Thursday, 10 May 2007

OT: Chronicles of the Old Testament, Malthouse, May 10, 2007

 OT: Chronicles of the Old Testament by Uncle Semolina (& Friends)
by Malthouse Theatre
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse,  May 10 to 27, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on May 10, 2007

OT: Chronicles of the Old Testament investigates the myths of the Old Testament without CGI or complex sound technology. 

It intentionally employs low-tech theatrical conventions, toys and game playing to illuminate the biblical stories that shaped the beliefs and behaviour of generations.

Devised and directed by Christian Leavesley and Phil Rolfe, the concept works in part. A few stories are effectively illustrated while some are glossed over with a line of text or an image and a couple are unintelligible.

The cluttered, almost claustrophobic stage is constructed of huge, scrappy sheets of cardboard and is littered with primary-coloured, plastic nursery chairs and baskets overflowing with toys.

Four young, agile actors, (Luke Ryan, Phillip McInnes, Amelia Best, Katherine Tonkin) enact the stories like children attempting to understand through play a complex, confusing adult world.

A bearded, mute old man (Peter Snow) is Yahweh, God of the Jews. Like a careless, absent father, he sits silently watching the children’s antics, rarely intervening, disappearing intermittently to the distress of his children, through a door ripped in the cardboard.

Samson’s story is a highlight. Ryan self-narrates Samson’s battles, playing Samson as a foul-mouthed yobbo with a grudge and mighty strength. More poignant is the interpretation of the Trials of Job, told as a failed stand-up routine by a comic making bad jokes at the expense of the suffering Job.

Projections provide lyrics for Joseph’s song, Dream Interpreter, that is presented as a garage-band song using trashy home amplification. Lot’s Daughters is a disturbing view of ancient incest and Abraham, his wife, Sarah and servant, Hagar, wear cardboard masks of television stars.

Toys play multiple roles, manipulated by the actors. A bear and a Ken doll play Jacob and Esau and Humphrey Bear and other dolls have sex on the floor.

Despite its shambolic form, this show raises questions about humanity and God. Is Yahweh a vindictive or merciful or jealous God? The Bible is splattered with the blood of violent tribes and human brutality. What is God like if he made us in his own image? How do we understand his message? How do children learn the value of human life if their lessons are in such stories?

Is it any wonder our world is in such a state of chaos and despair?

By Kate Herbert

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