A CHALLENGE TO LEAVE OUR COMFORT ZONES
By Werner Fritsch
Translated and Adapted by Peter Falkenberg
at The Tannery Cassels & Sons Brewery entrance, 3 Garlands Rd, Christchurch
From 22 Feb 2012 to 3 Mar 2012
[1hr 30min, no interval]
Reviewed by Lindsay Clark, 23 Feb 2012
From the impact of their earlier collaboration in Faust Chroma [see also] and this bold production in the depths old Woolston Tannery, it is clear that there is both the will and the talent in the Free Theatre team to bring such boundary-crunching work to our startled attention.
It is light years away from the comfortable, the predictable, the classic. It is provocative in the best sense. Peter Falkenberg's direction is appropriately unflinching.
Fittingly for theatre which eschews the mainstream, the production venue is away down a bumpy industrial lane, tucked inside a bare shell and set up on a stark concrete floor. No indulgence here, though the bar is operating cheerfully.
The solo actor, playing Wolf 'Sex Machine' Bold, is lying, back to us, on a spartan bed. To one side we discern a masked double-bass player, on the other a female figure, wearing a mournful Hitler mask. Together they use sound to underscore the emotions of the actor. On the back wall, the object of his intense gaze, is a framed image of a splayed naked woman. This, we learn, is Cora, his prostitute wife, whom he is accused of murdering.
In one sense, that's all there is to it. The back story of his life as Cora's pimp, the birth of their child, his experience of the law, Cora's betrayal and his lusty doings with another 'woman', Marilyn, are related as he reviews his past. But it is the fixation on Cora which shapes his lush carnal fantasies. These are reflected in a stream of associated images on Cora's frame.
A parallel thread is set up as the Hitler figure produces a gun to threaten him, and the game of which tormenter is behind the mask runs through to the end. This circumstance works better for me as a metaphor for impotence than as a device to expand the Wolf narration, but the presence of a masked, armed Hitler figure certainly darkens its context.
George Parker becomes a very convincing Wolf, musing his way with matter-of-fact frankness through a story which becomes increasingly desperate. His mad chuckle is even more disturbing, but the performance never loses touch with humanity, debased and violent though it is. His account of the son's birth and the temporarily idealised images behind his head provide brief respite from the run of things.
He uses a familiar, robustly Kiwi accent and whereas this brings him right into our back yard, the German surnames of various recounted characters sit a little uneasily with it. A minor quibble.
Ryan Reynolds' video design is complex but seamless, following the skein of fantasy and memory to complement Wolf's words. Similarly, Michael Kime with his double-bass and Emma Johnston's extraordinary vocal work sustain and complete the performance.
It is not theatre for every comer. Neither content nor concept echoes the world most of us think we live in, but Free Theatre offers us something more valuable, a challenge to leave that for a little while.
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