Tag Archives: ethics

Review: Next Wave – 2008 Indigenous Program

Bindi Cole: Not Really Aboriginal. Thursday May 22 – Thursday June 5 2008, at Centre for Contemporary Photography, 404 George Street, Fitzroy. 12:00-5:00PM, Wed-Sat.

Urgent. Courthouse Youth Arts Centre, in partnership with Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative. Directed by Julia Torpey. Designer: Tanja Beer. Directing Mentor: Glenn Shea. Performing mentor & choreographer: Nikki Ashby. Performers: Robyn Knowles, Jess Hargraves, Caleena Sansbury, Johannes Scherpenhuizen, Colin Glass. Contributing Artist: Richard McKinnon. Season ended.

Wrong Skin. Written by Allan Clarke. Artists: Allan Clarke, Colin Kinchela, Mathew Shields. Season ended.

A version of this text was published online on vibewire.net.

Looking back on the three indigenous works in the Next Wave 2008 program, it appears that they all somewhat failed to come to terms with the exact thing they were trying to express: the place in this country, in the arts of this country, of the indigenous culture.

In the introduction to her photography exhibition, Not Really Aboriginal, Bindi Cole asks:

“What is Aboriginal? According to most white experts and the media, it’s a black person who lives in a remote community, has social issues and claims benefits that are way above what they deserve. So being Aboriginal but white, fairly socially adjusted and living in an urban area, where do I fit in?”


Photo: Bindi Cole

All valid questions, and all left completely unanswered in this program. Instead, there are short circuits, confusion over failures to meet the pre-packaged expectations. In Not Really Aboriginal the blackface sarcasm of white suburban Aborigines can only be a view back from the stage. The balance of power, the place of importance, is reserved for the (white) viewer. It is by no means a self-knowing, self-possessing self-portrait. It is a spit in the face, but looking quite powerless to significantly influence the projected image of what it ought to be for the viewer. It screams, look at me, bending in two in order to give you the picture you want to get!. It may be fuelled by anger, or there may be the complicity of confusion. A single Aboriginal identity, after all, is a product of colonial relations, of an all-engulfing self-awareness: thus the Rainbow Serpent, the pointillist art, the Stolen Generation, the red earth lose their specific meaning and, divorced from all context become empty vessels of a theoretical Aboriginality, offered as the only answer to many-times removed people who identify as indigenous and yet are too young, too white, too urbane, too sedentary, living in too cold climates, to be anything but apprentices in this game of identity. Consequently, is no more empowering than the self-inflicted nude of the female artist, offering a conscious exploitation at best. Powerful, perhaps, as a slap in the white viewer’s face, but let’s not call it empowering.

With this impression, it was Urgent that came across as a more valid of the two theatrical works, despite the clumsiness of the execution, the earnest acting and the under-developed script. It may have been community-based theatre focused chiefly on doing right, on influencing a good change, and with this instrumentalizing an art form in a way it should not be done. But there was a comfortable fluidity in the performances – with the work having gone through a long group development – and a palpable ease on stage that made it so easy to watch these girls, frolicking and occasionally being rather endearingly silly. And. There is. A moment. When. Nikki Ashby as Adele, one of the three daughters of an Aboriginal man, one of the three sisters that have never met, a dance teacher and a consummate clubber, dances a little dance. And it is a true, honest and beautifully executed dance, blending rave with traditional Aboriginal dancing, without a single moment of pretence.

Wrong Skin, quite the contrary, applied considerable skill and talent to a project hopelessly doomed to fail: a fusion of classical tragedy with a classic story from the indigenous canon, one of betrayal, murder and religious conversion in the outback. Merging the strict format of a traditional fable with the strict format of pulp fiction, Wrong Skin ended up replete with clichés, from the incredible monologues to the final multi-suicide to gum leaves strewn on the ground of the Malthouse Tower theatre, covered with red soil. And yet, at the same time, it could barely escape being incredibly pretty. The designers have a real knack for creating a beautiful static moment: if it was presented as a series of tableaus, all of the pedestrian text purged – or even reconfigured into a dance, or physical theatre – it would have had a good chance of being rather decent. The girl, for example, was exquisite in every gesture, a powerful, hypnotic performer – and yet had to fight against each word her character was forced to utter. Talk about waste.

