Friday, January 20, 2006

Ode to a Grecian...

In the interests of full disclosure and transparency, I might as well come out and say it: I'm not a big fan of Greek tragedy. Now, those of you who've read along for a while might be pursing the corners of your mouth and "pfft"-ing and pulling the same face you wore when Howard denied any underlying racism in Australia, thinking "Of course he doesn't go for Greek tragedy! He's already complained about Shakespeare, Brecht, Williamson and plenty of other stuff whichmakes up the cornerstones of theatre education in this country! NO SURPRISES HERE thank you".

Well, sure. But there's a difference. See, and gather round now children, there you go, make room for your brother, there's plenty of room for all...see, here's the difference: if I want to know what happens in Troilus & Cressida but can't be bothered reading it, I can always find a shoddy 80s BBC version featuring ugly men with wispy beards and have a good laugh while I'm watching it. Same goes for most of the modernist theatrical masterpieces. But there's no way I'm watching a film version of no greek drama. I'm stuck either a) reading the damn thing (which isn't so bad) or b) watching a really boring rendition by a bunch of graduation VCE students.

I understand the contribution this stuff has made to contemporary theatre. This includes The Chorus, wherein a gang of hangers-on pretty much tell you the plot (like sitting in the tea room at work the night after a particularly good episode of The Bill); excessive overuse of masks, which always brings up vague Eyes Wide Shut paranoia in me; and the cathartic function of drama, also seen in forms such as the daytime soap and Jerry Springer.

But a lot of the time, I'm thinking "don't fart on me, sonny, and call it French perfume". No amount of white pancake and hollering can really make me that intrigued by the machinations of Theban rulers. Just give it to me straight, or find something more relevant to my situation and the situation of my aching bumcheeks, usually screaming at me for putting them in a moulded plastic assembly-hall chair for two hours plus.

This week I visited the opening of Unholy Site, an interpretation of Sophocles' Antigone by Jacklyn Bassanelli. And I'm pleased to say that nary a mask nor chorus was in sight, and the cathartic element of the play wasn't its focus (not for me, at least). And I really enjoyed it, though opinions differed as to why.

The wonderfully-initialed JB gave a solo performance which took the basic tale and shook things up a bit (or a lot). She tells the thing from Antigone's POV, and plays her as an angry, violently rebellious princess. One punter later called her "Paris Hilton with more neuroses", but I didn't see it that way. Either way, it was a compelling and well-considered interpretation of a character fairly done to death these days.

The big thing what got me, though, is the method of presentation. On opening night at The Crofts Institute, the entire performance was delivered on a video screen with camera attached and sound pumped through an amp. In one long take, with lighting and sound operated via a remote by the actor herself onscreen, we saw the performance play out in real time but strangely absent. Bassanelli might not have even been in the building, though I later found out that she was. One reviewer noted that the effect of the TV screen showing meant that Antigone became curiously entombed alive in the black box, which is entirely thematically appropriate. For my part, I was wondering all sorts of other things, about the "live"-ness of prerecorded performance, and about the effect of a theatre audience watching a TV screen (totally different to a projected film/video) and the alternating or even concurrent sense of presence and absence, passivity and interactivity this creates. There was also the sense of the prerecording as a suicide note, or a voice from beyond the grave.

But I was in a minority here, and others couldn't help but want some more life to the show. I'll state it bluntly, I really liked the daring of playing things the way they were played, but I can understand the reservations others had about it. And after opening night, a joint decision from the creators saw the live element reintroduced, and the show now offers the same story played live while the camera simultaneously records it and plays it on the television. I'll try to go back and see how this looks some time next week.

1 comment:

Tuppence said...

I will be using the phrase "don't fart on me, sonny, and call it French perfume" in a conversation today.