Herbal smoke clouds the air as a dishevelled woman waits for the telephone to ring. This will be the last time she will hear her ex-partner’s voice; the last time she will feel a connection within the disconnection of intimacy between them. A one-sided story, told by three different women, laced with lies and anguished desperation entwined around the unreliable telephone wires of a constantly interrupted conversation.
In 1939, French dramatist, Jean Cocteau, wrote La Voix Humaine in an attempt to investigate the difficulties in communication with the introduction of technology and absence of body language from conversation. The original stage play was written for one woman, on the phone to her ex-lover on the eve of his marriage to someone else. The scripting was disjointed, leaving the performer to decide what her fragmented dialogue implied about what the audience does not hear – the other side of the conversation.
Director Dave Sleswick (Motherboard Productions) is the visionary behind the readaptation for La Boite Indie 2012. He took Cocteau’s original concept and thrusted it into the 21st century. The premise was the same – Sleswick noting the “heart of this production is the exploration of the many ways in which our human voice is lost in translation”.
The use of multimedia, interpretive dance and inventive stage design places La Voix Humaine on the cutting edge of new age theatre. Filmed segments and projected surtitles were seamlessly integrated into an epic portrayal of three womens’ spirals into insanity; the focus as disjointed as their equally tortured but separate conversations.
Israeli-born actress, Noa Rotem, performed the majority of her dialogue in her native language, Hebrew. This was effective in highlighting the importance of non-verbal aspects of language and how communication is lost with an unreliable phone line. It was unclear, at first, if the use of Hebrew was convenient because of the choice of actor or the other way around; but nonetheless, this dialect definitely added to the disconnection between the actress’s point-of-view and the audience."This is storytelling at its finest – showcasing the increasing desperation of one woman’s ache for connection"
The dance choreography was second-to-none. It was clear that actress and dance choreographer Liesel Zink had solid involvement in the choreography. Her performance was complex and faultless. She was an inspiration to watch with her commitment obvious; her legs sporting bruises from the countless rehearsals propelling herself through the performance space in what I thought was the best scene of the play. This is storytelling at its finest – showcasing the increasing desperation of one woman’s ache for connection. It was a powerful tool for the audience to glimpse into her failing sanity without the use of any dialogue.
Just when I thought I had seen all of Sleswick’s surprises, Erica Field appears on the roof of the set; lip syncing a dramatic Edith Piaf tune, lipstick smeared across her face, and tears glistening in the spotlights moments before she disconnects from her mind, body and telephone call. It was truly a mesmerising piece of scene work although a little reminiscent of Bridget Jones’ Diary. It was also a beautiful way to pay tribute to Cocteau and Piaf’s real-life friendship. Whether or not it was in the original stage play, it was an excellent choice, Director.
However, the audience appeared to be getting restless around the one hour mark. It was maybe because of the repetitive storyline or perhaps it was too good of an attempt to make the audience feel disconnected. Maybe the concept of an operator cutting into conversation and disconnecting the line may have not been understood by younger audience members and the use of abstract concepts and ambiguous storytelling may have confused some (or most).
Also, hard-to-read English surtitles launched onto a large, corrugated curtain did not help with understanding the plot and overly-amplified voices through microphones made my ears bleed a fraction.
But, despite all this, this captivating independent play is a work of modern art and a solid indication that theatre is definitely evolving.
And it should be.
With Sleswick describing it as the “sl*t of all plays”, it’s incubation was 3 years old. It’s evolution involved many local industry partners and contributors as Motherboard Productions sweated it’s way to La Boite Indie 2012 after two developments at Metro Arts’ FreeRange and Brisbane Festival’s Under the Radar.
And with such divided audiences, La Voix Humaine is sure to…. Hallo?… Hallo? … Hallo. Oh, I thought we were cut off.