Tuesday, 19 April 2005

Journal of the Plague Year by Tom Wright, April 19, 2005

 Journal of the Plague Year by Tom Wright
Adapted from Daniel Defoe, by Malthouse Theatre
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse  April 19 to May 8, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Journal of the Plague Year is a series of theatrical images, often inspired, exploring a year in the bubonic plague ridden London.

Defoe's fabricated journal of a man living the year 1665, is the foundation for Tom Wright's vividly composed text. The book is a pseudo-documentary and the voice of its central character becomes the narrator, a man who is witness to, and survivor of, the plague year.

The narration, by Robert Menzies, is the thread upon which the images of the plague are strung.

The production is a grim but often comic vision that combines the grotesque style with the vaudevillian.

Director, Michael Kantor, allows the gruesome realities of the plague to collide with the music, commentary, style and, perhaps most significantly, the hindsight, of the present.

It incorporates slapstick, satirical dialogue and slabs of text from Defoe. These weighty and awkward tracts of text are the weakest element of the production.

Printed titles, in the style of Victorian melodrama, introduce the horrors of each new month of the Plague Year.

Kantor uses a powerful and consistent theatricality. With one startling image following another.

A disembodied hands grasp at a dying man, huge balloons inflate overhead with an ominous hissing, a group of dissolute aristocrats fan themselves on a balcony (Ross Williams, Julie Forsyth, Marta Dusseldorp), a demented doomsayer shouts prophecies. (Mathew Whittet)

A leather-masked man (Dan Spielman) disposes of bodies in a yawning pit, ghoulish skull masks cavort through the streets and a giant rubber head appears over a fairground.

The atmospheric quality of the play provides a provocative and disturbing depiction of the plagued city.

The Dance of Death, typical of the bubonic plague victim, is distressingly portrayed in the convulsive death of a young woman. (Lucy Taylor)

The ensemble is compelling as they balance cruelty and comedy. Their awkward twitching bodies, white faces, blackened eyes, inky stained costumes and naked limbs give an awful sense of humanity stripped bare in a city laid waste.

Paul Jackson's lighting creates a complex, sculptural landscape with Anna Tregloan's constantly moving physical design. Max Lyandvert's live music blends an evocative soundscape with anachronistic contemporary songs.

This is a bold and irreverent production that augurs well for the new Malthouse.

By Kate Herbert

No comments:

Post a Comment