It’s awkward as an audience member to feel as if you have walked in on a private therapy session, but then the act of baring ones heart and emotions on stage does run this very risk.
Aurelian by Genevieve Trace, which recently played at Metro Arts for the Brisbane Festival was one such uncomfortable experience.
The visual set up was stunning; the foyer ceilings hung with fabric leaves and old sheet music hinting at something familiar yet unreachable, something that vaguely haunts us all. The stage was simple and beautiful; an old attic with white cloth draped from a massive angled window, which in turn produced spooky reflections throughout the piece. Moving images were projected on every possible surface for added effect. Erica Field appeared, accompanied by another woman who at first seemed like a stagehand as she [the woman] sat quietly in the shadows and moved props and set up projections as Field continued her performance.
The first part of the production was slow. Field re-enacted real interviews taken with people who have lost loved ones. The stories are from Trace’s hometown of Ayr in North Queensland; they seem to be the mundane bits of very tragic events and Field’s character changes are far too slight to easily pick up where one interview finishes and another starts – perhaps this was intentional as these stories have been “borrowed” and “stolen” by the writer to take the place of missing memories of a deceased sister. You see, the grief of this story is not about grieving for a loved one but rather the grief experienced by someone who was cheated out of their rightful role in a tragedy – it’s very hard to grieve for someone you didn’t really know.
The underlying possibilities of this idea are really engaging and it raises so many questions about honesty and grief, pity and dwelling self-indulgence, however this potential wasn’t realised. Although Field is an extremely strong actor, the script was confusing and took some bizarre turns toward the end. A protracted melt-down by Field, was drowned out by the over-zealous sound crew who seemed to be competing with the actress for top billing – resulting in Field’s voice being completely drowned out and her mutterings incomprehensible (this just added to the confusion around exactly what was going on and more importantly, why?). Field then regains her composure and we are offered the confession, again a long, drawn-out, seemingly self-indulgent monologue which promised to end with a decision to “move on” – but no, there was more and we weren’t moving.
For me, the intriguing intention of Aurelian was completely lacking in the actual production or if it was there, I didn’t recognise it, much like the murkiness of those false memories. An interesting concept but a little further development and prudent script editing would serve this piece well.