12 October 2007

The Tell-Tale Heart

MIAF 2007
The Tell-Tale Heart
Melbourne International Arts Festival/Malthouse Theatre

12 October 2007
CUB Malthouse Workshop

The Tell-Tale Heart is sold out. If you have tickets, guard them well and be very glad that you got them while you could.

Barrie Kosky is back in Melbourne directing his English language adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Tell-Tale Heart. It was originally performed in German in Vienna in 2004. It’s a story that was created to be read on paper, but put in the hands of Kosky, becomes a monologue that could be told in no other way but on a stage.

Kosky continues to prove that he completely understands the art of theatre and theatrics. It opens in darkness and silence. Then we see light and a man on an endless staircase than may reach from Heaven to Hell. Then his voice breaks the silence. This is theatre at its addictive best.

Martin Niedermair is the story teller. His performance is as close to perfect as it can be. It is sharp, precise and controlled. Yet he creates tension and danger and never lets the audience feel too safe. It’s like watching his soul or his psyche. This is what we might be like without our consciousness controlling our thoughts and actions.

Kosky has created a work about the darkness and light of our minds and our souls. The design’s use of dark and light is astonishing. Whereby Robert Wilson (The Temptation of St Anthony) is using lighting to create colour and emotion, Kosky uses it just for light and dark. To have light in our lives, we must acknowledge the darkness that dwells within us and lets us hide.

This work is reliant upon the power, threat and tension of pure black and pure silence. The Malthouse workshop is not designed for either, so minor things became more distracting that they should have. Someone looked at their well lit mobile phone in the black, a motor bike drove past during the silence and a passing moth did what all moths do and headed to the light. This is obviously a very difficult venue to completely black out and silence. However the impact of the endless staircase is lost when you can see where it meets the wall and how the steps are constructed. The light and dark of the narrator’s story and mind is lessened when we can see the physical lights that create it.

As it’s also so dependant on the contrast between silence and sound, I wonder why Kosky chose to accompany the work himself. Certainly he is capable of putting the right fingers on the right notes at the right time, but he isn’t a pianist and certainly not an accompanist. The art of accompanying is to amplify and support the performer, whilst being almost unnoticed. Kosky’s playing isn’t good enough to go unnoticed. A singer and performer as sublime as Niedermair needed an equally brilliant musician, not a competent piano player. And please tune the piano every day. Pianos don’t like big, cold warehouse spaces and let you know through their sound.

If you are lucky enough to be seeing this work, I recommend getting there early to make sure you get your choice of the general admission seats. Don’t be tempted to go to the front and head at least half way up. This will give you the best view of the stage and shield you from most distractions.

Yesterday I wrote that director Robert Wilson takes the beautiful and makes it exquisite. His works prove that beautiful isn’t good enough. On the Wilson stage there isn’t room for a moment that isn’t as perfect as it can possibly be. The Tell-Tale Heart is astounding and magnificent and I loved every second of it, but there were small distractions and imperfections that are keeping it that step away from exquisite.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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