radio-ing in: the artifice of intervention

jonathan marshall interrogates pvi’s inform

SINCE 2006, PVI HAS BEEN PRESENTING THE ACTIONS OF THE LOYAL CITIZENS UNDERGROUND (LCU), A PARA-POLICING GROUP. THE AUDIENCE IS ISSUED WITH HEADSETS AND LISTEN TO THE LCU QUESTIONING MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC REGARDING THEIR ACTIVITIES OR RESPONSES TO MINOR CRIMES. REFORM (2006) WAS PLAYED OUT IN FULL VIEW ON A WALK ALONG A CITY ROAD. THE ACTION OF PVI’S NEW WORK, INFORM, OCCURS LARGELY OUT OF SIGHT, WITH AUDIENCES IN THEIR CARS, PARKED ALONG A SUBURBAN STREET, AS LCU DOORKNOCKS.

This seems a bold move, exposing the performers to unpredictability. Given the audience only has access to the spoken word, one might expect the actors to be masters of verbal improvisation and poetic sparring. In fact, the LCUs are skilled at bullying. Each “interview” is a monologue directed at the householder on the evils of a social practice (graffiti, public dog shit, theft of carparking spaces, water wastage), peppered with unending “umms” and “you knows” and other uninspiring phrases while disparaging the practice in question.

Little space is offered for the householder to respond. For those of us raised on Countdown, one is tempted to recall Molly Meldrum’s interviews involving questions whose replies were largely predetermined (Molly: “So, you must be pleased with your new album?” Artist: “Yes.”). The only unexpected responses were from householders refusing to talk to the LCU, but nothing significant was made of this. Throughout, one is left imagining how much richer Inform could have been with a stronger text (be it the crafted larrikinism of Australian New Wave works like Alex Buzo’s Norm And Ahmed, or a calculated use of metaphor and imagery), with a more dynamic interviewing technique, and with more developed improvisational skills. In short, how much better PVI’s otherwise engaging concepts might be if carried out by those who, apparently unlike the current cast, have extensive theatre or comedy experience.

Possibly the LCU indifference to interviewee responses was meant as a critique of political pollsters and ideologues, but if so, it was a blunt instrument used to establish a familiar point. Jason Sweeney’s score, moreover, conformed to Brian Eno’s “wallpaper music” epithet, exacerbating the broadcast’s vocal, aural and affective monotony. Here too one could perhaps conclude the intent was to dull the audience into indifferent, distracted submission to authority similar to that expected of the householders—but the result was more tedious and frustrating than intellectually challenging.

The key issue is just what is being presented here? If it’s theatre it compares poorly with Version 1.0’s The Wages of Spin and Not Yet It’s Difficult’s Blowback or their Apolitical Dance. And what precisely is PVI trying to depict? The repressiveness and pettiness of modern policing and of spying are hardly new given these institutions developed in post-Napoleonic Europe to keep populations at bay. PVI’s press materials suggest an interest in the post-9/11, post-Tampa psyche, but to depict this, one would need more from the householders themselves—be these real stories or scripted material. It seems that, like the 1960s street artists whose approach PVI most closely echoes, PVI assume that their projects are not ‘fictions’ as such, but ‘real’ interventions into society. In this sense, Inform is just what is seems: moderately aestheticised, publicly-staged spruiking conducted by non-actors—a modest if not particularly edifying achievement.

Opening night’s final interview did however rise above such limitations. A migrant from Sierra Leone was asked if he would dob in illegals, if he accepted that immigrants must “assimilate”, and was then pressured to join in singing Waltzing Matilda and Do You Come From a Land Down Under. Possibly disarmed by the offensiveness of their own questions in this context, the interviewers here actively solicited this man’s opinions, which he delivered with all the aural beauty of someone carefully replying in a language not his native tongue. Although ostensibly enunciating the conservative position, the palpable aural presence of this man, his dignity and patience in replying to these demands imparted a pathos, drama and aural complexity otherwise lacking in Inform. PVI should abandon their insistent ‘realism’ and ensure they have more interaction with their subjects.

Jonathan Marshall’s preview of PVI’s Inform appeared in RealTime 79, page 32.

PVI, Inform, artistic directors Kelli McCluskey, Steve Bull, performer-collaborators Ben Sutton, Sarah Wilkinson, Ofa Fotu, Chris Williams, score Pretty Boy Crossover (Jason Sweeney), production manager/DJ Mike Nanning, research Christina Lee; Perth suburbs, June 20-30

RealTime issue #80 Aug-Sept 2007 pg.

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2007