30 October 2006

The Pegasus Story and DEBRIS

The Pegasus Story
Arts Projects Australia
Ride On Theatre and Black Lung Theatre
7 October 2006
Festival Hub, Lithuanian Club
High St

Picking the right double bill is an important part of the Fringe. This was a good night. I chose this double because they had both had successful productions interstate. Debris was acclaimed in Sydney and The Pegasus Story sold out at the Adelaide Fringe. Both have benefited from their “out of town” runs with tight, well-rehearsed shows. They are very different types of theatre, but both explore the use of monologue to tell their stories.

The Pegasus Story is thoroughly engaging and proves how truth is sometimes far more fascinating than fiction.

Mark De Ionno isn’t a trained actor; he’s just a guy telling us his story. He suffered a psychotic episode in mid 2000. The Pegasus Story is a very revealing and personal insight into Mark’s manic depression. Knowing he came though safely, we can sit back and enjoy the journey from northern Australian desert to Adelaide’s seediest street.

Mark’s story works, because it is not a performance. He easily evokes the empathy and compassion needed to draw the audience into his life. Working with director Daisy Brown has enhanced the story telling by using simple elements of theatre. The props, costumes, slides and perfect live music support the story, never compromising Mark’s affable personality or honest approach.

The strength of this work lies in its truth and I fully believe in moulding facts to tell a greater truth. An opening and reoccurring joke is that his initials are MAD, but he is not credited as Mark Anthony De’Ionno. Another good joke is set up with Mark working as an Indigenously sensitive tour guide, but he refers to Uluru as Ayers Rock. These are tiny, almost irrelevant criticisms, but if they cause the audience to doubt Mark, the veracity of the rest of his story is also doubted.

Debris has a very different creative team. All are recent NIDA graduates and this production is a testament to the outstanding quality of actor, director and designer emerging from the school. The text is also based on a style of monologue, but uses theatrical technique to tell its story.

The design, by the company, arrests you the moment you enter the space. It is so successful that I was initially genuinely horrified and felt very uncomfortable being there - until I realised just how brilliant the design concept was. (However, the risk and safety elements of the design really do need more consideration.) Ailsa Paterson’s costumes also come from a clear understanding of the text and reflect every nuance of the themes and characters.

Under the direction of Tanya Goldberg, this is intelligent theatre that engages your brain and your senses. Bojana Novakovic and Thomas Campbell give two of the best performances I’ve seen this Fringe. But does Debris tell a good story?

Before I could write about this show I had to do some serious googling to understand it. The need to research indicates that there is something not quite right with the story telling. Once I realised there was a common criticism in other Debris productions, I stopped analysing the acting and direction and looked at the text.

Debris is Dennis Kelly’s debut work, first presented in the UK in 2003. This is dark, absurd and extreme material. The language is stunning, but appears to be written for its own sake. I want to “read” this play. Unfortunately, the brilliance of the language often confuses and overwhelms the story telling. I was unsure if there were two, four or multiple characters talking to us and, despite faultless delivery, I found myself drifting away during the some of the monologues and losing the narrative thread.

Debris is astonishing theatre. I was shocked by the character’s stories, but it didn’t succeed in making me care about what happened to those children on the stage. By using minimal theatre and maintaining its authentic voice, The Pegasus Story is a more engaging experience because it tells a damn good story.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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