Wrong Skin

The problem was not simply that we were presented with an old, threadbare story devoid of powerful content. It was the fact that these young artists applied their talent to creating a story they themselves cannot relate to – so the audience cannot either. A story of Aboriginal commonplaces, saltbush, gum leaf clichés, rings hollow in everyone's ears.

And so all the three works, in one way or another, put so much redundant power into the hands of the spectator: either by offering her the predigested picture-book Aboriginality, ridiculing the meticulously duplicated image of the same, or advocating a change of mind. But in no work did the aboriginality appear deeply felt, unself-conscious, let alone skillfully transformed into art.

One Italian text, years ago, treating the question of women’s liberation (which in that country is not a given) in a lite and jejune way, suggested that women need to forget their being women, the way a man doesn’t even think of being male, in order to free themselves from the restrictions imposed on their sex. It is a simplistic way of framing the problems of mental minorities, sure, but it rings true. Forgetting yourself would imply, in this case, forgetting all the roles that you and your people have not chosen for yourselves. The way Australian whites do not wave their white flags, nor even think of themselves as a part of the white community. Next Wave certainly does not have a White Program. Is it viable at this point in history? I don’t know. But I am sure that’s the moment when indigenous art can truly become empowering.

Tagged

Attempts on Her Life; or the anatomy of a decade.

Melbourne University Student Union Theatre: Attempts on Her Life. Written by Martin Crimp. Directed by Susie Dee. Sound Design and Composition by Kelly Ryall. Set and Costume Design by Jeminah Reidy. Lighting Design by Niklas Pajanti. Audio-Visual Design by Nicholas Verso. Cast: Rhys Aconley-Jones, Chloe Boreham, Ananth Gopal, Kali Hulme, Joshua Lynzaat, Jen Mackie, Laura Maitland, Jan Mihal, Ella Roberts, Anna Teresa Scheer, Sophie Testart and Megan Twycross. Guild Theatre, University of Melbourne, 16 – 24 May 2008. Bookings on 03) 8344 7447 or www.union.unimelb.edu.au/tickets.

A virtually identical version of this article can be found online on vibewire.net.

There is something about the theatre of blood and sperm (in the sense of a distinct spatio-temporal artistic trend, centred on the UK, but also a bit of Germany, Austria and the ex-Balkans) that seems to me to speak most clearly and precisely of what 1990s were. Watching Attempts on Her Life, a Melbourne University Student Union Theatre production of a 1997 text by Martin Crimp, for the first time I came to realise how our entire worldview changed with the war in Bosnia. It is a view from the distance, and yet to me (who has spent the 1990s somewhat closer to the epicentre) this enormous, eye-opening change of perspective was never reported as accurately as it is in these wounded, screaming plays. Not even by, say, Kusturica. I had a vague idea, previously, that Bosnia became Western Europe's big trauma, a failure of optimism, but never took it seriously ('our suffering is so much bigger'). In retrospect, the crash of hopes within Bosnia was probably complementary, rather than contrasting, to the larger disillusion.

So what really happened in the 1990s? There was our war, a brutal, senseless and incredibly immediate war. In Britain, there was the introduction of CCTV and the rise of surveillance society. There were the first doubts on consumerism, channelled through the early slacker fiction. After the ambitious 1980s, it started becoming apparent that our enormous appetite was not just a consequence of our fulfilling ambitions, that it was not a constructive consumption, a transformation of elements. It had turned into consumption for consumption's sake, blind and insatiable, until, to paraphrase both Slavoj Žižek and Viktor Pelevin (1999), it became a monotonous murmur of absorbing and disgorging, joyless but for the punctuating, ever briefer wow!-moments. There was the first mention of eating disorders. Yet the formal rhetoric of the mass (and not so mass) media, inherited from the 1980s, was that of the end of history, the best of all possible worlds, endless joy, how lucky are we?!

