testing the tightrope

keith gallasch on andrew morrish and improvisation

Andrew Morrish

Andrew Morrish

Andrew Morrish

“I’M BACK”, DECLARES ANDREW MORRISH, PLAYING TO A WELCOMING OPENING NIGHT AUDIENCE AT THE NEW PERFORMANCE SPACE IN CARRIAGEWORKS AFTER A LONG SOJOURN IN EUROPE AND DESCRIBING HIMSELF AS “A LITTLE MORE RECKLESS”, AGEING AND THEREFORE PERMITTED TO WEAR WHAT TACKY OUTFIT HE WILL. THIS IS MORRISH IN STAND UP MODE, FAST, WISE-CRACKING AND VERY FUNNY, AND WITH AN APPARENT OBSESSIVENESS THAT FITS HIS IMPRO-RIFFING.

From experience we know Morrish in performance is on the road to somewhere. He probably has a pretty good idea where that somewhere is and even how long it might take to get there, if less certain about exactly how. Like a sometimes distracted driver, he’ll chat incessantly while looking out for road signs and landmarks that pop into his head, or not—and then? That’s the nature of improvisation, even this semi-structured variety. No road map. No GPS. Performance is hard enough with lines learnt and moves blocked. In improvisation the road can turn into a tightrope, a path that can run out mid-air, or snap. Then again, improvisors extol the freedom of their medium. Unhindered by various fixities they are psychoanalyst Michael Balint’s “philobats”, in love with the inbetween, preferably without safety nets (Balint, Thrills & Regressions, Maresfield Library, London, 1959). Of course, many an improvisor travels with a rescue kit of fall-back positions, handy set pieces, vocal or physical turns, reliable triggers to carry them through.

“I’m avoiding narrative tonight”, Morrish announces, “but I do have a story. I’ll try to cut it up.” So we accompany him on a journey over the next hour to what turns out to be his mother’s death, but first we hear something of the man she bore: “…an artist, a fat old working class bloke working around Europe getting technique.” The peculiar little Morrish frolics, the discombobulated leaps between verbal dancing, suggest, amusingly as ever, that the technique doses not belong to dance. What’s on his mind is “working class” and how that explains why he can never aspire either to romancing Julia Roberts or applying for an Australia Council grant: he’s working class and “doesn’t deserve better.” He says he’s not bitter that he’s created “a Morrish un-fundable artform: un-copyable, un-ownable sound and movement.” Like the claims made for imrovisation, this is a declaration of independence, as well as of origins. (It would be churlish to dwell on the career safety net offered by performing in state subsidised arts venues. Independence is relative, rarely absolute.)

On the way to his mother’s death, the road does turn to tightrope. We sense a tightening, a somewhat mysterious telephone call motif is established, some words tangle—attributed to the “uncontrollable saliva” of ageing, quips Morrish, making the most of everything—as he does with the CarriagWorks “heritage wall” he realises he is playing against and which nearly takes a bit out of him with one of its left-in-place metal features). Morrish’s quick thinking capacity to pick up on his errors and his tics is played to pomo self-referential advantage, allowing him safe passage to his next point. But suddenly, just as he is about to launch into a key story, his next destination, he realises that it’s not there. All he can do is admit it, and it feels like we’re out there on the tightrope with him. It’s a curiously visceral moment, however brief, before he’s on a roll again.

Morrish is in Europe when he hears of his mother’s impending death. He grapples with Qantas about getting a flight and is criticised by someone for not asking for “compassion discount.” The result is a splendid tirade about a world governed by loyalty points.

The sad conclusion to the story has Morrish transform, in a way, into his mother. He unzips his jacket to reveal a floral frock, and he dances a little dance and “she slips away.” It’s a moment of quiet but intense, considered theatricality.

The balance between moment and momentum in Morrish’s performance was finely held, even the moments of near fall accentuating the accomplished art of a fine philobat.

Andrew Morrish, Solo 1, Letting off Steam, Performance Space, CarriageWorks, Sydney, May 25

RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. on

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

1 October 2007