29 September 2010

Review: Bare Witness

Bare Witness
La Mama and fortyfivedownstairs
22 September 2010
season ended

I couldn't see Bare Witness until its last week and so hope we see it return as it's a moving, relevant and original piece of theatre with memories that creep up on you days after seeing it.

Mari Lourey wanted to write about photo journalists in war zones. She isn't one, so she spoke to journalists and documentary makers who have been in places and situations that most of us can't imagine – and wouldn't know so much about had these people not been there. Their authentic voices lead Lourey's powerful writing.

Bare Witness is the story of fictional Danni who goes from her cadetship to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 90s. Here she is confronted by notions like moving a body to get a better picture and the horror of knowing that a child saw herself dying in a camera lense. She also met people who were determined to document the genocide. Associated Press buy a photo from her and she "hardens up",  becomes a well known photographer and travels to Iraq and East Timor, where she's personally confronted with the impact of her profession.

This is a story about photographs that uses words to depict the images. The script has been intricately whittled down to its essence with each word chosen for its impact. But words are an inadequate substitute for the visual impact of photos.

It's the understanding and overcoming of this problem that makes Bare Witness connect so strongly with the emotional intent of its writing.  Director Nadja Kostich, composer extraordinaire Jethro Woodward and the design team (Marg Howell, Michael Carmody and Emma Valente) create a world that fills in the visceral and emotional impact of photos and combines it with the overwhelming fear, speed and tension of being in a place where the threat of death is normal.

The physical performance is choreographed, but unlike dance, the movement underlines and supports the script and the heart-piercing performances of Isaac Drandic, Daniela Farinacci, Adam McConvell, Todd MacDonald and Maria Theodorakis.

A friend of mine, who sadly isn't with us any more, was a photo journalist who had been to places depicted on the stage. Within minutes of meeting, he told me that once he was back in safe Melbourne, he was compelled to take photos of car accidents and accepted his post traumatic stress as part of the job. Later he chatted about trying to get into Iraq even though journalists were banned and then stopped and said to me, "You must think we're mad."

Bare Witness captures that madness; a madness that's made of compulsion, compassion, bravery and singleminded determination. I've never been to a war zone, and I think this work shows us what it feels like in the heads of those who have been there. But what makes it such an emotional experience is its capture of the offstage characters: the confused, the lonely and sometimes angry voices of families and friends who wonder who is baring witness to the lives of their loved ones, whose singleminded determination can forget about the home waiting for them to return.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com

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