The Mysteries: Genesis, as told by writers Hilary Bell and Lally Katz, has everything you could want from an Old Testament epic – love, betrayal, a helper penguin and hardcore nudity.
Sydney Theatre Company
Wharf 2 Theatre, Sydney
Wednesday, 25 November, 2009
The Mysteries: Genesis, as told by writers Hilary Bell and Lally Katz, has everything you could want from an Old Testament epic – love, betrayal, a helper penguin and hardcore nudity. Directors Matthew Lutton, Andrew Upton and Tom Wright take turns with the Garden of Eden, the Fall and Noah’s Ark in an attempt to do a modern-day mystery play. This is the first outing for STC’s new actor’s group The Residents, put in some impressive performances in a biblical retelling that might not be to everyone’s taste.
Bell and Katz start at the beginning – the creation of the world, the fall of Lucifer (Brett Stiller/Alice Ansara), Adam (Cameron Goodall) and Eve (Sophie Ross), and the subsequent chaos. They show us the start of the world in absolute childlike innocence, including a complete lack of clothes and snowy purity. The inclusion of a cute and fluffy penguin (Zindzi Okenyo) does seem a bit over-the-top at first, but the role this creature plays in the expulsion from the Garden is actually quite gut-wrenching. Penguins aside, Bell and Katz use formal language that you might associate with a medieval retelling of Genesis. This is effective in that it makes the contrast between niceness and crazed depravity all the more stark. However, it also has the effect of detaching the audience from some of the characters we’re supposed to sympathise with – leading to a distinctly flat feeling in some sections.
In the expulsion from the Garden a wrathful God (Richard Pyros), instead of being righteous and justified in anger, comes across as being petty and vindictive. This is in part due to the nature of the source material, but also partly because of how the love of God for his creation is depicted. Instead of being deeply attached to it, God just seems to be weirdly fascinated. Fascination is very different to love, and thus when Adam and Eve partake of the naughty fruit, God’s anger seems all out of proportion to his previous detachment. Some of the mortals who are loyal to God all suffer from the same aloofness, and aren’t really effective foils to the less-than-lovely characters. There’s a sense of everyone having more fun with the sleaze (fair enough…), with the less corrupt elements of human nature being put in the too-hard basket.
The courtyard-inspired design, which includes changing seating configurations for each act, achieves so much with minimal materials. Designers Alice Babidge, Paul Jackson and Kingsley Reeve convey the purity and innocence of the Garden of Eden, then drag the audience down to the sleaziness of post-Fall society, and into the strange dream-world of Noah (Tahki Saul) and his daughters (Ross, Ursula Mills and Julia Ohannessian). The second act particularly, where everyone is encouraged to wonder around where the actors are doing their thing, transforms the audience from passive observers to part of the ‘corrupt’ rabble. It’s a great way to bring the audience into the play without demanding any actual audience participation, and Upton does a great job having his actors moving through the audience, making sure everyone gets a piece of the action.
Overall, despite the flat patches, I enjoyed The Mysteries: Genesis. It’s rather beautiful. It’s just a shame that the experience doesn’t help you feel the love as much as you enjoy the dirtiness.
Bookings: (02) 9250 1777
Until 19 December, 2009