Friday, 30 September 2011

Ganesh Versus The Third Reich, Sep 29, 2011 ***

Ganesh Versus The Third Reich ***
Back To Back Theatre, Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne Festival
Malthouse Theatre, Sep 29 until Oct 9, 2011
Reviewed by: Kate Herbert on Sept 29, 2011
Published in Herald Sun

 Image by: Jeff Busby, Steve Tilley, Simon Laherty, David Woods

  Image by: Jeff Busby, Simon Laherty, Steve Tilley

Back to Back’s show, Ganesh Versus The Third Reich, challenges our preconceptions about disability, power, oppression, dignity and abuse. But this show, with one narrative thread based in mythological realms and the other firmly rooted in the reality of rehearsing a show, is less cohesive than previous productions.

In the fictitious myth, the elephant-headed, Hindu God, Ganesh (Brian Tilley), the destroyer and protector, travels from India to Berlin with Levi (Simon Laherty), a Jewish prisoner, to retrieve the swastika, a sacred Hindu symbol, from the ultimate destroyer, Hitler. Sound quirky enough?

The myth is vividly and lyrically portrayed as a grim fairytale in an evocative set (Mark Cuthbertson) of enormous, plastic curtaining that creates an eerie, layered effect using black and white cartoons of train, forest, cottage or barbed wire.

The second thread of this production, directed by Bruce Gladwin, is a fly-on-the-wall view of actors in rehearsal, creating the play through improvisation, discussion and vigorous, sometimes violent argument.

The arrogant, autocratic director, played by the charismatic David Woods, echoes the dictatorial style of Hitler, with Woods commanding rather than collaborating with his actors, patronising one vulnerable performer (Mark Deans) and relentlessly bullying another (Scott Price).

The analogy of oppression and abuse continues with Woods also playing the insidious Dr. Mengele, who perpetrated vile, pseudo-medical abuses upon prisoners with disabilities.

Ganesh is portrayed with great respect and dignity, but Back To Back truncates its story of Ganesh’s quest because of moral dilemmas concerning the appropriation of this Hindu God.

This eccentric idea originated when a Back to Back member persistently drew Ganesh while another created a Neo-Nazi skinhead character. The show was born of the free thought, irrepressible creativity and lack of political constraints of these actors with intellectual disability.

Although both levels of narrative are fascinating, the collision of the two is a little bewildering initially, and we crave further development of one or the other, or else a clearer meeting of the two stories.

Star rating:***

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