Bareboards Productions in association with B Sharp presents the Australian Premiere of: BLISS, written by Olivier Choiniere and translated by Caryl Churchill, at the Downstairs Belvoir.
BLISS written by a Quebecois, Olivier Choiniere, and translated by Caryl Churchill in 2008, is set in a supermarket (an accurately depressingly realistic design by Justin Nardella - other play works by this writer have been site specific [Mr Choiniere's own company: L'Activite] and the Designer and Director (Shannon Murphy) seem to have taken their design inspiration from that fact - it is truly, wonderfully accurate!!!) and concerns mostly the fantasy of one of the young staff members, Isabelle (Krew Boylan), who in her boredom fantasises about a possible life role with her celebrity idol, Celine Dion (her image being on the cover of a magazine in the market she works at, sparking her inventions). Three other staff members become useful imaginative agents for the fantasy of this pathetic young woman. Each of them have their job function: Manager (Simon Corfield), Cosmetics (Libby Fleming) and Display (Matt Hardie) printed on an identity badge, (backwards !!!!) on their uniforms/costumes. On cue they become tools for different roles in the obssessional imaginary world that Isabelle creates for herself, partaking in the real life tragedy and celebrity worship of Celine Dion.
The subject matter of the writer, of a young culturally impoverished being taking flights of fancy, out of boredom, using other more seemingly glamorous lives, as a substitute for their own desolate world, is hardly new territory in the theatre or recent film. Nor is the form of writing - (note as recently as UNDER ICE, Falk Richter, in the Sydney Theatre go-round). None of these characters actually interact - it is mostly third hand narration to the audience and is a kind of therapy technique of abreaction, (which was introduced to me by Dr Dysart in his treatment of the horse blinder Alan Strang in EQUUS in the "dark ages" of the seventies - Peter Schaeffer). The actors narrate the events whilst illustrating them. All of the acting, in this production, tends to reach for the comedy (satiric!!!) and are generally entertaining in an untidy kind of way. Ms Boylan switches on to a deeper connection to her character's plight towards the end of the play and begins to move us, but it is quite a considerable wait into the proceedings.
The choreography of Johanna Puglisi is one of the more focusing energies of the production. The Lighting Design by Verity Hampson is her usual inventive and aesthetic self (high quality) while Steve Toulmin's Composition and Sound Design is simply pragmatic.
The evening was, for most of the audience, kind of fun, but I could hardly begin to comprehend the reason to produce this play. There was nothing much being said anew and really no new way of saying it. The acting and directing, generally sufficient but not transporting. The fact that Caryl Churchill had translated it, the only point of curiosity for me. Unfortunately, it still is. (Ms Churchill has personal history with Canada, the only obvious reason I can decipher for her to do it.)
I have recently read M.J. Hyland's novel THIS IS HOW. It, like this play, is told through the narration of the protagonist, in that case, Patrick Oxtoby. The imaginative demands and responsibility that that makes on the reader is demanding on all sorts of levels. The level of care and concern for the character I was imagining through the prompting of the writer, I found very daunting to do. In this play, then, a similar technique is meted out but with the imaginative work being further presented by actors. I did not feel that the work that the director asked of her actors was interesting enough for me to engage with. My reading of the play had a bigger affect on me. So, I am curious to ponder how could the work of the actor could be more useful for the theatre experience of this play. A more stylised approach, a more physically detailed and disciplined technique to the manner of the imaginative creations of Isabelle? To have a more direct contrast between the opening naturalism of the opening of the supermarket, as per this production, to demarcate the real life world and the world of fantasy? An element of magic was missing for me that would have lifted this well worn thematic territory and literary style out of the ordinary and familiar. Is that it?
I felt that here was an opportunity only half grasped. Adequately sufficient. It was not altogether an experience of BLISS.
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