Lifeline

Keith Gallasch

Robyn Archer’s first Melbourne Festival, Text, lived up to expectations in its bold choice of works engaging with language in playscripts, performance and dance texts, new media and improvisation. It also offered Genesi and Fire, Fire, works where text counted for little, but the words spoken about them for much. Romeo Castelluci’s Genesi was the festival highlight and an exhilarating, sometimes daunting visual and aural challenge for many. Fire, Fire got many hot under the collar over its less than intimate placement as awkward spectacle at the State Theatre, or, conversely, indignant that the show should be anywhere but there at the centre of the festival. Reinvigorated by the 2002 Adelaide Festival, issues of whose art, whose festival and what place excellence look set to be with us for years to come, not just as debate but as core consideration for the programming of festivals. It’s interesting then to note that Archer and her team have managed to secure an additional $4m Victorian State Government funding for her next festival: $3m for international works and $1m to expand the festival’s community arts development program. Presumably that means Archer will still have this year’s level of funding to make Australian content the greater part of the festival once again, which was one of the several reasons why this was such a very good festival.

On these pages Richard Murphet, Philipa Rothfield, Jonathan Marshall and I review a small selection from the extensive festival program. Some performances, like Kate Champion’s Same, same…But Different and Sandy Evan’s Testimony have already been reviewed and praised in RealTime and were enthusiastically received in Melbourne. You can read about Back to Back Theatre’s Soft, one of the hits of the festival, on page 33. Reviews of the Opera Australia’s Love in the Age of Therapy and Chamber Made Opera’s Motherland and a second review of NYID’s K appear on our website. KG

Lifeline

Lifeline is a marvel of non-digital interactivity. As you approach the Victorian Arts Centre’s BlackBox you are surprised to see a shop window jutting forth beside the entrance. In it is the body of a young woman lying face down, dark blood seeping from a wound to her head. It’s a real body in a black dress against a white floor. Like those dodgy fashion ads from the last decade of models splayed and made up like murder victims, this image is both stylish and disturbing. Inside BlackBox are 4 elegant, circular, open-ended booths, each holding someone who knew the victim, one of them possibly the murderer. Each of them sits on a chair waiting to be asked about the circumstances of and the motive for the crime.

The audience is eager, crowding in, moving from booth to booth, quizzing the performers, some seeking simple answers, some probing, perhaps pushing the dextrous performers to their improvisatory limits (though a silence can handily read like refusal or emotional distress) or into John Howard-style evasion: “I’m not getting into hypotheticals.” The audience is also improvising, drawing from an arsenal of interrogatory tactics learned from TV courtoom and detective shows, mystery novels and popular psychology. Some are persistent and only appear to leave when they have exhausted their line of questioning, others humbly turn-take, patiently picking up their thread when they find space, some work like teams. Some are kind, some are blunt, most are respectful. Some want to know everything, and clearly enjoy the probing, in search of the truth and testing the performers’ skills. Others are more easily satisfied once they know who the murderer is. You can discover that in a few minutes, but you want confirmation and motive.

That’s what Lifeline is mostly about, not who dunnit, but the web of relationships and complex desires and frustrations that have created a murderer. She is culpable, but without this particular set of circumstances she might never have killed. As the 4 people tell interlocking and conflicting stories (not as plain narratives but as answers to questions) about the dead woman, themselves and each other, you construct a picture of a volatile situation and enjoy the texture of revelation. The process is more interesting than the story, though that has its pleasures.

Lifeline was created by German festival guest Uwe Mengel with local actors absorbing his scenario and improvising to it under his direction. Vanessa Case, Ming-Zhu Hii, Hamish Michael and Eva Parkin give impressive performances, with a calm that bespeaks trauma, with flashes of anger, moments of distraction and tearfulness: no easy task for 2 hours of audience comings and goings. The 4 confessionals designed by Monash University Architecture course students (Amelia Attrill, Ellen Pan, Lucilla Smith) house the interrogation admirably, yielding a strong sense of isolation and of the emotional distance between those being quizzed, the grimness of the situation countered with the brightly coloured interiors and nicely textured exteriors of an increasing number of modern government facilities. Kathleen Murphy does a good, still dead body. As another of the festival’s explorations of very intimate theatre-going, Lifeline proved an intriguing success on a number of levels, most of all in offering a place for its audience to improvise.

Lifeline, created & directed by Uwe Mengel; BlackBox, Victorian Arts Centre, Oct 18-22.

RealTime issue #52 Dec-Jan 2002 pg. 5

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2002
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