The Rabble don’t make easy theatre, but it’s an easy choice to see them.
Always starting with a well-known text – Orlando, Frankenstein, The Story of O, Room of Regret (The Picture of Dorian Grey) – they deconstruct, bring the subtext to the front, and rework the text until it’s distilled into something that’s somewhat unrecognisable but holds the essence of the work. You don’t need to know a text to understand a Rabble work, but when you do, you will have to read it again.
This story is Cain and Abel’s; their chosen text is the Christian Bible. Cain was the firstborn of Adam and Eve and killed his brother Abel because God preferred Abel’s gifts. There’s a lot to unpack in those few verses. This is the text that explains and tries to justify so much of the hatred and violence that we’re arguing about everyday on Facebook.
With Dana Miltins, Cain, and Mary Helen Sassman, Abel, they begin by re-imagining it as two sisters and placing the story deep within the implied and actual violence that women experience.
It far from easy to watch, but it’s impossible to look away because the astonishing can occur at any time; blink and you could miss Abel putting glitter on her steak-covered eye.
With Kate Davis’s design of white, red and silver, there are punching bags the size, weight and feel of humans. The sound when they are beaten is heavy enough to feel. And they bleed. There’s a lot of blood. From the watery runny to the thick and clotted that hides its truth in the red.
The red and white belong together and are made more insidious with silver glitter. It’s the stuff worn by drag queens and teenagers to make them shine, and it floats from above as a god comes back into the story and director and lighting designer Emma Valente makes it sparkle and change like it’s a living swarm, and dares us to gasp at its beauty as it falls on the clots and floods of red.
Sassman and Miltins are remarkable. Working with Valente and Davis for many years, they have created a style of performance that encompasses everything in and around the text, but is internalised and cut back until it’s a moment of truth; a moment that’s felt as much as it’s seen. It’s like waking up from a dream that lasted seconds but felt like hours. They confront us and dare us to look away or to laugh at the horrific and to cheer – and maybe forgive – the side we’re meant to despise.
Cain and Abel was first seen at Belvoir in Sydney and this second season has been developed at The Substation in Melbourne. The opportunity to develop original works and get them beyond a first season is crucial. Creators need multiple seasons and audiences to change and perfect work. Too much great work gets lost with single seasons and too many astonishing shows, like this, never have the chance to be shared.