PEOPLE LIKE THAT

09/02/2012 at 11:18 am 4 comments

THYESTES

Presented by Belvoir and Sydney Festival in association with Carriageworks.
Originally created by THE HAYLOFT PROJECT.
A Malthouse Theatre Commission.
Bay 20, CarriageWorks, February 2012

The word itself sounds like a disease. Onomatopoeic. From the Greek. Meaning “I Make” and “Name”. Thyestes. Like a coldsore. Not something you would want to share with someone. Not unless you truly love them. And even then it’s a kind of horrific scabrous viral parasite. You know how sometimes words sound like what they mean? Thyestes. To most people the word is meaningless, but you would still shy away from the thought somehow. It’s embedded. Like something crawling up the inside of your spine. You know it’s coming, inevitable, and when it reaches your brain who knows what? Not I, said the fox…

Is this a movement or a tradition? The retelling of old stories through the fish-eye lens of the modern urban patois; where once they were passed along in the ancient tavernas unrehearsed by the lyric poets, or expertly carved into marble friezes, or painted on Attic vases, these warnings against the madness of power and corruption and disloyalty long since smashed to pieces by the ravages of time. Or as Joyce might say of history without war (in Stoppard’s Travesties) “a minor redistribution of broken pots”. So it’s tradition. Modernism circa 2010 AD. The creative team at The Hayloft Project have picked up the ceramic shards of one such busted planter and like an archaeological jigsaw done their level best to piece it back together.

The missing fragments are well disguised with reams of inconsequential dialogue, crafted almost too cleverly from pop-cultural scotch tape and waxy bits of post-dramatic conceit. And the bottom half seems to be put back in place all out-of-order… But it definitely holds water. Oh yes. You wouldn’t want to drink from it though. It remains uncleansed – the catharsis is but a brief splash, a vignette placed out of context, which the audience must make their own sense of by reframing the out-of-sequence events in the second half. Like a half-remembered bad dream. You’d rather forget, but you can’t. It forces you to put it together yourself, scene by scene, so the horrors are multiplied because you know what happens next.

Thus the casual banality of the dialogues become loaded with a sickening irony. Simple things like a lover’s gift should make you smile, but they make you frown, as you sift through the wreckage of the cursed Atrean house, like the archaeologist just trying to figure out the who and the why. It happens so fast. Too fast. The speeding surtitles give as much confusion as exposition, so the people next to you have to ask what’s going on? Who is who? English was not their first language so they are stuck. Which one was Thyestes again? You thought it was the other one – so the jumbled pieces collapse and the process begins anew.

While it was Joyce who began the fusion of modern and ancient – it was Foucault who cleaved concepts of history, knowledge and the archaeology of meaning; and the play, perhaps through its self-awareness and unwavering commitment to emotional intensity, excavates a terrible truth that threads right back into a world we will never know, but somehow recognise. It is the sterility of the production design which enables these three performers to create a platform of brutal all-too-human foibles to fire up the imaginations of their utterly captive audience. Backed up with tight direction and some truly astonishing mise-en-scene; the minimalist approach gives way to the kind of psychological and emotional arm-wrestle of which there is no choice but to win.

THYESTES playing until February 19th, 2012
Co-written by Thomas Henning, Chris Ryan, Simon Stone and Mark Winter after Seneca. Directed by Simon Stone, featuring Thomas Henning, Chris Ryan and Mark Winter

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Entry filed under: Inside Theatre REVIEWS, New Work. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

critic watch: SNARKOTICS ANONYMOUS

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