20 July 2007

The Eisteddfod

The Eisteddfod
Malthouse Theatre
20 July 2007
The Tower, CUB MAlthouse


The Eisteddfod is another one of those amazing works that emerged from Melbourne’s independent theatre world and was given a new audience through the Malthouse’s Tower Theatre program. (I’m almost getting bored of saying how good The Tower Theatre program is.)

Stuck Pigs Squealing describe themselves as a collective of artists “dedicated to the creation of dynamic, imaginative and disturbing theatre events.” The Eisteddfod fits the criteria like a dominatrix’s leather glove and continues to prove what original and incredible theatre can be produced when the creative team are not tied to the researched wants of a demographically sorted audience.

Brother and sister Abalone and Gerture are introduced to us by the voice of Lally Katz. She is the traditional voice of god/narrator, the mother/protector and the playwright. It’s nice to really hear a playwright’s voice.
Abalone and Gerture have always liked to play make believe and since their parents tragic death in a pruning accident, agoraphobia has kept them living in the same room. Luckily Abalone has his acting Eisteddfod to rehearse for and Gerture can escape to her classroom, when Abalone isn’t pretending to be her totally unpleasant boyfriend Ian.

Lally Katz’s writing is astounding. She knows how this strange custom, where people go into dark rooms and watch other people pretend to be other people, works. She takes the absurd, makes it stranger, but makes it real. The Eisteddfod runs from parody (the meeting of the Macbeths improvisation) to uncomfortable reality (Ian asking Gerture “do you fuck me” after he has been sexually and physically humiliated). I had no idea where each scene was going to take us and was continually surprised and , strangely, satisfied.

Chris Kohn’s direction lets the audience grow into and with the nature of the work, without every letting us become complacent or too comfortable.

The design team of Adam Gardnir (set and costume), Jethro Woodward (sound) and Richard Vabre (lighting) were equally astounding. It is refreshing to see all the design elements work so intricatly and perfectly with the script and direction.

Gardnir’s design is designed for every odd need and practicality of the work. It’s intricate and delicate; filled with teddies and sewing boxes and secrets. The unexpected detail and whimsy are intriuiging and beautiful. I just loved the tiny giraffe, jaguar and tree on the record player.

Finally a work does rest on the shoulders of the people pretending to be other people. Luke Mullins and Katherine Tonkin never let Abolone and Gerture be as absurd or unreal as their situation. We believed, understood and cared for these characters. They never let us laugh AT them. The strength of their performances and the humanity they brought to the brother and sister is what makes The Eisteddfod resonate and connect with the audience.

This is theatre that questions the nature of theatre and forces its audience to engage their brains. Even if you don’t fully understand every moment, just go with the experience and see how you feel afterwards.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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