Saturday, January 21, 2012

I’m Your Man. Created and directed by Roslyn Oades

I’m Your Man created and directed by Roslyn Oades.  Presented by Belvoir and Sydney Festival at Belvoir St Theatre Downstairs, January 21 – February 5, 2012

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 21

Billy McPherson

Mohammed Ahmed

Photos by Heidrun Lohr                  
Katia Molino

L to R:
Justin Rosniak, John Shrimpton,
Mohammed Ahmed, Billy McPherson, Katia Molino

Using interviews recorded by boxers and trainers, I’m Your Man is another example in this year’s Sydney Festival of what I have termed ‘factional theatre’.  And, like Force Majeure’s Never Did Me Any Harm (see my review January 11), it works with explosive effect.  Reality bites, theatricality soars – like the ambitions of these ordinary men, typically the ‘little kid from Marrickville’ who ‘travelled the world'.

How it works, though, is a little different from Force Majeure’s ‘dance theatre’.  Katia Molino, the only non-male and non-boxing background performer, explained in conversation with me after the show, that I’m Your Man is acting, not dance. 

In both these shows, the words are the actual recorded words of the interviewees – in this case even more immediate because each actor has headphones in which the original recording is being played, while the actor reproduces the words, mannerisms, voice qualities at a slight delay.  Billy McPherson, who is also a professional boxing trainer, said it took four weeks’ rehearsal to create the characters using the technique, the five actors covering the experiences of seven professional boxers.  But the role of the choreographer, Lee Wilson, was to create a moving total image in the setting of a boxing training ring, but to allow the actors to put the appropriate individual movements to the words, personal style and the story being told by each character.

So I’m Your Man is ‘factional acting theatre’ while Never Did Me Any Harm is ‘factional dance theatre’, two variations of a quite new form of theatre – one which I hope will develop and last well into the future, because it gives theatre a new lease of life in the age of digital media and documentary recording.  There will always be a place for fictional drama, but, as I found watching I’m Your Man, factional theatre reveals to the audience truths about ordinary people’s real lives in a different way from great fictional work.  There is a sense of objectivity in the experience as an observer of others’ experiences that, oddly enough, is more telling about the nature of society than, say, Brecht’s attempts at ‘alienation’ which have had such a looming effect through most of the past century in Western theatre.

The performances of the five actors – Justin Rosniak, John Shrimpton, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, as well as Katia Molino and Billy McPherson – are quite extraordinary.  Physically the sparring, pummelling and other training exercises are done at the kind of speed and intensity which the real boxing training would require.  If this were not achieved, the characterisations would not be believable.  But within the first few minutes of this 70 minute show, as each character takes the floor, I found myself completely drawn into the boxing gym life – something completely outside my own experience.

At the same time, the stories showed how boxing, for these men of varied backgrounds, though with a common bond through poverty and discrimination, provided them with a structure to their lives – even down to the four rules (break the rules of no alcohol, no drugs, no smoking and no swearing and you’ll go back to New Zealand, as one was told by his trainer), and the fifth rule (no sex before a fight).  There’s a discipline here that I hadn’t imagined, and a growth of self-worth in the minds of these ‘Marrickville’ boys when they succeeded in competition.

This is Belvoir Downstairs at its best.

P.S. The seven boxers whose lives are glimpsed in I'm Your Man are Billy 'The Kid' Dib, Wale 'Lucky Boy' Omotoso, Gus Mercurio, Jeff Fenech, Tony Mundine, Wally Carr and the mysterious CJ.