live the questions now

douglas leonard: brian lucas, performance anxiety

Brian Lucas, Performance Anxiety

Brian Lucas, Performance Anxiety

Brian Lucas, Performance Anxiety


Reeling away after the event, the expansive realisation began to seep in that you had attended an undoubted master work. Lucas has long held a national reputation for his intelligent physical performance works sedulously crafted by a mature artist from his considerable background skills in both theatre and dance. Now he literally leaps onto the world stage at the World Theatre Festival at the Brisbane Powerhouse, the venue which had commissioned his first major one man show, Monster, in 2000.

This is not to say Lucas has summarily trumped himself. He emerged fully fledged with most of his salient moves intact. Having followed him along the way, I can say that his earlier, more autobiographical pieces had the same rueful insights. His best talent has always been to describe being in motion, to depict who he was always becoming, vulnerable to himself but also portraying a sense of multiple selves simmering beneath his skin. Hence it was a bit off-putting at first to see him wearing contemporary clothes in his latest work. This break into costume came earlier, in Underbelly (2006), a baroque piece that interrupted Lucas’s plans to complete his personal trilogy, and was vomited forth in response to the media spin of the Howard years. Not much has changed from that perspective, so Lucas has gone on to meet his audience by unleashing other selves fitting for the times and exposing his own fears, his own performance anxieties amidst the moral ambiguities of the media-hyped post-9/11 world.

In line with Lucas’s continual experimenting with form, The Turbine Rehearsal Room has been tricked up for a cabaret performance in the round at “The Loser Bar” by designer Kieran Swann. The ambient success of this integrated vision is also a measure of Lucas’s collaborators. Swann has created a dais fitted out with hidden lights and exits for smoke to create a plethora of effects. It also has a special floor which enables Lucas in an initial moment to rise like a curtain with sheets draped around his waist and to metamorphically extend into the audience through his dance reach. Andrew Meadow’s superb lighting extends from a hermetic bed-chamber to a flare-lit war zone to framing a stunning mise-en-scene of interrogation rooms illuminated by single lightbulbs among the audience. Unfortunately Lucas can’t sing, so he informs us, “although he would like to” (just as he would “like to be an American”, or that he “was more driven to achieve” etc). This point was ironically underscored with an elegant and evocative sound collage by Brett Collery—Handel’s Largo, a baroque chorale, a modern classical boys’ choir, a female dolorosa and, finally, the big band version of “I’d like to teach the world to sing.”

Lucas has his own vibrant tones, of course. As poet-cum-dramatist he decides not to present a case study, but to respond to a quote from James Joyce: “Within the particular is contained the universal.” He presents four different characters who share a sense of anxiety despite the substantial differences in their circumstances: L’Amour, the Torch Singer; Limbo, the War Correspondent; Lunacy, the Orator; and Lachrymosa, the Stand-Up Comedian. And there is the diffident and dyspeptic performance persona named Brian Lucas.

As the audience enters, Lucas is lying down, covered in rose petal sheets and tossing and turning, uncomfortable in his own skin and unable to perform sexually with his partner. Eventually he rises in female guise with sheets clinging to his hips and sweeps into a dance of romantic desire for the Falling Man from the Twin Towers. She tells her psychiatrist, “I had fallen, just as the man had fallen.” Lachrymosa comments in a vocal loop back that, “She finally takes off her skin and lays herself bare—and it’s all in a lost cause.” The next scenario after interval is pure 60 Minutes. Limbo represents the sort of correspondent who can only read his teleprompter: “That’s what they want. So I give it to them.” Captured by the other side, he similarly parrots the script that has been given to him. Lunacy the Orator and an old man ambiguously share sadomasochistic rites. Lachrymosa is a shocker who dies of a heart attack. Lucas brilliantly represents them all at a rapid pace, for good and for evil and beyond both.

Brian Lucas has ever been aware of the daunting trial of self-consciousness and self-creation that is attributed to the artist, but which he rightly regards as our common lot. He genuinely sees himself as an ordinary person who goes through ordinary motions in the world in common with his audience, which perhaps accounts for his immense crowd-pleasing capacity in this unlikely format. What did we take away from his performance that strengthened us, as it undoubtedly did? Beneath the diffidence, beyond the chronic dyspepsia, Lucas’s tacit approach seemed to embody a panacea for the human condition recommended by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…Live the questions now. Perhaps you will gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Not the least aspect of Lucas’s heterogeneous art is that it seems designed to reinstate the magical arts and crafts of remembrance employed by Mnemosyne and her daughters to keep us safe from Lethe’s fatal river of media-induced forgetfulness.

Performance Anxiety, created & performed by Brian Lucas, sound designer Brett Collerym designer Kieran Swann, lighting Andrew Meadows; Turbine Rehearsal Room, Brisbane Powerhouse, Feb 9-13

RealTime issue #96 April-May 2010 pg. 30

© Douglas Leonard; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2010