Today, the lag between what we feel and what we are told to feel is slightly different – post-9/11 world is a sombre world – and the dissident behaviour nowadays is, perhaps, to trust thy neighbour and not feel afraid (see American indie). Then, however, the arts reacted with an explosion of violent nihilism, as if subconsciously we were trying to heal the gap between what we heard and what we felt. It was the decade of Trainspotting (1996), Nirvana (1991-1994), Tracy Emin, The Prodigy (early 1990s), Fight Club (1999). Even reading early Bridget Jones (1995) leaves an aftertaste, for all the shopping and gossiping is framed by dysfunctional eating and persistent binge drinking. When the towers collapsed, Baudrillard said they had to; we had been making them collapse in films so persistently we brought it on ourselves. Our return of the repressed. But perhaps it was simply the external reality bursting the same feel-good bubble that we were trying to burst from the inside, through our art, all along.

It was all slightly different elsewhere. While Europe had a real war on its doorstep, the US had a televised one that – again quoth Baudrillard – never happened. I would be curious to know what an Australian subject in 2008 may find in Attempts on Her Life, what sort of reading they would have. Perhaps the war on terror has created the same de-localised anxiety here. But my entire life flashed before my eyes. In-yer-face was so good, so accurate at nailing the threads that connected our fears. Perhaps it is the theatrical medium that allowed these plays to circumvent plot, cause and effect, setting or rounded characters, and keep alive the tenuous threads between acts and emotions, that now makes them such a mirror of a decade. In Blasted (1995), the violence Out There and its impact on our ability to love. In Family Stories (1998), the guilt for our children's future. In Woman-Bomb (2003, but it counts), the raging impotence in the face of coerced serenity, governmental soothing.

In Attempts, the inability to quite pinpoint what it is that worries us, between the everyday hedonism here and immense suffering elsewhere, results in a disconnected series of semi-portraits, of semi-stories, of variations on a feeling. The text is subtitled 17 Scenarios for theatre: the death of Anna, Anny, Anja, Anushka, figurative, artistic or medically sound, is narrated in fragments, dialogues, commentary, songs, video, arguments, answering machine messages. Recurring motifs are war, femininity, surveillance, despair. Not innocently, the empty vessel on whose person the scenarios are played out is a woman.

Melbourne University Student Union Theatre's production, in the skillful hands of Susie Dee, plays with the possibilities of theatre. As much as the context of certain dialogues is transparent, they are never staged literally, but hover in a dreamspace, a not-quite-space. As a result, the production refrains from situating the meaning in any one place (imagine the boredom of 17 times same), leaving it both associative and open-ended.

Photo credits: Vicki Jones

Jeminah Reidy's set puts the audience in the centre, in a swarm of swivel chairs, while the stage hugs the sides of the theatre, as a long, white, tiled underground station. The actors (for there are no characters) talk to each other, argue, across the auditorium, which results in some beautiful mass movement, as audience members swivel left to right, following the action. From one fragment of a story to another, the focus shifts from left to right, backstage to front, until, all possibilities exhausted, it ends exactly where it started. Cyclic nature of life or exhaustion, it nonetheless feels complete, concluded.

Some of the attempts on her life are simply exquisite: a battle of art criticism over her posthumous exhibition of suicide notes, despite all its mime of realism staged as a dream, a nightmare, of a gallery opening. Autobiography of a sex worker (replete with vivre-sa-vie-claims), confessed in third-person (restrained and fragile Megan Twycross), behind a screen, with a mass dance, interrupted half-way and from then on dictated by the translator (militantly French Chloe Boreham). An unexpected song (excellent Kali Hulme). The central point of the performance to me seemed to be a faux-advertisement for pink caddillac Anny, presented in Bosnian Croatian (I may have misheard here, and if so I apologise for any offense) with a sexy MC (rather good-looking Jan Mihal), turbo-folk music and three dancers in fluorescent pink parkas (overflowing with references to nouveau riche, war profiteers, the new bad taste). As the advertisement progressively degenerated, turning from the sum of our desires („always a beautiful blonde inside“) into the sum of our repressed anxieties (with „no room for Gypsies, Arabs, Kurds, blacks“), I was reminded not only of the vast semantic cathedral attached to the possession of a good car in a place like Bosnia, but also of those sarcastic news programs Danijel Žeželj created in Sun City (1993), in which genocide, wars, and new ozone holes were interspersed with hardcore porn and an order: smile wider!, wider!

