Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Bare Witness by Mari Lourey
Reviewed by Frank McKone
Immediately outside the auditorium is a small colourful sign saying “Thank you. We hope you enjoyed the show”. Ironic, even shocking, on this occasion. Bare Witness is not meant to be ‘enjoyed’, but appreciated – for its theatrical inventiveness and for its theme, questioning the role of the war-zone photojournalist.
The structure of the play is simple in concept: we are watching a slide show in reverse, from Photograph 011 to Photograph 001, of pictures taken by photojournalist Dannie as she recalls and reacts to the memories surrounding each shot, from places and wartimes like Bosnia, Chechnya, East Timor.
Her picture of a blinded woman who did not know she was being photographed sells worldwide, establishing Dannie’s career, leading to international awards, while keeping her on the move. Despite calls home to Australia when Dannie can squeeze them in, her mother keeps the seriousness of her illness secret. When Dannie discovers her mother has died, she has been away from home for five years, obsessed with seeking out the best shot.
The ultimate photo is probably based on the execution by the Taliban of Daniel Pearl in 2002.
In the background, the video material is not straight documentary, but imagery obliquely relevant, such as of dogs – the dogs of war. The soundscape is created amazingly by Kristin Rule using an amplified cello for both music and sound effects which complement each situation and mood. The action is tightly choreographed stylised movement and voice, in a set and lighting which re-creates the image of photographing in war conditions.
The result is ‘total theatre’ – imagist in form, creating moods all the way from excitement (at winning prizes or selling pics to news agencies), wild release (when photojournalists meet together in some remote hotel), love (even in the midst of terror), respect (for each other’s professionalism), despair (in the face of impossible dilemma).
Australia is justly proud of its tradition of physical theatre, and this recent play is an excellent example. For me some of the imagery was a bit too obscure, and I found the women (Daniela Farinacci as Dannie, and Eugenia Fragos as Violetta) much clearer to understand compared to the men whose diction was not as definite as my hearing needed. But all the cast (the men were Adam McConvell as Jack, Todd MacDonald as Jacek and Ray Chong Nee as Jose) worked perfectly together in what was often as much a dance company as an acting company.
This is original work, coming out of the long-standing Melbourne theatrical culture, and very much appreciated – a very worthwhile inclusion in The Street’s program.