Belvoir presents, THE WIZARD OF OZ, after L. Frank Baum, in the Belvoir St Upstairs Theatre, Surry Hills, May 2 - May 31.
THE WIZARD OF OZ, is Directed by Adena Jacobs, following on from her HEDDA GABLER 'investigation - interrogation" last year for the Belvoir audience. This is not an adaption of the novel, or even of the famous film.
From the program notes:
Jacobs stark re-imagining of L. Frank Baum's narrative masterpiece (1900) is an abstract theatrical poem about innocence, grief and the terror of growing up. The production is not a stage adaption of the novel, rather Jacobs conjures the striking symbols at the heart of THE WIZARD OF OZ: the trauma of exile, rites of passage, and the all-consuming desire to be someone else, and reimagines them into an immersive, surreal, dream-like fantasia.These program notes were, possibly, written well before this work was completed and seems to be in expectation of some high hopes for the finished product. For in the reimagining of THE WIZARD OF OZ, and in finding the ways to execute those re-imaginings, the experience of the work, for the most of us I was with, was not 'immersive' rather, elusive; was not 'surreal', rather puerile; not 'dream-like', but rather sophomoric, soporifically nightmarish but without doubt, a 'fantasia' composition of different forms and styles.
Indeed, one does need to know, or have, some working knowledge of these American books and film (Ms Jacobs', HEDDA was inspired, by the U.S. of A, as well - her Hedda was living there, wasn't she?), or not much of this Australian production would speak too clearly to you. One of my friends had no references for anything she was watching, not having read the book(s) or seen the film, or the musical, or even WICKED! And even then, I assured her, I, who knew the film fairly well and have seen WICKED, could recognise the characters in broad terms, but could not make much of the narrative or the symbols. "What was it about when the Tin Man was raping Dorothy in the corner of the light box in the upstage corner?" - I couldn't explain. There is virtually no spoken text or 'poetry', although there are one or two recognisable songs which were more than a trifle anachronistic for Mr Baum's Land of Oz - though beautifully sung, theatrically sung, by Paul Capsis (the Lion). His singing the only real 'grace' of the performance.
I guessed, for my companions, later in the foyer, as we exasperatedly tried to gather our experience into a coherent beginning for conversation, that the production was an investigation-interrogation of what it was for Ms Jacobs and/or her collaborators to grow up in the awful world of their personal environments, the bourgeois world of Australia (OZ?), in a world of fraudulent wizards - where nothing is what it appears to be but rather some foul, gothic, grim, deceptive, z-grade horror place (there was a feint hope that we were heading to that TV/SBS prison series called OZ , when an apparent 'dominatrix' and 'slave' began a mildly interesting S&M scene - but no, alas, not much happened to sustain one's interest - just shades of grey.) From the musical interludes, text, offered us, I surmised, and suggested to our foyer gathering as we headed for the doors, what we were been told was: Dorothy was taught that somewhere over a rainbow, life might be happier, and so she is always chasing rainbows and discovers in episodes of 'terror' that nothing is what it seems, and further, the lesson life teaches, for women, is that only YOU can make the world seem right/bright. Is that It? Wow, I hadn't ever thought of life like that before THE WIZARD OF OZ! - some of my companions had, and said if that is what this production was about, it was fairly lame. Each to his own, I guess.
The dinner we had up in Crown St, after, was less an opaque experience. What our senses could not absorb in the theatre was subsumed by the sensual theatre of recognisably good nourishment - real food. Our senses awakened our unconscious. We all loved it - loving what we were digesting and agreeing it was nurturing.