Is Melbourne University Student Union Theatre always this good? Was I meant to be aware? Only the occasional acting glitch points to this being a non-professional production, rather than something that Malthouse could be staging. Right. Now. It did help that Crimp’s play may be the most brutally, icily poetic text I have encountered in a Melbourne theatre in a while. Whichever way, this outstandingly creative and courageous production may be the best thing currently playing.

See also: On Stage (and walls)

Tagged , , , , ,

Venus in Furs;

It's been recently asked, why are 19th-century pieces re-worked, dissected and performed all over Melbourne these days?, and I can only quote in response that 19th century art was

paintings in a succession of new styles, which saw the world in different ways, and a flood tide of novels and poetry depicting the struggles of modern men and women in their search for identity, love and meaning – from Madame Bovary to J. Alfred Pruftock, Lady Chatterley and Dean Moriarty. (Richard Florida, of all people!)

19th century was the beginning of modernism, and of doubts. Whereas 18th century reads like a collection of pamphlets (and I say again: de Sade first among equals), everyone was so positivist and certain, 19th century was the beginning of that earnest, modernist, search for answers. To the extent that very often it doesn't matter what the author's personal conclusion was: the journey remains fresh and untainted by answers. That Ana Karenjina was composed as Tolstoj's manifesto for humble marital collaboration, that Ana's character was conceived as the accusatory portrait of a person of weak morals, does not mean much today, and certainly does not cloud the extraordinarily sympathetic depiction of a woman looking for meaning of life, as things were, in romance.

Neal Harvey's triumphal adaptation of what could have been a very daggy little relict of someone else's erotica completely understands this point: Venus in Furs, currently playing at Theatreworks, steps carefully around sex and fetish, to outline this search for the best way to love and be in love. We are as concerned with the ways we relate to people now as we were in 1800s, and this play speaks of and to our time.

My review of Venus in Furs is now available online at vibewire.net. It tries to talk with the play, rather than of the play, which is always what I'm looking to find in a review.

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda
Dates: 2-18 May
Times: Tues – Sat @ 8.00pm; Sun @ 6.00pm
Tickets: Adults $25, Concession $20
Bookings: (03) 9534 3388, www.theatreworks.org.au

Tagged , , , ,

The Kreutzer Sonata/A Large Attendance in the Antechamber; angrily.

30.xi. 2007. La Mama presents: The Kreutzer Sonata. A Night Train Production. Based on a story by Lev Tolstoy. Adapted and performed by Humphrey Bower. With music and dolls by Jess Ipkendanz. And lighting by Gwendolyna Holmberg-Gilchrist. Season ended.

2.xii.2007. Malthouse Theatre: A Large Attendance in the Antechamber. Written, designed and performed by Mr Brian Lipson (and Sir Francis Galton). Tower Theatre, 20 Nov-9 Dec 2007.

The appreciation of anything, let alone art, depends to a great extent on the milieu of the said thing, and to assign genius or divine inspiration to something that touched you personally may be a myopic gesture in confronts to the entire world outside your self. On the other hand, to try to control the dynamics of the performer-audience relationship is a mad desire: I enter theatres immersed in deep thoughts on the implications of the safety discourse on children and women; putting together a manifesto on the need to accept risk in public space or how not all flirting is harassment; irritated by newspaper articles; in love; after a domestic argument; with a layer of anxiety stirring deep inside me after having just witnessed something violent (a car crash, a tax break); or having heard a beautiful piece of music that has left me vulnerable and ready to crack open, like a castle in the sand or a soufflé. How do you account for the possibility of all of that?! That Zeami dedicated sixteen books to this relationship is not a coincidence (Zeami whose father was able to reach both the court audience and the peasants through his complete mastery of nô). The magic of art is in it being, really, a dialogue. It speaks to you, you respond back. We could argue: hence Jérôme Bel now, and not those people doing the same twenty years ago. The audience is different, and it matters.

