30 October 2006

Peepshow

MIAF 2006
Peepshow
Melbourne International Arts Festival

24 October 2006
CUB Malthouse, Merlyn Theatre


Wow. Marie Brassard’s Peepshow may be my highlight of the 2006 Melbourne International Arts Festival. This is theatre that re-fashions form and content to create a unique, personal and mesmerising theatrical language.

Peepshow lets us peer into the forbidden. It is essentially a solo performance about the nature of love, presented by multiple characters. As the title suggests, we are hoping to voyeuristically peer into a forbidden sexual world. The characters challenge, break and still support the conventional rules of love, but none of them have sex.

Of course, it’s really not about the sex. It’s about the “accident” of love and the choices we make. Every choice results in the loss of so many other possibilities and chances. Even a positive choice is still all about loss. A woman sighs over past love letters. Moments, forgotten at the time, that reverberate deep within her years later.

With layers, zips, glasses and a wig, Bressard’s costume looks like it will be gradually stripped away. Only one character removes the dark glasses, but doesn’t look up. Instead of revealing the physical, we witness the characters hidden behaviour and see them so vividly by peering directly into their thoughts. There is never any judgement or questioning from the stage, but moments of profound realisation for the audience as the characters find brief unexpected moments of purity. A little girl feels happy holding the hand of the monster in the dark, a woman feels the safely of being bound and gagged, another re-opens a bloody wound so her flesh can take the pain from her heart.

The text isn’t astounding, but is made to resonate with the perfect integration of sound and design. I cannot imagine one element of the production without the others. Experimental musician Alexander MacSween designed and mixes the sound live. Brassard’s voice is continually manipulated, becoming an instrument for MacSween. This creates a seamless transition between characters and allows us to hear so much more than a voice from the stage. They found this expression by wondering what human thoughts sound like in our head. The result is stunning. Bressard’s voice never sounds completely natural, but the electronic manipulation gives her characters their authentic voices. It also reinforces the ongoing theme of control and trust. The performer gives her vocal control to someone else.

Simon Guilbault’s scenography and lighting are deceptively simple, but simply outstanding. This is design that literally gives shape to the thoughts and voices of the characters. Not their clear rational thoughts, but their illogical right brain images and dreams. The valentine/red-riding-hood red of Bressard’s costume combines with rusted and dying autumnal reds around her. The uneven carpeted floor changes from clouds to grass and never lets the characters stand on even, clear ground. Projections are unclear and murky, but we understand them in the same way we understand dreams.

Peepshow engages aurally, visually, emotionally and morally - proving how intelligent and original theatre can and should be.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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