Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Review: The Inhabited Man

While everyone in Melbourne was off at the MIAF launch last night I snuck along to the preview of Richard Murphet’s The Inhabited Man at VCA’s Space 28. Well, not everyone was at the MIAF thing obviously, since somehow this new show had found a full-house on its preview run. This included the guy who was sitting near me and who seemed to be sweating booze from every pore, such was the infernal stink of wine that kept wafting past me every few minutes. And after half an hour of The Inhabited Man’s steady and insistenting head-screwing I just wanted to lean back and mutter “pass the bottle, brother”.

I’m not saying The Inhabited Man is a bad show, since that’s not true at all. But it’s kind of one of those shows where notions of quality go out the window early, and I can distinctly recall several moments where I sat staring at various goings-on going on onstage and thinking to myself “I have no freakin’ idea what I’m meant to be making of that”. Which, most of the time, is a feeling I like.

Leo's a Vietnam vet still struggling with a war that broke him body and soul – a leg and a liver that don’t work, a marriage that couldn’t handle the weight he brought home and memories that can’t be eradicated. He’s holding down a steady gig as a security guard at a motel and taking it day by day but a weird eastern European couple arrive in cabin 7 and he starts to suspect them of no good. This is where I sort of lost it (and Leo did too, I guess).

Now, I’m from that post-Vietnam generation who were raised on videogames and comic books and repetitive electronic music so my sense of historical consciousness has pretty much gone the way of my attention span and ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. My understanding of the Vietnam war is mostly conditioned by Hollywood and I can’t say for sure if what I was seeing during The Inhabited Man isn’t an accurate, realist representation of post-war trauma. But when this kooky couple in cabin 7 started dancing in slow-motion to David Bowie, stripping down and pulling out druggy doodahs and electrodes and appearing soaked in blood and then blabbing on about their infinitely extensible cyborg bodies and stuff, I thought “Woah! That takes me back to university days!” Is Leo being haunted by the ghosts of an unjust war or the ghosts of a course in postmodernism? I don’t know which would be worse.

In any case, on one side we have Leo unravelling as his memories of childhood, his tour of duty and the disintegration of his relationship crowd in on one another, and on the other we have these people auditioning for a David Lynch film. Leo’s stuff is great theatre in a modernist, stream-of-consciousness way but when the cyborg illuminati spies or whatever they were kept pulling out more head-scratching routines, I kept pulling a face like I’d bitten into something and felt it squirm. I still have no idea what was going on there. Maybe it was a meeting of two theatrical aesthetics, the modernist and postmodern, or maybe their obscure antics were supposed to put the audience in Leo’s shoes, identifying with his paranoia toward the world. Either way, it unexpectedly works, since I found myself surprised to be really empathising with the poor guy throughout. It helps that Merfyn Owen is sublime in the lead role, and he’s given a bunch of songs to sing which prove very effective. The composition, lighting and design are all first-class, the set so full of shadows and twisting structures that we never – not once – get a sense of its boundaries, and the soundtrack creating an equally boundless world of night-time noises and deep, rattling music.

Would I recommend it? Well, yeah, I think. It’s one of those pieces that give newcomers to theatre reasons to laugh and deride the form as meaningless wankery, but for those with any interest in performance it’s the kind of show that challenges your ability to make real sense of what you’re seeing, which is a fine ambition for any theatrical work. It’s full of meaning, rather than lacking it, but none of it can ever be pinned down with much certainty. Either way, you wouldn’t understand because you weren’t there, man. You weren’t there!

Hey also, here’s this awesome piece of… something.

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is such an accurate portrayal of my experience in seeing the play tonight (Yes! I came home and Googled The Haunted Man to try to find out what that foreign couple were up to and where they fitted into the plot, apart from giving the main charcter a chance to rest his voice) that I laughed with delight when I read this review. It put all my thoughts into elegant words. Perfect!