Another problem, as usual, is posed by the programming as it is currently in these lands, with not enough time to think if one wants to write in time to reach the audience. This is my old lament: if theatres in English had a repertoire, not merely a performance schedule, there would be less need to immediately assign stars or hats or thumbs up or down to particular little shows, and more time to engage with the ideas, themes, references and implications of particular works, in conjunction with other works. It would be possible to say, I came in thinking about the lyrics in folk music, and the play then made me think, dot dot dot. Is there anyone in this country that gets paid to write on theatre with a lungful of idleness? With the simple joy of writing on theatre? Without the ratings at the bottom or an agenda in the headline? On film, yes and profusely. On visual arts, easily. But on theatre?

Sonata and Antechamber arrived, in pair, after a couple of weeks of mediocre theatre, and how do I even begin to separate my experience from this context? There are other, superficial connections: a lone man on the stage; Humphrey and Brian knowing each other in person; most importantly, both works somehow connected to the existential problems of a nineteenth-century man. Would my opinion of them be different had I seen them in the opposite order? Would it be different had I been reading Dickens or Austen, not feminist rants on the exclusion of women from the nineteenth-century industrial city (complete with praise for the anti-flirt clubs of the 1920s)? Of course it would. So, instead of bending over text in order to justify why one left me shivering, and the other puzzled and slightly irritated, would it be possible to use the audience-art dynamics positively, and argue? For what else there is to do, once you're confronted with competent theatre? We're not here to watch, nod, and mumble, yes, well done; that's good lighting; that's nice delivery of volume and void. Imagine reading Dostoyevsky and going, hmm, that's good sentence structure.

The Kreutzer Sonata was an immensely delicate theatrical handling of a very sophisticated piece of literature. It seemed so easy, so effortless; and so does the Sistine Chapel, mind you. It was made out of nothing, it seemed at the time. Ether. Some Tolstoy and some Beethoven. One man with a voice, one woman with an electric piano and a violin, and a voice herself. Some dolls. Two chairs. Very little movement. Not a word too many. A man speaking, a woman accompanying on piano and violin, harmoniously complementing each other, never a note nor a word out of sync, I wondered if they were married more than once. And, two minutes into the show, nobody in the audience was breathing anymore. That theatre hypnosis, that sense of acutely aware immersion into unreality, descended upon us more completely than I had ever felt before. One man and one woman, holding us on their palm like a perfectly still raindrop.

kreutzer

Lola at Australian Stage very accurately compared it to being read to and, indeed, I spent a lot of time afterwards wondering why in the world this wasn't bad theatre when I myself kept thinking of radio. More specifically, of bedtime radio stories.

(My parents, very unusually for our time and place in society, read to me a lot, before learning to rationalise their energy and recording their greatest hits on audio tapes. Later I discovered the 19:45 (7.45p.m.) bedtime story on Croatian radio, and taped them instead. Originally simply read by a number of rotating people with trained voices, I returned to the 19:45 bedtime story some years later, nostalgically, only to find it corrupted by special effects, multiple voices, and – shock and horror – attempts at acting. Perhaps this is why, to this day, I am unimpressed by plays for voices and yet, to this day, my more romantic friends and I occasionally read to each other when bed-sharing occurs, on summer holidays and intercontinental visits.)

In retrospect, there was so much potential for failure, and the biggest success of Sonata may have been even more in what it avoided than in what it achieved. There was no attempt to enliven the form by speeding up, adding physical movement, by caricaturing minor characters, by removing the gravity and adding the farce – all things that Bell Shakespeare's atrocious The Government Inspector did recently; it was all most restrained, yet it was the most engrossing piece of theatre I had seen for a long time. There was, most significantly, no Russianly-pronounced English. Even the matryoshkas appeared delicately, just a little touch of recognition that this is a Russian story. But was it theatrical? There was movement. The story of the train passenger's tale unravelled, so dolls appeared, out of a suitcase, out of Bower's pockets, illustrating different characters. They were never put away, simply left standing on the little stage, in the corners, surrounding Bower, just like, when being told a story, one is introduced to a growing set of faces, names, behaviours, who don't simply disappear, but accumulate in the corners of the room. There was music, and the incredible harmony of music and spoken word, and there was the climax – much before the wife is murdered – with the dolls and Bower and Beethoven all rising high, with the protagonist pleading,

