Saturday, February 6, 2021


MONTAGUE BASEMENT presents VIDEOTAPE, at the Kings Cross Theatre, in the Kings Cross Hotel. 29th January - 13th February.

MONTAGUE BASEMENT is a theatre company led by Saro Lusty-Cavallari and in the case of this new Australian play, he is the writer, director and is the Video and Sound Designer - quite a brief of responsibility.

A couple Daniel (Jake Fryer) and Juliette (Lucinda Howes)  are stuck in their apartment during a COVID19  lockdown. The apartment has a comfortable look, resonating wealth and security, a warm wooden designed platform with two couches and practical room lighting, Designed by Grace Deacon, and has a colour support in the Lighting from Sophie Pekbilimli.

The play is made up of many short scenes sketching the journey of the couple. The play is 80 minutes long. In the very first scene we meet the pair, each involved deeply with the tools of their personal communication. One in a book. One with a laptop computer. They don't talk. They both seem to be completely comfortable with their inaction with each other. The outer world holds gripping fascination for each - the book and the laptop is enough! 

With an irritating sizzle and a spat of noise we move to the next scene. The play introduces a VHS tape arriving from the unknown outer space and it seems, when the old machinery of the VHS is organised, to be a capture of the action of the couple - we recognise it when we view it with them. It is a disturbing mystery for where is the recording camera and who is recording and delivering the material - the angle of vision is not possible and yet there it is. The logic and feasibility of the possibility is thrown over by the effect of the material displayed - its rustling of the emotional connections 'feathers' of the relationship becomes the subjective wheels of the action of the piece.

Anxiety creeps into the cumulative scene 'weight' and when the Videotape on a short loop reveals the physical abuse of one of the partners with the other - we witnessed it live, it escalates to the beginning of a fever that reaches towards a peak when on a later videotape a strange woman begins appearing - who is she? what is she doing? Why? WHY? WHY! It appears not only as a recorded past but is becoming a live force on the screen to the direction of the relationship - it is live! How is that possible?!

Some of the audience in attempting to solve the intention of this play have made reference to the David Lynch film LOST HIGHWAY (1997) - it has a place in the Director's program notes, so take it on as a clue (or is it a deliberate diversionary tactic by the Director?); THE RING, a Japanese horror film by Hideo Nakata (1998), remade in America by Gore Verbinski, starring Naomi Watts (2002) also bubbles into the memory recall. But for me I kept 'hearing' the French film CACHÉ (HIDDEN) by Michael Haneke made in 1997.

CACHÉ has a bourgeois French family, comfortable and secure, that begins to receive Videotapes that progressively breaks this family into pieces. In the long (blabby!) program notes from Mr Lusty-Cavalllari he writes (online) that he feels we are ready to participate in story-telling that does not require an explanation of  what has happened. And so here we are with VIDEOTAPE that concludes playing but not explaining - it is a provocative offer, it can strike an audience that has been totally engaged, viscerally - deep in the stomach. (CACHÉ did that to me - although I stayed through the credits to the film and maybe got a clue that led to an explanation.)

VIDEOTAPE, does not hold one with the closing grip of anxiety significantly enough, so the provocation of no explanation fails - instead one feels cheated, cheaply cheated, cheated of our valuable time.

I find my inability to cooperate with the actor, Lucinda Howes, in her playing of Juliette. I believe that her acting chops are fairly in tact but her attention to her vocal work seems to be out of whack - her characterisation is pitched at a high piercing range and has over the long duologue of the play's requirement the ability to have an audience to become distracted, looking for a rest from the aural attack - an objective activity that begins to negate the subjective identity that the play requires from its audience.. Mr Fryer delivers a fine dramatic performance that has a vocal pitch (whether, conscious artistry or not) that demands attention and empathy.

So, VIDEOTAPE, at the KXT is an interesting and curious experience, although it appears in a very comfortable, familiar structure - and so, a  bit boring. However it is another offer from Saro Lusty-Cavallari that signifies here as some growing talent. Watch his progress.

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