Wednesday, 30 January 2002

Sydney Festival 2002, Jan 30, 2002

Sydney Festival 2002

Writer: Kate Herbert

Jan 30, 2002

It was a wild old weekend visiting the Sydney Festival to see the French Theatre du Soleil and Barcelona's La Fura Dels Baus.  Neither are coming to Melbourne. Nobody asked them.

La Fura Dels Baus is dubbed experimental but is one of many companies internationally making theatre of this kind. They visited Adelaide Festival in 1998 with a show called MTM.

Their latest, OBS Macbeth, is based on the story of Shakespeare's Macbeth but, strangely, uses none of his poetic language.

Their highly developed form of visual and visceral spectacle incorporates video technology, live electronic music, huge machines, pyrotechnics, non-theatre spaces and an audience that is never allowed to sit or stand still.

Nor are they safe from marauding machines, roving video cameras, showers of water, tubs of blood or getting trampled by panicking crowd members attempting to escape damage.

OBS does just as it intends. It recreates in an innovative form, the violence of the murderous would-be king and his manipulative wife.

So, allow me to be controversial about a controversial company.

Audience members who love the work say they like the edge of fear in the space, that theatre is not usually physically dangerous. The company might say it presents a complacent middle-class with an image of social violence to shock them out of their fuzzy, self-satisfied fog. 

What I see, is a theatre company appropriating social violence for the entertainment of the young, middle class, theatre-going audience.

They are marketing the fear. It is used as titillation for an audience that has no first hand experience of it.

Lady Macbeth   is a strip artist, a tabletop dancer, a lewd, provocative tart whose only power is her gorgeous body. It also, just like MTM, violates women. She is almost penetrated with a sword by her soldierly husband on return from battle.

In profound contrast is Flood Drummers, created with her company by the heroic and much mythologised theatre director from Paris, Ariane Mnouchkine.  

Mnouchkine's company, formed in the 60's, has sufficient funding to allow her to take five to twelve months to develop a show. This Sydney season, she tells me, is the last of Flood Drummers in the world.

This show is kinder to audiences. We are seated, albeit in a non-theatre space. The story is an political parable written by Helene Cixous.  What makes this piece so extraordinary is the form and mode of presentation.

It derives from Asian styles, particularly the Japanese Bun Raku puppets and Noh Theatre.  But the actors are the puppets. Each has manipulators to lift, propel and animate him.

 Prior to the show, we watch the actors dress and put on delicate masks and costumes in their public and very decorative dressing rooms.

On stage, an exceptional musician, who has worked with Mnouchkine since the 70s, accompanies the action.

There is less passion and assault in the Flood Drummers than OBS. There is more dialogue, less flesh, blood and fear in the audience. And there is no nudity. Nothing shocks. It merely transforms the actors and transports us.

The only other show in Sydney that involves a naked man is the Elocution of Benjamin Franklin  featuring a new, more svelte John Wood . That show, we will see in September in Melbourne, according to Mr. Wood.

Will he be writhing naked like a strip artiste? Or bathing in a tub of blood or chucking bladders of blood at us?

Sydney Festival closed officially on Australia Day weekend. Some visual arts and cinema events continue.

By Kate Herbert

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