What is music? Why does it do what it does? They say that music stirs the soul. Stupidity! A lie! It acts, it acts frightfully! Music makes me forget my real situation. It transports me into a state which is not my own. Under the influence of music I really seem to feel what I do not feel, to understand what I do not understand, to have powers which I cannot have.,

and with yours truly in tears, devastated, amidst a shivering audience: feeling what?, and why?, the same confusion, the same unexplained shower of emotion. Why? How did they do what they did? I don't know. Was it theatre? It had to be theatre. Even if we argue that it was story-telling on stage, that it was a spoken-word performance, it brought a classic alive, in the way I never thought possible. It didn't make us indulge into our ability to appreciate dead nineteenth century worrrds, it rendered, with great effect, one man's attempt to grapple with meaning of art, love and life.

It served to remind me, ultimately, of high art, not in that dead, impotent, Robin Usher sense, but high art as Beethoven and as Tolstoy. High as in achievement, as in something done so well there is no point in doing it ever again. The more I thought that night, the angrier I got. I am a fan of both 19th century psychological realism and late baroque. While I dropped classical music for marital reasons, I abandoned Russian realism since moving to Melbourne for the sheer problem of beauty: used as I was to Zlatko Crnković's excellent translations that seemed to find the shared Slavic heritage for every word translated, that had me weeping over the resounding beauty of my own language reflecting in Dostojevsky, I could not imagine ever reading Russians through English. Instead, I decided, I would read all those Anglophones in original.

That night, I remembered my first visit to England, and the acute feeling I had then that the entire world is mistaken: that there is nothing that this country has given to the world of much consequence. Unwrapping the bundle we call world heritage, and excluding Shakespeare (who successfully presented some pertinent themes of his time in form that's still universally used), what art has been given to us by the Angles? Turner, yes, I thought. Some excellent literary modernism. But the rest, it seemed to me, was a bundle of affectation and cliché, or hobbyistic; short stops between more significant epochs and movements; Edgar Allan Poe between Goethe and Baudelaire. Detective novels! Landscape painting! Witty dialogue! That Oscar Wilde, really, is a writer of fairy tales, that Jane Austen's oeuvre was chick lit before its time (chick lit itself being a quintessentially Anglophone genre), and let's not forget the time I forced myself through Lady Chatterley's Lover (granted, in an atrocious translation, but one straight out of its time) and came out dismayed at the very thought of having to have sex ever again. D. H. Lawrence being a sort of pre-Raphaelite with a differing agenda. The easy moralism of Dickens, the emotional dishonesty of Wilde, the preponderance of quick wit, of nice turn of phrase, at the expense of genuine, you know, attempt to grasp meaning, to tell a truth. And all this, I thought, would not be such a huge issue – because would Croatia fare better on the scales of universal dharma?, no – were it not for the arrogance with which the English dismissed the entire non-Anglophone world, opting instead for the endless placid self-referentiality, which infuriated me while I was there. Why, I was thinking all night, have I been trying at all? I could have been reading Gogol, I could have been reading Stendhal, I could have been reading Balzac, Hamsun, Goethe, Chekhov and Chinese contemporary literature. I could have been re-reading Tolstoy, good grief, or some other of the Russian giants. Sonata reminded me of how much we owe to these writers, people one doesn't read simply to be able to use a nice phrase later, in conversation, during dinner parties; people one reads in order to understand life. In order to become a better human being.

I was very angry that night. I was, in my mind, denouncing table manners, smart tailoring, proper essay format, punctual clocks, and everything else I could somehow relate to the stale, polite Englishness that barred this/that civilisation from engaging in pursuit of truth and beauty with the brio of one Lev Tolstoy, or Ludwig van Beethoven.

