18 October 2011

MIAF review: Aftermath

MIAF 2011
The New York Theatre Workshop
12 October 2011
Merlyn Theatre, The Malthouse

Finally, I've seen an international piece in this festival that can and will influence our own theatre and storytelling. As the festival debate about appropriating and telling stories continues, The New York Theatre Workshop's Aftermath shows us that sometimes all you have to do is tell.

Created by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, Aftermath is described as documentary theatre, being created from interviews with Iraqi civilian refugees in Jordan in 2008. Workshopped with actors from the transcripts, nine stories were selected and shaped by the writers to place the tellers and their families in the context of the big-picture story and to re-tell the recent (his)story that we think we know.

Aftermath was written for a US audience, but was destined to speak to Australians, not just because of our military involvement, but because the interviews took place as Iraq played Australia in that World Cup qualifier and we re-live the scoring of that goal. Even die-hard Socceroos would cheer.

Their stories are harrowing and human and so far from media reports of collateral damage that I know I've glossed over when I'm watching the ABC. I have no idea what an exploding bomb sounds like; I don’t know the smell of flesh fused to a car seat or that of rotting bodies in the street. I do know that I would only flee my home, my family and my friends if there were choice. These people loved their lives and their homes, but and they had no choice but Jordan.

My only trivial comment is that the ownership of the stories transfers to the actors. Too often I see actors leading their characters and assuring the audience that it's all a game of pretendies. With actors this good, the acting disappears so much that the final gasping cheers were slightly distanced from the stories and I wonder if it would have been as or more affecting had the work taken a Brechtian step back from the emotion.

This may be theatre that's preaching to the liberal choir, but it left me shuddering. It humanises the Iraq war unlike any reporting I've seen and I'll be the first to donate to get it performed in our federal parliament.

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