05 July 2014

Finishing this weekend: The Witches and Photographs of A

The Witches
Malthouse Theatre
Last show tonight

Roald Dahl's children's stories are dark and naughty and let children get into all sorts of trouble without bothersome grown ups ruining the fun or trying to help. The Witches is about what happens when a group of children-hating witches meet at a hotel and come across an orphaned boy.

Having missed chunk of the beginning (I should have known there is no right turn onto Sturt Street from Kings Way during peak hour), I didn't review but I loved what I saw.

Guy Edmonds plays everyone in this stage version of the story, which is based on a play by David Wood. His instant transformations from horrible hag to squeaky fast mouse are magic. There's little on the stage except the performer and the imagination of his audience – it's pretty close to the experience of reading – and together they create a show that's more spectacular, far scarier and more loving than anything made from special effects.

Here's what Keith Gow thought after seeing it earlier this week.

Photographs of A
Antechamber and Daniel Keene
Last show tomorrow

Until this show, I didn't know anything about 15-year-old Louise Augustine Gleizes. Known as "A", she was a celebrity hysteric in Paris in the late 1870s whose hysterias were photographed and the young woman was exhibited by her doctor, the influential neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot. Photographs of A by Daniel Keene explores the young woman's illness and experiences in the Salpetriere sanitarium from inside A's head.

If only the public display of ill and sexually traumatised young women didn't feel so familiar.

Sixty-something Helen Morse is Augustine and, even though Ben Grant and Anouk Gleeson-Mead appear on stage with her, the script is nearly all hers. Her performance is as beautiful as it is disturbing.

Having seen the photos (they are in the free program), we know A was as gorgeous as any teenage girl is and the key to this work is hearing the teenage voice – one that's still full of hope and doesn't understand the consequences of her experiences – come from an old, ugly and near broken woman. The power of Keene's script comes from what's unspoken.

However the production, directed and designed by Brian Lipson, is so aware of its theatricality that it never escapes the falseness of being in a theatre and feels so obvious that there's little surprise or space for unexpected wonder. When the design starts with rows of tea-light candles, the expectation of their lighting and snuffing takes away from the beauty of the candlelight.

The NEON festival is about the new and the daring. Photographs of A is a lovely piece that's worth seeing for Morse, but it feels out of place in NEON.

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