Written and performed by James McCaughey, Conversations with the Gods about their Deaths & Other Matters (Part I) is a series of stylish (and somewhat bizarre) monologues based around our fraught relationship with the deities we have worshipped through history.
The simple set design effectively establishes the scene for this confrontation: four empty chairs on a raised platform. But the chairs remain empty. McCaughey summons these gods with reverence, from Apollo to Pitjantjara, Allah to Yahweh and Kronos. But they refuse to take shape and refuse to answer the questions that McCaughey (and humanity at large) puts to them. Thus, reverence becomes cynicism as the tragedy of human history is interrogated: is our suffering a comedy, played out for the pleasure of Dionysus, or is it a tragedy ignored by an impartial god?
From the tragedy of Troy, developing from something as small as a beauty pageant and a competition between gods, to the grand comedy of Australian politics that has a train-line responsible for carrying enough coal to push the world into a global ecological crisis, ending at Abbott’s Point. The greatest strength in Conversations with the Gods was its ability to cleverly place contemporary political issues at the centre of the work.
The thematic spectrum of the work is colossal. Delicately weaving the history of man with the mythos of the divine, the work examines the reciprocal impact that gods and humanity have on one another: we shape them and they shape us. Stylistically, the work resembles a lecture, or a platonic dialogue with a silent other, but it is the drama embedded in the multiple stories that lure us into the work itself. Driven by what appears to be a great knowledge and passion for the subject matter, McCaughey entertains us with his storyteller’s whisper. The staging of the work is simple, but at times could have done with a greater amount of physicality to drive through the slower parts of the work. Similarly, McCaughey’s emotional intensity during the climax of the piece fell short of the dramatic potential that is clearly in the writing.
Overall, Conversations with the Gods is a strong and thought-provoking work. It is extremely beautifully written and simply presented, although at times falls short of its dramatic potential.