clowning into oblivion

adam broinowski on ivan thorley’s dreamland



Ivan Thorley’s Dreamland depicts what happens when an individual’s illusions, manufactured by an entity ensconced in a high-rise office, fall apart. The stark contrast between the dynamic italicised title, Dreamland, scrolling along the back wall (the innovative invention of Olaf Meyer) and the melancholic inertia of the protagonist (Leon Ewing), a faded performer who had once dreamed of a stadium full of fans, creates a certain alienated domesticity which permeates the show. Told through music, scenography, dance and recorded voice-over, this is the story of a queer punk who seems to have awakened to his life as a semi-skilled and somewhat jaded clown.

We initially meet him as he sits with us in the audience. His woes are writ large in the text he speaks to us in the dark—tired thoughts of an entertainer from the Cobain generation walking the blunted knife-edge night after night for a demanding ‘here we are now, entertain us’ audience. Canned applause follows. We follow him in his saggy strong-man unitard and grease paint into this world of no meaning, of ‘unreason’, of endless distraction where “cause and effect are unfashionable.” His scorn is pretentious: “What audiences put up with! In Europe they would have left by now.” Following an amusing, bitter confession regarding his lack of public recognition and delivered via his alter ego, a deep-ocean fish puppet, we are presented with familiar brattish dissatisfaction, which will doubtless become a psychological disorder. Simultaneously obsequious and inflated, the iconic despairing clown plays out the thwarted celebrity phantasies of our late capitalist entertainment industry.

Yet we suspect there must be a deeper cause for his ennui. In a flashback, a mimed story of love on bended-knee and heartbreak is played. The clown’s ‘heart’ in the form of a stuffed doll is presented to dancing showgirl twins (Holly Durant, Amber Haines) who then squabble over and dismember it. It becomes a voodoo doll, and the man-boy clown falls apart. As the conjoined girls writhe on the floor, he proceeds to pound the puppet with his bass-guitar. Any sense of hubris defeated is circumvented by the listless tone of cartoon horror modeled on the work of Dave Louapre (Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children, etc). Nothing is authentic. Truth is a commodity. Life is only worth living if it is represented on the screen. These phrases seem to run through Dreamland suggesting the side-effects of the aimless malaise of comfortable consumer culture.

Thorley quotes Mark Dery (in turn quoting Marshall Blonsky): “[the audience] can control the message and its multiple possibilities of interpretation…restoring a critical dimension to passive reception.” However, Dreamland is as yet in the initial stages of an experiment in form and ‘post-dramatic’ story-telling. Although Thorley aims to “incorporate political advocacy” along the themes of “ecology and sustainability”, these larger issues are yet to be exhumed from the veneer of gormless distraction Dery writes about. Had the clown been more sharply drawn, had the twin dancers taken more agency, had the sources of delusional misspent youth been explored beyond the realms of the personal, the cute aesthetic might have offered the potential to subvert the forces of oblivion. Dreamland can go further yet.

Dreamland, devised by Ivan Thorley, performers Leon Ewing, Holly Durant, Amber Haines, visuals Olaf Meyer; developed at CultureLAB, Arts House; 2006 Melbourne Fringe Festival Hub, North Melbourne Town Hall, Sept 29-Oct 6

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg.

© Adam Broinowski; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2006