30 October 2006

Songs for the Deaf

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2006
Songs for the Deaf
Red Ribbon Productions

8 October 2006
Festival Hub, Lithuanian Club


Songs For the Deaf is three short works by South Australian playwright Caleb Lewis. His writing is fresh, clever and wickedly black. The performances are real and Anna Held’s direction is excellent. So why isn’t this engaging theatre?

I unfortunately missed the first play, due to a rigorously enforced, and possibly unnecessary, latecomers policy. I was going to leave, but a big brown bear convinced me to stay.

The bear appeared in Bunny. Lewis’ work appears to develop from scenario. What if a bear and a rabbit met on a beach?

This bunny and bear have come from a costume party and gradually “take off their costumes” to expose their true selves. The symbolism is obvious, but it works in an absurdist way. Lewis devises some disturbing stories for the characters to reveal and the performances by Andrew Brackman and Carolyn Ramsey are subtle and quite beautiful.

Rocketbaby is divine black comedy with an Australian suburban voice. What if a child died on Funniest Home Videos?

Sarah Lockwood is delightful and believable as Becca. She is 10, lives in Giles Plains and this is her video to her trusted angel – FHV host – Toni Pearen. (Maybe change the suburb to suit Melbourne. Giles Plains means a lot – only if you are from Adelaide.) Becca’s family are having a tough time, but their obsession with FHV is going to save them.

Lewis takes delight in torturing the ever-hopeful Becca. Her story is compelling, even though the introduction of a gun in the exposition does hint that it isn’t going to be a happy ending. Still – I didn’t care about Becca and her fate (or that of the bear and bunny).

This is well crafted writing, but it’s almost too clever for its characters. When you write from situation, rather than character, the voice on the stage is the writer’s, not the charaters’. If the people on the stage are not telling us their authentic story, we don’t believe them, we don’t care about them and the intimate empathy of theatre is lost.

Fringes are about presenting the art you love and seeing if it speaks to an audience. I admired, respected and enjoyed Songs For the Deaf, but it needs the voice of authentic characters to make it captivating theatre.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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