Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Oedipus Schmoepidus, Belvoir

Back for another year ... and it's with a bit of a conundrum. Because advance notice from the various critics was that this was a horrible, self indulgent wank of a piece that would have me despairing of my choice to take up another Belvoir subscription for the year.

And certainly, there's the potential for wank in abundance here. The setup is that this is an attempt to examine death through the examples of the major works of the western canon of great writers - Aeschylus to Wilde, Chekhov to Voltaire. And to see what great truths these works can reveal to us. The writers are a collective called post, made up of Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and Natalie Rose, who describe themselves in the second line of their bio as "straddling live art, theatre and contemporary performance practices". I can practically hear rat in the ranks screaming "shoot me now".

Which, by coincidence, is exactly how the show begins - with Marr and Grigor both shooting themselves in the head (with appropriate amount of splatter). And then getting up, to repeat the process of death with daggers, swords, poisons, neck-cracking, hand amputation and other brutal methods, over and over again. It very quickly gets ridiculous, like a live-action warner brothers cartoon - repeating patterns of mutilation over and over again. Ending with a bang, we move on to a long, slow cleanup - then we meet the volunteer performers.

An ensemble of somewhere around 20 performers, the volunteers have had three hours worth of prep and are reading their lines from screens stuck up above the audience - sometimes in unison, sometimes solo. They act initially as a greek chorus as Marr and Grigor discuss the insights that might be able to be gleaned from the great works of the western canon - except they never get around to providing any acutal insights, instead being bogged down in increasingly ludicrous similes and diversions. Meanwhile the chorus get to do all manner of odd things - from walking through reciting a line, to demonstrating what death might look like, to wearing silly costumes, to dancing.

Needless to say this is a very odd evening. But it's not unproductive - the general spirit is a sort of larrakin absurdism. And of course, nobody can really tell you what death is like - the very point of death is its finality, that nobody can report the exact experience from the inside, even the greatest and wisest men of the western canon. But in the meanwhile ... it's possible to extract enjoyment, silliness, and moments of delight, even in the face of our impending demise.

I found this sorta inspring, entertaining and diverting. And it delivered something that I doubt I'll see much like any time soon. If you were going into this for any greater depth ... you were going to be disappointed,and perhaps this accounts for the hostile reviews elsewhere. But, dammit, I liked it.