Saturday, May 23, 2009

UOW Review: pre]paradise/sorry nOw

PhotobucketWritten by RW Fassbinder
Directed by Christopher Ryan
Assistant Director Sanja Simic

In Manchester England during the mid 60’s, Ian Brady, an office clerk, and his work mate come lover Myra Hindley kidnapped and murdered 5 children. The children were raped and brutalised before their deaths, their bodies were dumped in the moors. Brady and Hindley were seemingly striving for a kind of fascist purity through their sadomasochistic acts and serial killings. A good indicator of the kinds of values they tried to embody is Brady’s reading material; Hitler’s Mein Kamf and The Marquis de Sade’s Justine. In pre]paradise/sorry nOw Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the German auteur best known for his radical film-making, uses the Moor’s murders as a tool to critique the dream of social paradise; the figures of Brady and Hindley stalk through scenes of oppressive violence and sexual perversion. No hope, no kindness, just people. It is an unrelenting and harrowing work which reverberates today when considering the increasing number of cases like that of Josef Fritzl, the Austrian man who kept his daughter as a sexual slave in his basement for more than 20 years.

Chris Ryan (the Sydney Front, Version 1.0) has, in this version of pre]paradise , created a work deeply concerned with Fascism. He avoids signposting this as such however as none of the costumes or paraphernalia refer to the fascist aesthetic politic, instead it is the world of Andy Warhol’s Factory, that Avant Garde chic. It references several of Warhol’s works from the 60’s; his film Blow Job, the product pieces (Brillo, Coca Cola bottles) and the Campbell’s soup cans are all used to particularly devastating effect. The work instead deals with fascism on a more visceral level. The performers belt out their text, almost every moment in this work is seemingly delivered from the metaphorical lectern which, I’ll admit, is completely exhausting. I wouldn’t have been able to stomach it if it weren’t for the delicate image work and choreography which sweetened (somewhat disturbingly) the acting style. That being said, the moments in which the personality of a few odd performers bubbled through were a welcome relief, a breather before the cycle of brutality started again.

This is a structurally and aesthetically powerful work featuring committed and passionate young performers from UOW’s Faculty of Creative Arts. These performers are my peers which is actually very exciting. Special mention to Emma Lockhart-Wilson’s murky lighting design and Rob Hughes’ intelligent AV work, both of whose contribution found an aching beauty amidst the horror of the onstage action.

Mark

Ps. Over the next few weeks there will be a number of reviews of UOW performances. After carefully considering the politics of reviewing student work, Simon and I have decided to do so despite our personal involvement. As after all, this blog is meant to not only be a place for discussion, but a record of our emerging arts practice, a mapping of our personal interests, and what is more relevant to our interests than our own work and the work of our peers? Not only that, but when else would we get an opportunity to see a work by Fassbinder, or indeed any of the other productions looming over the next few weeks. If anyone has any objections or thoughts on this matter, we’ll be happy to chat about it further. Just comment.
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This play operated on quite a high intellectual level. The connections that Fassbinder has drawn in his text between the Brady/Hindley case and West German post-war experience are already quite complex, and with the added layer of the Warhol referencing, there is quite a lot to think about. However, the reason this play was so successful for me was that in the end, it was not about what the play made me think, but what the play made me feel. It demonstrated to me the strength of theatre medium to viscerally affect you. About three quarters of the way through, I was finding the play hard work. As Mark pointed out, the onslaught of the text was quite exhausting, and I was wondering if the play would ever shift pace. It was at this point that possibly the most beautiful piece of 80s pop burst out of the speakers and the entire cast, of 30 or so performers, turned the stage into a nightclub. Rarely have I felt such relief in the theatre. I relaxed as for three minutes I was given release from the violence. The play then shifted immediately back into one of the most horrifying moments I have ever seen on stage as Brady screams obscenities and attacks with an axe handle a child who is slowly backing away whilst Myra films the event, giving us a live feed close-up of the horror on the boy’s face. We are left with The Smiths’ beautiful “Suffer Little Children” as the details of the murders are projected onto the back wall, whilst Ian and Myra make love against the back wall. I felt completely hollow. It occurred to me then, that the whole way through my emotions had been manipulated leading up this moment. I had to feel exhausted, so that I could then feel so relieved, so that I could then be so horrified. Chris Ryan’s greatest strength I think is that he understands so well how to use theatre to affect people in this manner.

In an emerging practice sense, it is also interesting to me that he uses the form to reflect the content. Mark has already pointed the way the language was used, and the layering of the imagery seemed to me to be doing a similar thing. A friend commented to me that at times you didn’t know where to look. I thought this was a clear decision to disconcert the audience. The content is obviously disconcerting, why should the form not reflect that?

The question I am left with however is that of intellectual engagement. Is it ok, that one’s view of the show is completely changed by reading the director’s note? Is it ok if I only engage with the Brady/Hinley story, rather than the grander narrative that is being attacked? Is it still worth exploring post-war German experience? My thoughts have always been that as far as Chris Ryan is concerned, it doesn’t matter what you engage with, as long as you engage. However, I have spoken to others who question the point of staging a work concerning particular themes, in this case that of West German experience etc., if these themes don’t come through without reading the programme. I am yet to reach a solid conclusion on the subject.

-Simon

11 comments:

Alison Croggon said...

Go for it, guys. There's no conflict if you're honest (which can be difficult, but is the only way through). And it's a chance to hear about work we otherwise never would.

tree said...

