09 May 2007

OT: Chronicles of the Old Testament

OT: Chronicles of the Old Testament
Uncle Semolina (and Friends) and Malthouse Theatre
9 May 2007
Beckett Theatre, CUB Malthouse,

When Yahweh created mankind he said “it was good”. I left Uncle Semolina (and Friends)’s OT: Chronicles of the Old Testament saying it was good. It was actually very, very, very good. In fact it’s the kind of authentic, original, mind blowing theatre that awakens your brain and shows the unique power of people on a stage.
Imagine Playschool and The Wiggles getting together to tell a story. The toys are getting old and worn, the set really is cardboard, the cast aren’t the best of friends and the director is difficult and ambivalent, but he really IS God. The story is of Yahweh, his creation of mankind and the brutality and violence that is the source of our modern sense of morality.

Directors and creators Christian Leavesley and Phil Rolfe say with OT “we want to explore the building block of our morality.... to re-imagine the stories of the Bible but at the heart of it we are trying to explore and pull apart what the values are.”

OK...a show that deals with the entire morality of society, using the world’s best selling book as a starting point. The enormity of this task is overwhelming. I can think of one or two religions that have been attempting the same task for a more than two thousand years.

Uncle Semolina (and Friends)’s attempt isn’t perfect, but they’ve come pretty close.

At first the pace seemed forced and I was concerned that the performers were simply narrating a well known tale, rather than showing us an authentic story. However, the structure of the work gradually lifts the pace and the emotional commitment of the characters. The initial doubt made the realization that this is seriously brilliant theatre even more powerful. For me that moment came when the storytellers lost their God .The complexity and confusion of literally and figuratively flooded the stage, and the real strength of this piece emerged.

Luke Ryan’s performance is superb. His story of that “tough cunt” Sampson (the bogan re-telling is how is should always be told) and his stand up comic Job (aka Head) were highlights from a consistently intelligent and engaging performance. The rest of the cast are very good, but need to settle into the run and break away from performing so much. It is hard to hide how much you love being on a stage, but let the telling of the story come first. This will make the audience forget we are watching you perform, which will actually make us love your performance even more.

The direction seems very influenced by Forced Entertainment’s Bloody Mess ( Melbourne International Festival  2005). As OT runs, it will also achieve the directorial balance of humour, story, character and chaos, which Bloody Mess did so well. The image of Burt rimming Teddy is carved into my brain for ever, but, at such times, the humour distracted from the rest of the stage and from the story.

I say this regularly and will say it again. The support the Malthouse Theatre is giving to independent theatre creators in Melbourne is brilliant. Authentic, original theatrical language can only be created when artists are given the freedom to create, without the restrictions of commercial viability. Looking at the Malthouse program for the rest of the year, I’m also expecting (and hoping) to see this authenticity appear more in Malthouse main stage productions

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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