In search of a theatre of the mind

Bryoni Trezise: My Darling Patricia, Mantle

Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, Mantle, My Darling Patricia

Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, Mantle, My Darling Patricia

Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, Mantle, My Darling Patricia

“What am I for?” asks the voice that has been speaking since we were first planted into a sustained, unsparing darkness. This voice has transported us from suburban mayhem—a few too many sherries in the car before forgotten veggies bake to burning, a glimmer of someone sick and dying, eyebrows plucked to vanishing—to the edges of an ominous hole in the road and down into its abyss.

The voice that we hear while we do not see paints us into a stock Australian domesticity. The ‘she’ who speaks in both third and first person is at once inside and outside of her own scene-making. She sounds dry and a bit ocker, as if she is, in part, the voice of nostalgia or even gendered myth itself.

Since the early 1990s when Jenny Kemp first dressed the Australian stage in what has since been called an externalised dynamics of the female psyche, the national theatre has wrestled with the knottedness of female experiences and narratives, myths about them and the limits and possibilities of an increasingly experimental non-narrative stage. In Kemp’s works, it was writing for and at the edge of performance that seemed to land a form that was both implicitly national and explicitly ‘female,’ offering a transformative spatial rendering of those post-structural fractured subjectivities whose ghosts we now know a little too well.

In Mantle, My Darling Patricia reveal a debt to this lineage but also aim to cast their own poetics into the readily twinned spaces of psyche and theatre. We never learn the name of our narrator, but her figure arrives in the shape-shifting movement episodes that visualise the plight of a woman who has been plunged to the centre of the Earth (Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal). On the edge of visibility, her body writhes and twists, twitches gently, throbs and curves to varyingly thudding, sensuous and pulsating sound. In less effective scenes she is clambering against the scrim, acting out entrapment. In others, she seems seductively caught in the sort of ecstasy that might just come with freefalling grief.

If the figure’s movements shift undecidedly between the literal and the abstract, the speaking voice also jumps too neatly between a fictive elsewhere and the metaphor that renders it. Her story, we come to learn, is less about being enclosed in earth than it is about the kind of descent that occurs when the self is cut to its core by despair. As she appears and disappears, the stage invisibly moves around her—its objects also somewhat undecided, hovering ambiguously between symbol and substance. A large fluorescent ice beam appears out of nowhere, and then vanishes. A large black sphere casts a tall shadow of a hole, and then is gone. A cone enshrouds the woman’s body which by then is reaching tremulously towards a surface.

The components, individually, are interesting imaginings: text (Halcyon Macleod) is rhythmic; design (Clare Britton) is stark and vibrant. Both are often outdone by sound (Jack Prest) that radiates in and out of recognisability with moments of lonely jazz, a distorted car horn, a penetratingly dirty electric guitar. And yet, in moving us between the twin realms of this story—inside and out, fictive dream and fictive real—the artists contain us in a kind of pretense that, despite experiments in visual form, feels somewhat narratively closed. Jenny Kemp opened out the stage by playing with non-linear text and its relationship to an abstract and painterly mise-en-scéne. Twenty years later, Mantle doesn’t quite find a meta-theatrical language to sequel Kemp: the kind that could make those of us sitting in the dark alive to our own psychic imaginings, seeing and feeling the theatres in our minds.

My Darling Patricia, Mantle, co-creator, writer, narrator Halcyon Macleod, co-creator and images Clare Britton, lighting Matt Marshall, composition, sound design Jack Prest, performer, choreographer Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, dramaturg, script editor Janice Muller; Campbelltown Arts Centre, 11-13 Sept

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 36

© Bryoni Trezise; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

13 October 2014