Presented by: The Eleventh HourVenue: The Eleventh Hour Theatre, Melbourne Friday, 28 January, 2011 David Tredinnick (writer), Brian Lipson (director) and Neil Pigot (actor) are some of my favourite Melbourne theatre creators. I’m adding actors Ann Browning, Richard Bligh and James Saunders to the list as their performances in Song of the Bleeding Throat were remarkable, but I have no idea what this show is trying to say.
In his program notes Lipson says that when he first read the play he could “barely comprehend it” and eventually understood that it was written to be performed. As someone watching it performed, I could barely comprehend it and wouldn’t mind a read so I might begin to understand it.
The tsunami of text, which includes quotes from Marx (Karl) to Barnum, is so overwhelming that it becomes noise. The creators familiarity and understanding of it is clear, but as an audience we are coming to it for the first time and it’s a struggle to keep up.
The opening scenes minimally replicate Tait’s Chealsea Interior painting of Thomas and Jane Carlyle with their dog, and with Pigot as the most delightfully dry Absurd-like stage manager of sorts, a mood of comic anticipation is set. There are wonderfully original and funny moments throughout, but its completeness drowns in the words – even with the welcome catch up space of drugs and farts.
The second half turns literally turns the theatre around and Pigot is Abraham Lincoln, Bligh is Walt Whitman, Saunders is John Wilkes Booth and Browning is the statue of Liberty. Again, the performances are superb, the staging and design are immaculate and the final “I sing the body electric” moment (the Fame, not the Whitman version) made my heart glow with ironic nostalgic joy, but I still had no idea what it was about or who it was talking to and was glad that it was over.
For all it’s exquisite technique, intelligence and super well-read cleverness that rightly deserves to be admired (and maybe envied), this is the kind of theatre that makes you feel like an uneducated twat if you don’t understand it. It reminded me of going to a Walt Whitman lecture in 1987 from a professor determined to show how much he knew and how little smart arse undergrads knew. I only chose American Lit because Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was on the reading list … although part of me must have listened because I recognised Whitman quoting Whitman and had a burst of over-educated smugness. But I had to Google Tait and the Carlyles…