Friday, 7 March 1997

The White Rose and the Blue, March 7, 1997

 by Julia Britton
Melbourne Town Hall until March 16, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around March 7 1997

The jury is out. We are now officially completely unshockable. In the face of onstage nipple piercing, rape fantasies, suggestions of incest and most prominently, flagellation, our pulse rates continue to drop. The boredom quotient even of whipping has gone sky high.

Perhaps it is my perception but it seems that sado-masochism is being done to death recently. The life of Melbourne-born pianist and composer Percy Grainger may have been lived early this century but his well-documented aberrant sexual behaviour is very fashionable in nightclubs, fancy dress, video clips and fashion shoots. Are the middle-class so bored?

This two-hour solo is performed valiantly by Shawn Unsworth who struggles with an unwieldy, over-long and over-written text. It is essentially an informational monologue that must then be performed as self-narration with occasional scenes in which Unsworth plays Rose and other and other characters.

The location in the opulent Melbourne City Council Chambers was the site of one of Percy's early concerts.  The problem is that the grandeur of the room is in danger of overwhelming the production altogether.

Unsworth is almost perpetually in motion, dressing and undressing, whipping or being whipped. However, most of the time he is trapped behind the huge mayoral table or on top of a grand piano set against the back wall. This makes the whole performance physically inaccessible and the performer himself uncomfortable with an edge of desperation and breathlessness in the first half and he is unaided by such dense and wordy text which lacks any dramatic tension.

It is astonishing that such an eccentric and perverse life can be made to seem banal. Percy Grainger was evidently a charming rogue. A chronology of his life with occasional bouts of flagellation (Did I mention the whipping?) does not constitute good drama.


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