Dramaturgical Analysis, Theatre

on dogs in space and baying for blood

Melbourne Fringe Part The First

Please note: these are not reviews. They are responses to work. However, the artists may use these words however they please. Know that I am always up for a discussion and I thank you all for creating your work. 

Laika and Wills, she said productions

It always takes me a few shows to adjust to Fringe. The lo-fi, we-have-a-ten-minute-turnaround-and-four-par-cans-ness of it all. Some shows thrive. They have been conceptualized from the very beginning for just these parameters. They embrace the noise-bleed and if you offered them another ten lanterns they would probably say ‘thanks but no thanks’. Their vision is perfectly articulated by the Lithuanian Clubs cream walls or cackling laughter drifting under the door.

Laika and Wills is not one of those shows and that is fine. They have dreamed big. They are trying to encompass the entire night sky with nothing more than words, some strings of hanging balls, six lighting states and movement confined to a 1.5×3.5 meter stage. That is fucking hard to do. This show is in its very first incarnation and its creators she said productions’ Penny Harpham and Seanna van Helten have plans for it to grow with every stage of its development. They are talking site specific performances, roving through planetariums, animation and touring.

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I longed for a space that could give their words the expanse they needed. With such dense poetic language, the audience needs room for their imaginations to let rip. I feel this could be achieved either by giving them more (as she said productions plan to do, and I think site specific in a planetarium sounds fucking amazing) or giving them much less: by completely embracing the parameters that they have for this season and using it simply as a chance to deliver and refine some truly beautiful words.

The script is buzzing with ideas – big, big ideas – and is thick with research. It contained stunning imagery that will stay with me for some time (Australia being discovered because of a roving celestial body made me smile maniacally because I am a science fangirl) but I hope that in its next incarnation the ensemble brings on board a ruthless script editor. As someone who also loves research, I appreciate the desire to encompass so much into one story but sometimes you need to kill your babies, particularly your well-researched babies. As Patricia Cornelius said at a workshop I attended last year: “Theatre isn’t interested in accuracy; it’s interested in truth.”

I applaud Laika and Wills for its magnitude and for the scope of its dreamings and for its willingness to offer up such a new work. I will eagerly await the continuation of this project.

“(Listen) to what the heartbeat of a play is and… clear the terrain around that heartbeat.” Dramaturge Chris Drummond, 2012

Too Many Weapons: Kids Killing Kids, presented by MKA and Q Theatre Company

(Warning: some of the show photography that I have included from Battalia Royalle is very graphic.)  

I also want to briefly write about Too Many Weapons’ doco-theatre Kids Killing Kids . It is an excellent reminder of just how dangerous making art can be. Particularly inter-continental artistic collaborations. In 2011, four young writers from Canberra, spent six weeks in Manilla adapting a cult Japanese novel for Sipat Lawin. They handed over the script. They flew home and things got “well and truly out of hand.”

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As theatre makers we long to make noise. We long to make people have a truly visceral response and Battalia Royalle got that in spades. The work was seen by more than four thousand people. Four thousand people were splashed with blood and nearly all of them bayed for more. When the audience was offered the chance to save ‘Timothy’ they fought for the chance to shoot him in the back as he fled.

I applaud Too Many Weapons for not retroactively justifying themselves. It would be so easy with hindsight to say ‘yes, yes, that is exactly what we meant, that is what we were saying’! Instead, they let us see their bewilderment as their bloodbath became a cult hit. When the performers asked repeatedly ‘why are we doing this? Why here? Why now?’ they did not have a good answer and still do not.

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I doubt I could have stomached Battalia Royalle. I must admit that I hope I couldn’t stomach it. It would shake my sense of self if I could endure the whole thing and, if I found myself baying for blood I would be truly horrified. But I am a white Australian woman who can barely watch horror films. That’s what being raised without a TV does for you: I no ability to understand violence as fiction. That is part of my identity. It is part of the mythology I tell myself about who I am. I don’t want to be disproved.

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I couldn’t help but remember a conversation with Black Lung Theatre And Whaling Firm ensemble member, I think it was Thomas Henning, after a performance of Doku Rai: You, dead man, I don’t believe you, created in collaboration with Timorese theatre companies Galaxy and Liurai Fo’er. We asked Thomas if they had performed in Timor.

Yes, they had.

How did the Timorese audience differ from their Australian counterparts?

They laughed. They laughed the whole time. Every time the dead man was killed, every painful death they read as comedy.

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Death means something different in a country of civil war. So does art. So does processing. So does forgiveness. I have no answers after seeing Kids Killing Kids, only more disturbing questions and a snarled reminder: Artists, ye be warned.

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