Monday, April 25, 2011


Belvoir presents CUT by Duncan Graham in the Belvoir St. Downstairs Theatre.

This is the third piece of writing by Duncan Graham that I have seen, in Sydney: OLLIE and the MINOTAUR (Downstairs Belvoir St, 2009) and ONE LONG NIGHT IN THE LAND OF NOD (Old Fitzroy,2009), being the other two.

This production, CUT, is certainly the most satisfactory experience of this writer's work that I have had. The artistic collaboration of all of the artists involved, have worked to create a fully rounded gem of performance art- a dramatic monologue.

The space in which the actor, Anita Hegh, moves, is as dark a space as the venue allows: totally black. The lighting design by Danny Pettingill is thus, and necessarily, a complex and densely cued atmospheric palette, that results in some fairly barely perceptible images of this woman as she travels across the stage. We see her mostly haloed, darkly, in haze, and through to fuller visions, to the other extreme, shot with the shock of single strobe glares, that assault the senses of the audience into a visceral recoil and response. It is an intricate 'choreography' with the other artists and audience and is intensely purposeful from moment to moment in the telling of this story.

The short fifty minute monologue also has the actress attached to a microphone. What began, for me, as gimmick, quickly suffuses into a very affective tool (Composer and Sound Design by Ekrem Mulayim). The actor's voice is treated live: pitch-shifted to create dramatic mood shifts and even characterisation developments (reverting to childhood memories etc). The co-ordination of the sound patterns and composition, distortions and volume are harnessed to the lighting effects as well. The integration of these elements was tight, and dramatically striking. Gasps of electronically captured 'live' sounds are attached to shocking blue/white strobe. Sight and aural sensibilities pledged to and for dramatic impact.

The director, Sarah John has created, technically, painstakingly, a marvellous technical apparatus to propel her writer's story. The tools employed by Ms John reminded of the recent performance of the Kosky, THE TELL TALE HEART (here, more rewardingly) or even more repletetedly of Marie Brassard's JIMMY, which was seen at the Opera House Studio a few years ago. It is, however, the craft and art of the actor Anita Hegh that is the ultimate ingredient, accounting for the success of this work.

Anita Hegh, recently giving Sydney audiences a body of work of some outstanding performances, THE WILD DUCK, OUR TOWN, LIKE A FISHBONE, BEYOND THE NECK, and KILLER JOE, here, demonstrates her masterly control of her technical instrument, body and voice, and the transcendence of that technique to a striking creation of a woman in distress.

Duncan Graham’s notes, in the program, spout on and on about: Dostoyevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Aeschylus, Francis Bacon. He concludes: "I hope CUT offers a view of transgression and its mythopoeic beauty; and bears witness of the terrible ambitions of the human spirit: returning the fact of modern life back ' to the nervous system in a more violent way”.

But what Ms Hegh has created, dressed in a taut airline attendant uniform, name badge et al, was the excruciating opportunity to watch a panicked woman in the course of a 24hour daily routine, struggle in the midst of a nervous breakdown to hold herself together. The overwhelming banality of her professional routine, accompanied by her surfeited preoccupation with crime stories of all kinds - literature and television, culminates in an advanced paranoid conjecture of the world around her, throwing her into a fantasy of stalking and vicious killing. All, thankfully,in the mind. The twist is that this woman turns the expected tables of the genre traditions and is the "cutter" of the thread of life, herself, becoming out of necessity Atropos - the third and most fearsome of the Fates, to some imagined predator (a feminist statement, indeed).

The control, concentration and skill of Ms Hegh is most of the wonderment of this production (the vocal technique and discipline required for this microphoned act is astounding). The excellence of this actor at work is what holds all of the ingredients in place: light, sound and possibly the text. The fact that not all of us are certain of what is happening urges one to need to read the text to properly value it, but as the Director Ms John states "…we've aimed to create not a play as such, but an experience; a kind of mindscape... an experience that draws only what is necessary - the absolutely essential images - out of the theatre-dark in the hope that this offers an audience greater imaginative space…" and this is certainly what she and all the collaborators have achieved.

My unsureness of the text comes from some of the distracting elements of the lighting and sound which sometimes shifts the focus of the viewer to the technical organisations, instead of staying wholly within the narrative/ story twists and turns. For instance, the live pitch shifting of Ms Hegh's voice during the childhood fish memory sequence, was a pre-occupying concentration of watching the lips move and hearing the slightly delayed reproduced affected voice quality through the auditorium speakers. These techniques, then, have both assets and problems.

A few years ago I saw Ms Hegh give a marvellous performance in an adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's classic short story THE YELLOW WALLPAPER (1892) at the Store Room/Malthouse in Melbourne (some critics claim a feminist statement, too, although as CUT could be catergorised, usually Gothic and/ or horror). The detail of her performance of another woman in mental collapse was devastatingly articulated and was not assisted at all by technical gadgetry. Completely "unplugged" and resultedly more, in my estimation, vulnerably human. I wonder, as did the Sydney Morning Herald critic, Jason Blake, at just what is the dramatic gain in all this technical media wizardry explored in the Belvoir Downstairs Theatre?

The actor in my experience of her talent seemed to be enough. Just the actor un-enhanced, onstage telling the writer's story. Maybe Mr Graham's play would be clearer as well. Now that is, in our present times in some of the explorations in Sydney Theatre, a radical idea. Actors centre stage with the writer as the source of the inspiration. Untramelled. Unencumbered. No director or designer hand in view.

Still, I have no hesitation in recommending that this production of CUT, to interested theatre goers as an essential experience. There is reward, and, definite room for discussion afterwards.

1 comment:

Mr Mink said...

Kevin, your usual sage analysis of a fairly unusual and unique night in the theatre, basically for the performance of Anna Hegh as you rightly say. As I recall I very much enjoyed her performance in The Wild Duck as well. This is a very challenging role which she accomplishes wonderfully well. The work of the creative team on both lighting and the soundscape certainly enhances the experience. However I do tend to agree with you that the phasing etc on her voice in the child-like sequence became a little confusing and difficult to follow - or perhaps it was also intended to up the slight alienation factor.

I tend to agree that Duncan Graham does tend to rattle on a bit with his classical references to Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky in the programme notes makes it all sound just so "significant" and portentous. As for the additional Atropos material by him in the program, all stretched into four line stanzas - for a poet he would make a good playwright! This work totally depends on the central performance of the actress and Anna Hegh does a superb job. The earlier work of Mr Graham's "one long night in the land of Nod", which I also saw, was rather completely different from this so it will be interesting to see what he does next. Hopefully he can leave all the high-blown theoretical philosophy in his notes out of it.