Friday, 31 December 2010

Song of the Bleeding Throat ***

Song of the Bleeding Throat
By David Tredinnick, by The Eleventh Hour
 170 Leicester St. Fitzroy until Feb 12, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you don’t know Thomas Carlyle, the conservative, 19th century, Scottish historian, you will after seeing Song of the Bleeding Throat (David Tredinnick). You will also gain another perspective on Abe Lincoln.

The strength of this production for The Eleventh Hour is its actors (Richard Bligh, Anne Browning, Neil Pigot, James Saunders). They relish its often-convoluted language and stylistic idiosyncrasies. Director, Brian Lipson, colours their performances with quirky details, comical physicality and simple, surprising theatrical devices.

The show is two separate plays: the first is about Carlyle (Bligh) and his long-suffering wife, Jane (Browning) while the second is about Lincoln’s (Pigot) assassination by John Wilkes Booth (Saunders).

The overly-long first act is a parody of a portrait of Carlyle in his sitting room. Bligh captures the blustering vanity, violence and arch-conservativism of Carlyle. Browning is wry but sympathetic as Jane who quaffs increasing doses of opiates and communes with her dog, played by Saunders as a loyal, working-class bloke who adores Jane but fears his master. Pigot, dressed as Lincoln, is a peculiar and reluctant stagehand.

Lincoln’s anachronistic presence culminates in the second act when he looms above us, perched like a rag doll in a huge, white bed. Pigot’s Lincoln is addled, childlike, struggling to recollect his past, to grasp the gravity of his death and to defend his political decisions about slavery and democracy.

This act layers Walt Whitman’s (Bligh) poetry with Lincoln’s political speeches, Wilkes’ ravings, quotes from Shakespeare, references to Liberty (Browning) and contemporary song. The balance of the absurd, the historical and the literary is more successful in this half and the stretching of the moment of death is an effective device. Comedic elements provide a strong counterpoint for the tragedy of Lincoln’s demise.

Tredinnick constructed his script from non-theatrical texts. It is described as a “burlesque … a caricature of serious works.”

The content is sometimes incoherent, the language impenetrable and the structure not cohesive in this satirical commentary on democracy and freedom.  However, this show is a testament to the impact of powerful and skilful acting in a simply staged production.

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