Over dinner, one of us, in a fit of giggles brought on, presumably by the glass of wine she had, suggested that the Department of Social Services ought to have being called to help those poor artists from their childhood, adolescence and, perhaps, adulthood, to aid them in their seemingly continuous cyclic wheel of depressive experiences of being a woman in this relentless, time to infinity, orbit of the earth. Cruel, cold and lacking any kind of human empathy, or thing known as 'love' - poor people, we agreed. No progress in sight at all for those female psyches it seemed - for the production ended where it had started (and the re-start looked to be alarmingly imminent again) - ahh, no! Fortunately, the Director called a halt to it all after an hour or so. This therapeutic abreaction of these artist's psyche was really a bore for the most part. Banal (pronounced, 'bay-nahl' not 'bar-nahl', in this case, please) at best.
I was attracted at the start, the atmospheric tension created with the stillness and light, and especially sound - the later shakuhachi sounds reminding one of the scores for Kurosawa's RAN and KAGEMUSHA. Epic!- was a tangible curiosity. That the production's storytelling did not unfold much further in interest, after some fifteen minutes in, forced me to cogitate and conclude that Ms Jacobs may have spent too much time attending theatre on the fringes of the Berlin Performing Art world, some years ago - the clues: the vitrine glass box with exhibit in it (in this case, a dog. No, not a Duck, different Belvoir show. Oh, Toto, perhaps? Though a different breed of dog from what I remembered of the film), the underwear and nudity (semi, but all beige, beige, grandmother beige), the 'persona' masks, the microphone drop from the roof, and those zippy Brechtian curtains whisking across the stage on those diagonal wires. One of my favourite bits, I must confess, the 'swish', clatter of the curtains, especially the red velvet Judy Garland like-ones, in this show.
That the program notes suggests that
In approaching performance in this way the production joins a long line of image based artistic expression from Romeo Castellucci's well known avant garde company Societas Raffaello Sanzio, ... to Robert Wilson ... and even our own Barrie Kosky…Tells much of the delusional aspiration going on here. Not in any moment, did this work, this production reveal either in content or form: a high quality of technique of Light and Sound, of Theatre Design (Set or Costume), of acting mastery of body expression, or of an original or even coherent conception or statement by the writers-storytellers-improvisors-directors - that could connect this work to a line of worthiness to the above artists (let alone Ariane Mnouchkine or Robert Lepage, both left out by these artists as possible inspiration), except as admiring imitators. "Go, git way back to the end of that line." Way, way back. The now retired MY DARLING PATRICIA company has done this kind of work, oh, so much better, and with much more unique innovation of artistry: NIGHT GARDEN, AFRICA, for instance. (Now there is a company that should be deserving of the National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA), by Brandis.)
THE WIZARD OF OZ, as it is on the Belvoir stage, is probably a reasonable outcome for an exploration of the source material, that may have taken place over the four or five weeks (that many?) of the available rehearsal time (observed, with excitement, by John McCallum, according to the notes in the program). But that short, tepid time for the construction of the work and then the technical divining in the theatre is a paltry one for one to achieve results beyond that of a first draft workshop, surely? The 'wizards of Oz' behind this work were, indeed, not much different than the fraudulent Wizard of OZ in the movie - but at least he had put on a good show - a yellow brick and all, for us to be able to follow! If this work had been shown as part of a process of development at Performance Space, one could look more easily at what my friends had subscribed for/to, what I had paid for, without growing rancour and resignation.
Time, ah, Time. Time is the finite enemy of the creative artist. This work suffers from the lack and/or good use of what of it, they had.
Money may be the other enemy. It is difficult to be succinct and beautiful without money.
And, as one of my subscriber friends to Belvoir said, after this show, the third one in a row that had frustrated him at Belvoir, maybe Mr Brandis is on to something. For they were thinking after this year, it will be either the Griffin or The Eternity that will score their subscription support.
The Composition and Sound Design, by Max Lyandvert was what held this work together. Paul Capsis, and the anticipation that he might break out into more song is what kept one in one's seat. If only he had.
Next, Brecht's MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN. We are all holding our breath, and believing in Eamon Flack (praying for him - no pressure, sir, no pressure), the Director, who has rewarded us, mostly, at Belvoir, in these recent dreadful years, with quality respite in his ANGELS IN AMERICA, and THE GLASS MENAGERIE.