Friday, April 25, 2008
MOVING TARGETS by Marius von Mayenburg (translated by Maja Zade) was developed from scratch with the director Benedict Andrews over several years of collaboration, since 2005, with 6 hand picked Australian actors. From discussions the actors were given “a book called THE SECRET PROJECT”, which was the source of company discussions and improvisations etc. What was intriguing for me was the fact that this work of Mr Andrews was to be around an original work developed by him with a living and present writer. I have been puzzled by the other work of Mr Andrews for many years, and the fact that critics, other professional peers and certainly the arbiters of what is committed to and shown to our audiences, that is the major companies :the Sydney Theatre Company, Belvoir’s Company B and in this instance the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne The Adelaide Bank Festival of Arts and The Sydney Opera House, have supported his development, I would at last see what he is about without the fear of literary vandalism. I have witnessed over the past few years his approach to Calderon’s LIFE IS A DREAM, Chekov’s THREE SISTERS, Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, Patrick White’s THE SEASON AT SARSPARILLA, and last year, Albee’s WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? It seemed to me Appropriated Art. Taking someone else’s art and reducing it to his own interests with little respect for the writer’s intention. And I was usually made angry then inpatient and finally bored. Reduced to an inertia of boredom. So I went with some hope of enlightenment . Alas this was not my experience.
This performance had already had the benefit of a season at the Malthouse in Melbourne, a short season at the Adelaide Festival and was in it’s second week of presentation in Sydney. I saw 6 actors in grungy street costume in a dirty white three walled wooden oblong box with an untreated wooden floor, a table, a tablecloth, a long red lounge, a piece of stained red carpet, two chairs, a sleeping bag and a couple of toys. They began to play Hide and Seek and played it continuously on and off over the next two hours without an interval break. There were No Exits on the set. This should have warned me of the coming HELL.
What did I learn from this incarceration? I gathered that we live in fearful times. An age of terrorism. If we ignore what is going on we are in trouble and/or if we do something about it, it may lead to even worse trouble. This I knew already. Reading better informed critics (eg. Keith Gallasch and Virginia Baxter in real time rt84) it seems it was about Children and Parents, and from the Director’s notes “how this little community of strangers operate as players and storytellers. It displays the construction and erasure of a missing protagonist, and it studies stagings of absence and presence”!!!!!! The problem is that the whole storytelling tools used are all abstraced as well. Maybe full of meaning to the creators but not with enough clues for me to begin to read what was going on. I was not invited to work with these actors but to observe them. To watch them. The techniques of the acting - communicative styles were that of pretence. Pretend thankfulness, pretend fear, pretend petulance, pretend surprise, pretend everything!!! Not a single thing I could identify with and believe in to begin to participate ; rather it was a lecture that I must watch and solve. In an Objective place. Since the acting was self affecting and self absorbed and self satisfied I did not feel that I needed to be there. I made not a mote of difference to them. They would have gone on doing what they were doing with or without me. The other tools of the production: Lighting that was glaringly bright and intense to depressingly dim with bursts towards the end, of multi-colours to produce pretty shadows on the dirty walls; banging into the walls and stamping on the floor (such noise), a live microphone which could be yelled in to, random sampling of sounds played loudly or irritatingly without reason except for affect and amongst others things towards the end, finger paintings executed and stuck to the wall; the actors finding reels of beige masking tape and sticking it to the set walls and pulling it across the space to make a spider web of tape in which the actors hid ,whilst on hand held microphones, they delivered the final words of the text. By this time I simply looked at the floor in abject surrender hoping that my release from this No Exit of Hell would happen soon. The text and the production technique had truly alienated me. The text seemed banal and the techniques derivative, arbitrary tricks. They never seemed to be part of a need to communicate to an audience. There was no organic need for anything .I kept thinking I would rather sit through another journey of say Richard Foreman, Charles Mee or Mac Wellman than Marius von Mayenburg. Even,to stay in Germany, Rolan Schimmelphening.
As I climbed the steps out of The Studio Space at The Sydney Opera House fleeing an Artist Conversation with the Company, I suddenly recalled that it was here that I had witnessed Kantor’s DEAD CLASS many years ago. It, too, had come to Sydney via an Adelaide Festival. But that was an explorative work that had vision, coherence, and an outrage of experimental technique that still cared for the fact that there was an audience that it wanted to share the work with. It was one of my high benchmarks of theatre going. This was a bench mark, but at the other end of the scale.
Now please understand that I think Benedict Andrews is sincere. But for goodness sake give him a grant and put him in a Laboratory with his “creatives” and when his ideas have been given time to incubate then give him to us to experience. Rex Cramphorn was bestowed the opportunities years ago so there is a precedent. It will save a lot of angst. My audience could scarcely be polite enough to applaud the actor’s off the stage. I anticipate with quiet dread his War of the Roses with Cate Blanchett and The Sydney Theatre’s Acting company next January.