Sunday 18 July 1993

Remember -Jenny Kemp 18 July 1993


Interview about Jenny Kemp’s new play. with cast Margaret Cameron, Margaret Mills, Robert Menzies (actors) and David Symons (assistant director)

Article by Kate Herbert

18 July 1993

This article was published in The Melbourne Times after 18 July 1993


Jenny Kemp's company working on her new play Remember seemed dazed like people who had been astral travelling rather than rehearsing all morning. In the Church Hall rehearsal space in Gardenvale, Margaret Cameron, Margaret Mills, Robert Menzies (actors) and David Symons (assistant director) were themselves like characters in a dream. It was an interesting challenge to interview them, at their request, en masse in this strange other-worldly, dream-like atmosphere.


The content of this piece, says Cameron who, with Mills, has worked on this project since its inception two years ago, "is about the mind, memory, imagination, fantasy and reality and dream." These are favoured topics of Ms. Kemp as demonstrated in previous works such as Call of the Wild and White Hotel.


Kemp's style generally involves a non-linear narrative structure but in this case there is a story. Mills describes it as, "a woman attempting to integrate a trauma." "Trying to remember," adds Cameron. The woman, Moderna, has entered a shonky business deal with a man who subsequently rapes her. She is in hospital trying to remember and to heal herself both physically and mentally. The references are both personal and socio-political.


Do not be deceived. The presence of a "narrative" does not mean that the form of the play is conventional. "There are two time narratives that are actually fairly coherent", says Menzies. "Pre-rape and post-rape which are often played simultaneously. But it is in the interweaving of these two narratives that there is an element of confusion which is kind of built into the work itself." Moderna "goes somewhere", says Symons. "From a point of not remembering to remembering", says Mills.


Time is elastic. Kemp sees the piece overthrowing the constraints of linear time. She wants to " 'disorganise' conventional patterns and cause 'cracks' and fissures' through which a more inner world can seep." (Attacking the Constraints of Linear Time, J Kemp).


The four all agree that the audience should be able to drift in and out of the piece. Time can be taken to feel, to dream.


So here the content meets the form. If the content is like that, says Cameron, then the form necessarily must reflect these issues. It is not uncommon that the content of a piece becomes the form (Remember McLuhan? "The medium is the message") Interestingly, as I watch these people responding from their dream-like, Jungian, mythic, exotic place, I see the form has also invaded the personal territory of the creators. They, to some degree, are living it - not as a method actor might do with a character but they have been penetrated by the very form and tone of the dream and mystery.


This project may sound like an intense inner world, but the company insists that Remember  is a spectacle, that it is extravagant visually, a big picture, animated. There are also "lots of ordinary, funny places," says Cameron.


 There is a variety of genres employed: surrealism, naturalism, expressionism. The surrealism of French painter Delvaux is the location, the set, the landscape, according to Cameron. Naturalistic scenes give "moments of grounding" for the audience.  Menzies describes the actors as at times real people in real situations, or embodiments of emotions, mere mouthpieces for words or simply physical presences.  For the actors this can be confusing but exciting.


One element which seems intrinsic to the piece is song. The six songs by Dalmazio Barbare draw on styles as diverse as cabaret, recitative, classical opera and ballad. Menzies emphasises the ironic role of the songs and their placement within the play. Mills says "They come to her when she needs them.... when she needs lightening up." For Cameron, they represent the most creative and highly imaginative possibilities. They are in the woman's psyche, says Cameron because, in this piece, "there is no other place." They are healing, thinks Symons and are also "a way of giving greater form to something prosaic", he says.


The transforming and transporting effect of music is essential to this work. As we talked these actors were struggling to label their process and their potential product until we came upon the notion of "orchestration". "It is like a piece of music" says Cameron. They play their notes and seek the balance, the nuance, their placement. Evidently in early rehearsals, remembers Menzies, Kemp divided the play into "themes and variations" and used musical terminology to expound her concept. This musicality may explain why it is so difficult to communicate in words the nature of the work.


These people rehearsing in an old church hall are not only actors in this piece. They are threads in a weaving, patterns in a fabric, notes in a musical score, thoughts in a universal consciousness. They are components of a whole. It is no surprise, then, that it was essential for them to discuss this work as an ensemble. It is the ensemble.