Saturday, December 2, 2017

Tristan: A Song for a Superior Man

Raoul Craemer
Photo by Andrew Sikorski
Tristan: A Song for the Superior Man.  Written and Directed by Chenoeh Miller.  Little Dove Theatre Art at Ralph Wilson Theatre, Gorman House Arts Centre, Canberra, December 1-3, 2017.

Co-written and performed by Chris Endrey, Nick Delatovic, Oliver Levi-Malouf, Raoul Craemer and Erica Field.

Composition and Sound Design by Dane Alexander; Dance Choreography by Alison Plevey and Oliver Levi-Malouf; Technical Design and Operation by Ben Atkinson – The Sound Workshop; Technical Support by Gregor Murray and Shannon Jackson.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
December 2

This work, starting from the idea of ‘hero’, explores the breakdown of a man’s mental stability in the face of expectations of being a ‘man’, and the possibility of his rebuilding himself as a ‘good man’.  Though I am not a pop song aficionado, I think Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For A Hero was the theme for the first dance piece, which stirred the pot by being energetically danced by a figure dressed and made up convincingly as a female, later to be surprisingly revealed as a male.

The theatrical form is uncompromisingly expressionist.  Raoul Craemer presents the ‘Tristan’ model, pumping iron as we enter the theatre, and when exhausted, describes his breakdown as literally burning from his feet up to his heart, in a room beset by thunder and rain, waiting for the roof to fall in, and the rainwater to douse and save him.  But the roof, he tells us before fading into the dark upstage, falls in too late.

Then, for about an hour, we follow bits and pieces of men’s stories of their experiences of becoming and being ‘men’, based – we are told – on responses to a survey asking a wide range of men in our community questions such as have you ever been violent, or been the object of violence, and others about their feelings about themselves and their relationships.  In developing the work from the original script by Chenoeh Miller, the performers incorporated some of their own experiences as well.

Much of the work is expressed in semi-dance movement, using background recorded songs, and a lengthy recording of a woman speaking about the process of trying to understand and articulate the contrasting roles of women and men; while Erica Field, dressed as a woman, is on stage as a visual focus for us as we listen to the hesitancies and difficulties in the woman’s explanation.

Finally, Craemer reappears, and describes his growth and reconstruction as a new ‘Tristan’.  He then goes to each of the figures at that point prostrate on the floor and revives them, including the woman dressed in male attire, with care, respect, and indications of love.

There is also an appropriate degree of humour in the piece, as men appear from behind doors with unexpected anecdotes to lighten the intensity of the struggle to understand their role as ‘men’.

I’ve used quote marks here to emphasise that Tristan: A Song for the Superior Man is about the concept of manhood, and how it might be interpreted.  Though so much concerned with ideas, and therefore properly using expressionism as its style, some sections effectively stir our emotions – especially the early scene of conflict in a marriage imposed on both the man and the woman by unintended pregnancy; and again in the feeling of hope in Raoul Craemer’s performance of the final scene.

Though I could not class this work as thoroughly polished, in the sense that it needs a clearer and stronger through-line as a piece of theatre, the individual performances, choreography and the exploratory concept make the show worthwhile viewing.