In all its postmodern (or is that post-post?) glory, The Defence is a show about the cultural objectification of women, explicitly framed within a rehearsal room.
Written by Chris Dunstan, The Defence is a dramatised rehearsal of a gender-swapped re-imagining of August Strindberg’s original study The Defence of a Fool. Strindberg’s autobiographical text is based around his marriage to Siri von Essen and is an examination the Feminine.
Beginning as a piece of theatre, the form breaks down when the ‘Director’ (Douglas Niebling), interrupts the show and re-contextualises it as a rehearsal. What follows is a dramatised creative process, which attempts to construct a work surrounding Strindberg’s view of his wife as ‘a female object.’ Ironically, it is within this very rehearsal process that the only female participant (Catherine McNamara) is denied collaboration and latent socialised gender inequity is made explicit.
Framed in this manner, The Defence renders colloquialisms vulgar and the potent restriction of the female protagonist becomes unacceptable for the audience. What is particularly compelling about the performance is its ability to invoke familiar situations and exchanges, which – when placed under the theatrical lens – highlight for us the unconscious acts of disempowerment of which many of us are guilty.
It is a very smart piece of work with an important message. However, the message at times rang too obvious, rendering the work almost didactic. The piece also failed to subvert the conventions it was playing within enough to provide an alternative. Therefore, The Defence reads like a ‘what not to do’ guide, caught within the semantic framework it riles against.
Putting this aside, the show is very well crafted, with good comic timing and great tension leading up to its gorgeously dramatic climax. McNamara’s performance as the outspoken female is strong and resonates well, while Brett Johnson’s physical score provides a comic undercurrent throughout the piece. Ultimately, The Defence is a strong work, matching the quality and integrity that has come to characterise the HYPRTXT festival. It is a piece with something to say – and what it says is important.