Monday, July 28, 2008

An Oak Tree

AN OAK TREE by Tim Crouch presented by B Sharp and Ride On at BELVOIR St Downstairs Theatre.

This is a Co-Op production. This play has one actor who plays the HYPNOTIST (John Leary) and has rehearsed it for several weeks with the Director (Tanya Goldberg) "This actor wears Walkman/iPod headphones connected to a wireless receiver--this enables the HYPNOTIST to speak to and instruct a second actor through a microphone without the audience hearing." In performance there is a second actor who plays FATHER. "The actor playing FATHER can be either male or female and of any adult age. This actor is completely unrehearsed in their role and walk on stage at the beginning with no knowledge of the play they are about to be in." On the performance I attended Wayne Blair was the actor.

The body of the play deals with a car accident which results in the characters in the play dealing from many points of view with the aftermath--the consequences. However this play uses this as a means to do more than tell a story to an audience. This play examines the CONSENT and the IMAGINATION that we all give to the act of creativity when we buy a ticket, enter and sit down in a theatre space - waiting for a story to be told. The Hypnotist gives the audience a set of rules: to paraphrase, "we are in an RSL club off Oxford Street" and we are. Or to be sure I was!!! Later I am in the Sydney Opera House!!! I know as well that I was beside the road of a car accident. I also know that I saw an Oak Tree become a girl. I also saw the Hypnotist give instructions to the actor playing the Father. WHAT I BELIEVE I SEE. But, I also watched John Leary who was playing the Hypnotist manipulate the performance. I also saw Wayne Blair re-live the action of hugging a tree. I also saw a Father grieving at a roadside near a tree. I also remember empathising with Wayne Blair for his vulnerability and courage in even doing this improvised, in the moment, performance. I was dazzlingly, in both an objective and subjective state of creativity. I was both an active participant and an enthralled observer. I was in and out of it. I in one moment was laughing at a hoary vaudeville joke then gasping with emotion and a real feeling of grief. I was at the places of the events of the play and I was in the theatre and I was conscious of it. But not only that I was also personalising moments in the play and I was conscious of doing it while doing it. I was touching on past and recent experiences in my own life to understand what was happening in front of me. The taking of the dirt near the accident to cover the tree trunk took me back to a book I had just finished that talked of the bible story of Noah’s flood as not a destruction of the known human world but rather as a dissolving. Since we are dust, when you add water we dissolve into mud which, in the action of the play, you rub onto the tree trunk so that the trunk becomes person. The oak tree becomes the girl. This all flashed through my mind while watching the two actors say and do what they had to AND I was involved and conscious also of my thought structure and realising its origins etc. The experiential layering of what was happening to me was mighty.

OH MY GOD did I have a good time!

OH MY GOD I was stimulated in the brief hour of the performance way beyond what was being shown to me and BOY was I also conscious of it. Totally exciting! (This is a totally subjective exclamation.) I only hope you are too when you see it.

The "Creatives": Xanthe Heubel (Designer), Lighting (Verity Hampson) and Composer/Sound Designer (Michael Toisuta) make wonderful contributions. The Sound especially provocative to the imagination. (The passing traffic on the road especially evocative.) (I do wonder if the set design is just too literal and fixed.)

John Leary was terrific and Wayne Blair marvellous.

This performance has a different actor playing the FATHER every performance. It is happening as if for the first time (at least, the Father’s role and the affect on the Hypnotist IS.). Wouldn’t it be fascinating to watch them all? What about when a woman plays the FATHER, as Leah Purcell, Jackie Weaver and Robin McLeavey have done? How fascinating it would be to see the writer, TIM CROUCH, play the role as he will as part of the Melbourne International ARTS Festival later in October. Layers on layers.

Last year I saw Tanya Goldberg’s Direction of Shakespeare’s THE MERCHANT OF VENICE and was struck by two things. Firstly about the quality of thought that went into her reading of this contemporaneously notoriously difficult text. Secondarily the gift she had in elucidating very clean and clear performances from all her actors. A Director who understands and nurtures the actor as artists, not puppets. (I have observed that it is a rare gift.) I believe Ms Golberg is worth encouraging.

Here is a quote from the printed text of the play that I think is worth considering when watching AN OAK TREE (or, as I have after): "The distinction between fact and fiction is a late acquisition of rational thought—unknown to the unconscious, and largely ignored by the emotions." ARTHUR KOESTLER.

When I and others stumbled out into the foyer much excited conversation with relative strangers occurred.

An Oak Tree is no playing until August 10 at Downstairs Belvoir St Theatre.
Bookings online or call 02 9699 3444.

Starring John Leary and guest appearances from some of Australia’s leading actors including Wayne Blair, Patrick Brammal, Brendan Cowell, Joel Edgerton, Eden Falk, John Gaden, Genevieve Hegney, Claudia Karvan, Amy Kersey, Steve Le Marquand, Chas Licciardello, Lech Mackiewicz, Deborah Mailman, Belinda McClory, Robin McLeavy, Amber McMahon, Pacharo Mzembe, Bojana Novakovic, Eddie Perfect, Leah Purcell, Richard Roxburgh, Toby Schmitz, Jeremy Sims, Jacki Weaver and Ursula Yovich.

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