Thursday, 4 September 1997

The Butcher, The Baker... , Sep 4 1997

The Butcher, The Baker... by Ella Filar
 La Mama at the Courthouse until Sept 20, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around 3 Sep 1997
(For Arts Editor, Herald Sun, Robin Usher)

Could it be Universal Consciousness that causes strange themes to emerge simultaneously on stage? This week Ella Filar's play The Butcher, The Baker... opens and so does Meat, another play about a butcher.

Filar is a musician/song-writer with a excellent selection of songs and a musical and lyrical style drawing on Kurt Weill who composed for Bertolt Brecht. Filar, in this instance, writes without the political edge.

Her Crow's Bar Cabaret, a band of seven, including three singers, play on a raised platform. The arrangement is syncopated and percussive with rhythms and voices reminiscent of 1930's Berlin Cabaret and evoking a nightmarish quality.

This ominous atmosphere supports the narrative played below in the netherworld of Honey, (Joanna Seidel) her non-sexual partner, Alex, (Sue Ingleton) who is a brain surgeon and Honey's new lover, Johnny, the butcher (Howard Stanley).

There is a seething, seamy eroticism in Filar's text, directed by Daniel Schlusser, which is grotesque and disarmingly lurid at times. It is sexual not sensual. The characters are intensely dislikeable, presumably intentionally. They manipulate, seduce and deceive. There is a body count by the end: two human, one rodent.

The juggling of brain surgeon and butcher as partners is an obvious - perhaps too obvious - analogy for the cerebral versus the physical. Alex talks on the phone, deals with heads and ideas while Johnny pounces on Honey's body, treating her as a slab of meat. Johnny is all barely restrained passion, lewd references and roving hands. Alex is aloof, smug and clever. Both are obnoxious.
The play is intercut with songs, my favourite being, "Give it to me one more time". The voice of Elissa Gray is extraordinarily chilling. It is textured with harmonies by Iris Walshe-Howling and the spine-tingling vocal acrobatics of Roni Linser.

Ingleton gives Alex a wry ironic edge and Stanley is wild and seductive as the butcher. Seidel shifted with flair between sexual abandon and frustration.

There are problems arising from the structure of the narrative and a profusion of styles and images which reach overload and become incoherent or, at least, difficult to follow. Poetic verse bounces against straight dialogue and storytelling. 

The static nature of the staging and direction does not help to clarify or integrate the whole. However, the songs and some imagistic writing are terrific.


No comments:

Post a Comment