06 August 2013

Review: Einstein on the Beach

Einstein on the Beach
Arts Centre Melbourne, Pomegranate Arts
31 July 2013
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 4 August


Since its first production in 1976, there have been endless reviews for Einstein on the Beach,  but if you’re looking for reviews to decide if you should go, all I can say is that if you have the means and opportunity to see Einstein on the Beach, you must.

I saw it in 1992 at the Melbourne Festival. I was 24. I’d been working in and studying theatre since I was a teenager and had already seen countless shows. This production changed how I saw theatre. Somewhere in the four-and-a-half hours (no breaks for me), my theatre brain gently re-arranged itself.

It’s the same production on in Melbourne this week and I was worried that I’d see it very differently after 21 more years of theatre and music, including a good chunk of work by 80′s, 90′s and 00′s Phillip Glass (composer) and Robert Wilson (director); I was scared I’d see the faults.

Again, I sat for four-and-a-half hours without a break (most people did the same) and felt my brain re-arranging.

Describing Einstein is dangerous. It’s a reflection on genius that sits on the knife edge between genius and madness – and it wasn’t created to be understood. There’s no story, plot or characters. The singers are treated like instruments and most recognisable sounds are numbers. There’s no dialogue, but poetry that is more words and sounds than meaning. Personality is stripped away from the performers and each are treated identically on the stage. The design is sparse and simple (although in 1976, it was  whizz bang). It’s repetitive and languid and there are times when change takes place so slowly that you only realise what’s happened after it’s happened.

But it’s precise and ordered and the wholeness of the picture, sound and movement is so complete that nothing less than perfect ever feels right again.

I see a lot of opera and theatre that have excellent stories, astonishing performers and gorgeous designs, and too many of them are clock-watching boring because they rely on the crutch of story, performer or design. It’s hard to dance, let alone fly with a crutch.

There is also a lot of theatre, opera, dance and music that claims to be like Einstein on the Beach; it’s not. The only way you can say you’ve seen something like Einstein on the Beach is by experiencing Einstein on the Beach. And this time, it really is going to be your last chance, or at least your last chance while Glass, Wilson and choreographer Lucinda Childs are still alive and able to re-create it.

This was on AussieTheatre.com

Photo by Belinda Strodder.

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