And by now, dear reader, you may be predicting the problems encountered when two days later I witnessed A Large Attendance in the Antechamber. Oh, it's quality theatre again! Oh, the timing is right, the lighting works, the amount of seating is well-judged, all the theatrical trends are spot-on – the form is played with, the characters rebel from the author, the set collapses at the end – and it is by no means boring. Sir Francis Galton is impersonated by Brian Lipson to full effect, in a little box that makes him look deliciously funny. But to what purpose? I walked out asking myself and everyone else: why did that show exist? What gave Lipson the urge to create it? What did it want from us?

antechamber

The logic of Antechamber, narrative, emotional, was opaque. There was not necessarily any need for the audience to be present: it was structured as Lipson's fight with Galton, for Lipson to explore his own engagement with Galton. When it ended, it ended due to the logic of this battle, not necessarily because the audience reached a stopping point. I, as an audience member, did not feel I've come to the end of the paragraph. To me, it was all getting murkier and murkier, harder and harder to follow, until it collapsed. Do you argue with a giant such as Tolstoy in here? Maybe you should. Maybe the careful pushing of buttons that Sonata achieved, pushing us up the ladder of paranoia (this man will kill his wife), then distracting us with Beethoven, love, faith, meaning of life, so that finally death hits us from a completely unanticipated angle, maybe that's something that postmodern form-destroying theatre should be capable of. Or learn.

It felt undecided: there was a man giving an honest lecture of his ideas, but trapped in a tiny box, dressed in a ridiculous costume, a man turned into a farce. What do you do when a farce is on eugenics? What was the purpose of Antechamber? To make the audience squirm, for sure. To make us think, oh-this-Galton-fellow, he had uncomfortable ideas about eugenics. Was that such a great leap of intellect? Was it meant to be? Was I meant to be shocked? Was I expected to be holding the Victorian male in much higher esteem before entering Tower Theatre? Was I expected not to know that the nineteenth-century Englishman also invented the concentration camp, and think, instead, that it was a fine and venerable creature? Would an honest engagement with Galton, as I think, involve getting under the skin of an emotionally poor human being in an emotionally poor civilization, stripping it down, feeling the soft bits, letting it out? I think so; and I think there are artists who do that within the twentienth-century form: Brecht, Kane, Lally Katz. As a farce, instead, Antechamber was in an emotionally very slippery place: it was provoking a hearty laugh on these silly people who, haha, had in them the seed of everything rotten about the twentieth century. How funny. How quaintly problematic. Let's be witty about it.

The simple fact that it was, fundamentally, a show about Brian Lipson was problematic in its own right. That it wasn't a show about Sir Francis Galton, the ultimate man of Victorian England, was another. While Sonata was an honest theatrical engagement with a text that honestly explored, without holding back, the problem of existing as a nineteenth-century male, Antechamber was a mannerist non-grappling with the same non-grappling Victorian male, who preferred to make maps of pretty girls and drink bloody tea to engaging with another human being. If Galton was alive today he'd be renovating. He'd be train-spotting. Bush-walking. Having any of the myriad pointless hobbies, all of which seem to require inelegant clothing, that the Angles are so dedicated to, and that most other peoples have no need for, because they have healthy sex; talk to their neighbours; tell their partners they love them; drink their alcohol without a sense of guilt; and go out with their underage children late at night. (If poked only a little bit more, I'll break into a rant on anti-flirt clubs.)

Antechamber is still a show worth seeing, for the stagecraft, for the ideas, for the unexpected; and because going to theatre is a life-affirming act, while watching televised sport is not. It is by no means unintelligent, boring, or incapable of making one think lots of interesting thoughts later; but you do understand that I feel an obligation to include this paragraph, this ultimate act of thumbs-up, because the theatres in this country have performance schedules, and not repertoires?

SEE ALSO:
on Kreutzer: Lola MacMillan's review at Australian Stage Online;

on Antechamber:
Alison's review at Theatre Notes;
Cameron's review in The Age;
Michael Magnusson's review at OnStage Melb;
some background info from the ever-wonderful Chris Boyd at The Morning After.

Tagged , , , ,