Geese written and directed by Joe Woodward. Shadow House PITS at Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, April 26, 8pm and April 28-29, 1pm, 2011.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
While I drove home from Geese in the middle lane equidistant from either verge on a dark section of three-lane freeway, a stationary white car appeared to my left. As the image grew I could see its bonnet was up like a wing suspended. Then I made out a dark formally dressed figure peering into the black hole seeming to be attempting to manipulate something impossible to see. All four emergency lights were flashing. As the image faded into my left rear vision mirror I found myself contemplating this person’s belief in do-it-yourself action without even tools, light or working clothes. Why not just wait patiently for Road Service to arrive? I thought.
Before my thought was finished, in my right peripheral vision movement caught my eye. An athletic figure in white was running, as if in training for some long-distance event, against the flow of traffic on the very edge of the right lane, on a right-hand bend. I was thankful to be in the middle lane as he disappeared in my right rear vision mirror, and could only hope that drivers in the right lane would miss him as he would appear suddenly to them out of the darkness, just in front of them, unexpectedly to their right.
Then it struck me that Joe Woodward had at last succeeded in making me understand Antonin Artaud. The images held briefly in my headlights were not part of my life as far as those other figures are concerned, but because I saw them they are now in my memory and I have pejorative thoughts and fears about them. I impose my conventions and expectations upon them.
Artaud’s conceit that we are only free when we escape from the hell of convention is not a philosophy to which I can subscribe. In Woodward’s previous works that I have seen, it seems to me that he wanted to embrace Artaud’s position, but the result was that what appeared on stage remained hidden in an impenetrable cloud of mystery, becoming sound and fury apparently signifying not very much.
Though in Geese many long speeches are soporific as characters expound their particular philosophical positions, in the end there is a structured storyline. There is a young girl who saw and briefly spoke to a disturbed man at a railway station in the beginning. When she reappears at the end, she switches on a radio news broadcast which neither she nor the others she meets listen to, but we hear as background noise words like Libya, Yemen and Syria. Suddenly the ‘Artaud’ characters’ views in the possible memories of the disturbed man, and his possible experiences, become relevant today. How much conflict, death, destruction and madness is the result of people’s obsessive insistence on carrying out the dictates of conventions like religious beliefs, unbending political positions – even perhaps being totally enamoured, speaking only in French, of the theatre of Antonin Artaud.
Geese is for the most part too heavy (rather than weighty) theatrically for my liking, but now it is openly about Artaud, the cloud of mystery comes but also goes, and the ending makes a valuable observation about the real world. “No one has ever written, painted, sculpted, modeled, built, or invented except literally to get out of hell” according to Antonin Artaud, but perhaps Geese is a step in the right direction for Woodward.