30 March 2007


Malthouse Theatre

17 March 2007
The Tower Theatre, CUB Malthouse

A post-avant-garde-performance-art-installation is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Well, I drink coffee and Anna Tregolan’s Black is as welcome and satisfying as the first strong, aromatic and lovingly-made expresso on a slow Sunday morning.

There is a mixed sense of anticipation and apprehension as we are gradually let into the Tower Theatre. All we know is that the performance runs for three hours, but we can come and go as we please.

Walking down a dark corridor, a small screen with a changing collage is our first clue. Sounds of muffled voices and dropped cutlery begin to filter in as we round the corner and find ourselves above the space we will enter and, perhaps unwittingly, merge with.

Black is the stories of Elizabeth Short, a young Hollywood starlet, whose severed body was found in an empty lot in 1947. Her unsolved murder has created many fictitious, semi-factual and imagined accounts of her demise on screens and in novels, newspapers and gossip mills.

Each performer (Caroline Lee, Moira Finucane, James Wardlaw and Martyn Coutes) represent a facet of the multiple stories. They could be witness, media, detective, victim, friend, family or stranger. All spin web of movement and text that fills the space and draws the audience closer.

The text is designed to be listened to like music, with a four part vocal score of monologue. It’s quite meditative, but separating the parts reveals a poetic and evocative language that was almost unexpected. “The collaging of a body” with “postage stamps of flesh removed”.

The performers are separated by a zigzag wall of perspex. They move through and around the walls, forever changing their position. What makes this work remarkable is that each wall acts as a transparent mirror – we can see through it, and it reflects multiple images around the space.

One performer looks like a conjoined twin from a carnival freak show, whilst simultaneously standing in the audience, looking at another performer, holding her own hand and watching herself. The performers don’t touch or interact but their multiple reflections touch and merge, some morphing like a 90s music video, others walking through each other like ghosts. The effect is stunning, as there are so many versions of the same scene to look at.

As an audience we are allowed to choose if we sit, stand or move. We think we are controlling what we witness and who we see it with. However the reflective walls and changing light take away our control and bring our images into the performance space and the story.

The creation, rehearsal and performance of this complex work is precise and perfect. Design, direction and performance blend to create an experience that is genuinely original, creative, intelligent and brave.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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