felt like a huge blow to the industry as streaming services like Netflix took over. In the years since, more and more small, independent rental stores have met the same fate. Coil is an homage to those days and the memories so deeply embedded in films.

re:group performance collective are a group of artists joined together by a love of film and theatre which they have morphed into a hybrid form called “live cinema”. Many companies have tried over the years, with varying results, to integrate film and live recording into theatre productions with a lot of innovation intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic and the sudden pivot to more online content. What sets re:group and Coil apart, though, is how they incorporate film and theatre into each other for an entirely new performance experience and end production.

The stage setting recreated the interior of a DVD rental store, specifically Leading Edge Video in Thirroul which closed in 2021. Racks of DVD cases and walls lined with movie posters was immediately nostalgic and exciting, thrumming with the possibility of a new favourite film yet to be discovered, or maybe just the buzz of the white florescent lighting.

Coil was structured across three levels that overlapped and alternated until the final reveal of a movie trailer for the film Coil (screen play written by Mark Rogers). Steve Wilson-Alexander introduced the production and other performers Solomon Thomas, in charge of the camera and recording, and Carly Young, co-star and behind-the-scenes technician. To begin, Wilson-Alexander explained the premise of the show in a direct-to-audience reflection on nostalgia, the film and film rental industry, and the origins of re:group, but this was a meta-narrative over top the second level of performance: a movie about Steve, a man working at a closing down Leading Edge Video who can’t let go of the good old days with best mate Carly, who has since moved to Hobart and moved on from their uni days. As a surprise, Steve dug up Carly’s old, discarded script for a short film Coil (about a time travelling lawyer who falls in love with himself from the future/past and discovers that time isn’t linear, it coils) and he films a full trailer for it while alone in the video store. In between thoughts about how film has changed his life, Wilson-Alexander broke into character while Thomas recorded lines and expressions that they later spliced together into the film of Steve and Carly. So, three levels. One, Wilson-Alexander explaining the making of re:group and Coil, the theatre show. Two, Steve making the trailer for Coil, the short film. Three, the trailer for Coil, the short film. It is difficult to explain but it was seamlessly produced on stage with Wilson-Alexander, Thomas, and Young moving between levels like a well-oiled machine.

The show was funny, light-hearted with the essence of a passion project but executed with remarkable professionalism and precision. The performers balanced the best elements of film and theatre from the timing and subtly of close-shot film to the charisma and vulnerability of live performance. In particular, the energy of Wilson-Alexander and Thomas as they created the necessary filmed clips was infectious and pulled the audience fully into the production on each level. At the same time, watching the film trailer for a sci-fi movie about time travel with flickering lights and atmospheric sound design by Liam “Snowy” Halliwell and then watching how that live action translated to screen made it feel like we had lived through the movie, literally experiencing the darkened stage and thunder claps alongside the characters. Or maybe that’s an enthusiastic exaggeration of the blurred boundaries Coil worked within. Either way, it was cool to see.

People often talk about “movie magic” or “theatre magic”, the ability for artists to hide the specifics of their creations and leave audiences wondering, “How did they do that?” What was so exciting about what re:group did with Coil was that they revealed exactly how they made a film, while they also made a theatre production, but it did nothing to lessen how impressive the endeavour and their talents are. A charming reminisce about art and change told in a very technically original way; the best of both worlds.

Coil is running at the Sydney Opera House’s Studio from June 8th – 11th as part of UnWrapped

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