Friday, November 30, 2018

Revolt. She Said. Revolt.

Revolt.  She Said.  Revolt. by Alice Birch (UK).  The Street Company at The Street Theatre, Canberra, November 28 – December 1, 2018.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
November 29

Director – Karla Conway; Assistant to the Director – Daniel Berthon; Lighting Design – Jed Buchanan; Set Concept – Karla Conway, Sam Pickering; Set Realisation – Imogen Keen; Sound Design – Kimmo Vennonen

Anneka van der Velde; Ash Hamilton-Smith; Bronte Forrester; Damon Baudin; Hayden Splitt; Hiyab Kerr

To one side there is a representation of a wall, with a central door, except that it consists of netting.  What seem like windblown scraps are suspended in the net like caught birds.  The image seems to me what the play is about.  Modern city life as young lovers, office workers, and as family members is fundamentally disjointed – meaninglessly flung; flattened against some reality which is itself insubstantial.

In this production, the three men – different from each other but somehow the same – represent all men, imagine themselves to be in charge of their lives and therefore in control of women.  Their delusion makes life even more impossible for the three women, who find some sort of solace in a group together by the end – but saying “revolt” and “revolt again” makes no real difference.  Words, literally in this production, are no more than projections on the wall opposite the bird-catching net.

The performance style is something that I can define only as “metrosexual”, belonging to a generation way ahead of my style of living.  Yet, as theatre goes, this production satisfies my requirement for truth in performance – sincerity of motivation. 

The weird thing is that the newly formed The Street Company, nurtured through a year of work to reach its first professional production by Karla Conway (previously artistic director of Canberra Youth Theatre and currently Education Program manager at the Canberra Theatre Centre) demonstrates in its strength of ensemble playing the exact opposite of Alice Birch’s theme.  In their working together so well, there is a sense of purpose and direction in their lives as actors, while the characters they play are but mere bagatelles tossed about with no end except talk of revolt.

So how odd it is to see a such a successful production of something I might call “anti-theatre”.  I have found a useful explanation of Birch’s playwriting on a page (with no acknowledgement of the author) titled Biography of Alice Birch at :

“The plays can be called post-dramatic in that they always question the dramatic form itself. Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. is loud and dialogues overlap, and yet we hear; the notions of narrative and characters are deconstructed, sometimes two scenes are played at exactly the same time, and yet something happens on stage; sex and body fluids and strong language exude from the actors' bodies, and yet they all crave for peace and quiet and connexion. But for all the noise the plays make, when language happens, it is hesitantly assertive, or assertively hesitant. Not so much in a state of infancy as in a state of urgency, when you want to say so much and yet the words won't come easily, when even silence is potent.”

The program states “The Street Company is the next generation of Canberra talent”, in, as I see it, the long tradition perhaps beginning with Elbow Theatre’s Elbow Room, about which I wrote in July 2000, Elbow's program offers "live music, stand up comedy, sock puppetry, serious dwama, new writing, skits, faux rudeness, talent, 'art' etc", and the only thing I missed were the socks. And whose director, Iain Sinclair, went on to a highly successful professional career. 

Karla Conway writes “Revolt.  She Said.  Revolt Again. represents the professional debut of The Street Company.  It has been a gift to be given the responsibility of Alice Birch’s words, which make tangible the collective experiences of women through time, to the here and now.  I look forward to seeing the careers of our artists soar in years to come.”

And indeed, so do I.

Photos: Shelly Higgs

Bronte Forrester and Anneke van der Velde
in Revolt.  She Said.  Revolt. by Alice Birch

Bronte Forrester and Damon Baudin
in Revolt. She Said. Revolt. by Alice Birch