Despite having previously been crippled by insecurity, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and offer my comments…

It would be stupid of me not to admit, first and foremost, that I am a massive fan of Chris Ryan’s work and that of Sanja Simic and together their direction produced a ‘lovechild’ that I would most certainly adopt given the opportunity. In fact, I openly admit that I was jealous as all hell not to be a part of the show and toyed with the idea of finding a sweet sixties outfit and entering the street sequence.

I saw the show twice. I enjoyed the show twice. On both occasions my experience was completely different. Perhaps this was a result of familiarity or having different actors play the role of Brady, maybe it was just that the work laden with performers (I can’t believe how many there are!), or rather that together the directors (with the assistance of some wicked AV) filled the space with images that, at times, I was completely taken by, which meant that I missed certain parts of the performance.

I was truly impressed by the acting style. The style did not exhaust me, rather, the level of intensity and focus fueled my engagement with the text and the performers throughout each performance. It was obvious that the directors had called for their ensemble to interrogate each word and consider how manipulating traditional delivery allowed for new meaning. Most notably, Brady’s the use of the word “girl” still haunts me. This level of intensity and of focus demanded from the performers and, for many, the ability to adopt this style worked to effectively communicate the text. This style also highlighted the developing technical skills of many of the actors within the ensemble.

I did read the director’s note, this did help me to further understand the work and, granted, I did see the performance twice. I didn’t have any problems with having to read the director’s note to find some clarity, rather, I was glad that it was offered.

Luke said...

"It was at this point that possibly the most beautiful piece of 80s pop burst out of the speakers and the entire cast, of 30 or so performers, turned the stage into a nightclub. Rarely have I felt such relief in the theatre. I relaxed as for three minutes I was given release from the violence. The play then shifted immediately back into one of the most horrifying moments I have ever seen on stage as Brady screams obscenities and attacks with an axe handle a child who is slowly backing away whilst Myra films the event, giving us a live feed close-up of the horror on the boy’s face...I felt completely hollow. It occurred to me then, that the whole way through my emotions had been manipulated leading up this moment. I had to feel exhausted, so that I could then feel so relieved, so that I could then be so horrified. Chris Ryan’s greatest strength I think is that he understands so well how to use theatre to affect people in this manner."

I saw the dress run of this performance. I was incredibly affected. I haven't been as affected by a performance piece in a very long time. And so I decided to study the work and saw it again to try to understand why I was so afftected in the way that I was. Simon, you have articulated the process in a really astute way so thank you. My current project deals so deeply with this question of engaging and audience and affecting them, being so deeply within and amongst the questions I was struggling to find the language to communicate what was happening to me. And you've really helped. Thanks.

I'd like to add that another question that came up for me in watching this work was 'what is going on with me that I am so affected by this work?'. Someone else may have seen the show as more shock-horror crap but on the second time I saw the show I cried in the nightclub scene from the trauma of knowing what was coming, perhaps. What I find is that Chris' work so often brings us to view and question ourselves in the work. And now I wonder, isn't this why we conintue to see performances?
i need sleep.

rah, said...

I don't think I can offer anything that hasn't already been said, in a much better way, by someone before me. However, I can sum up my PPSN experience - half way through the performance, I was holding the hand of a complete stranger, whispering 'you're okay', while she cried.

Aidan Emanuel said...

Thankyou both Simon and Mark for taking the time to digest PPSN and giving me an opportunity to step out of the process and view my experience of the show from a different angle. I think it is great to have access to reviews of student work - keep it up.

Thomas Weber said...

I want to express similar sentiments to both Aidan and Luke. Simon I am relieved/pleased that you were so affected by that moment of the show. That is how I had always felt that scene would be received.
And it is great to read well considered views of your own show. Thanks guys.

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Brian Seymour said...

Thankyou both Simon and Mark for taking the time to digest PPSN and giving me an opportunity to step out of the process and view my experience of the show from a different angle. I think it is great to have access to reviews of student work - keep it up.

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Vanessaaxxm said...

Despite having previously been crippled by insecurity, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and offer my comments… It would be stupid of me not to admit, first and foremost, that I am a massive fan of Chris Ryan’s work and that of Sanja Simic and together their direction produced a ‘lovechild’ that I would most certainly adopt given the opportunity. In fact, I openly admit that I was jealous as all hell not to be a part of the show and toyed with the idea of finding a sweet sixties outfit and entering the street sequence. I saw the show twice. I enjoyed the show twice. On both occasions my experience was completely different. Perhaps this was a result of familiarity or having different actors play the role of Brady, maybe it was just that the work laden with performers (I can’t believe how many there are!), or rather that together the directors (with the assistance of some wicked AV) filled the space with images that, at times, I was completely taken by, which meant that I missed certain parts of the performance. I was truly impressed by the acting style. The style did not exhaust me, rather, the level of intensity and focus fueled my engagement with the text and the performers throughout each performance. It was obvious that the directors had called for their ensemble to interrogate each word and consider how manipulating traditional delivery allowed for new meaning. Most notably, Brady’s the use of the word “girl” still haunts me. This level of intensity and of focus demanded from the performers and, for many, the ability to adopt this style worked to effectively communicate the text. This style also highlighted the developing technical skills of many of the actors within the ensemble. I did read the director’s note, this did help me to further understand the work and, granted, I did see the performance twice. I didn’t have any problems with having to read the director’s note to find some clarity, rather, I was glad that it was offered.

Ray Blodgett said...

Thankyou both Simon and Mark for taking the time to digest PPSN and giving me an opportunity to step out of the process and view my experience of the show from a different angle. I think it is great to have access to reviews of student work - keep it up.