CHALLENGING THEATRE FOR THOSE WITH THE STOMACH FOR IT
By Werner Fritsch
Translated and Adapted by Peter Falkenberg
at Temple Gallery, Dunedin
From 22 Feb 2012 to 3 Mar 2012
[1hr 30min, no interval]
Reviewed by Terry MacTavish, 22 Mar 2012
Clambering up steep stairs through a tangled inner-city garden to the gorgeous Temple Gallery is an appropriately Gothic-Romantic introduction to this strange nightmarish work.
Christchurch's Free Theatre has a reputation for pushing the boundaries, and Hereafter smashes right through them. This is a bizarre and confrontational work with its roots in German Expressionism, and it is not for the faint-hearted.
On a stark massage table a man lies naked but for a sheet, beneath a dramatic painting of a woman naked but for her black stockings. On one side a masked figure conjures ominous music from a double-bass, while on the other a woman dressed as a man, wearing a sinister carnival mask of Hitler, menaces the prone man with a gun. Strange mournful sound emanates from the mask, gradually becoming extraordinarily powerful singing, at first in German.
The prone man is Wolf ‘Sexmachine' Bold, the naked woman his prostitute wife, Cora, who has been brutally murdered. Bold blames his mysterious nemesis, Kloistermeier, but knows he will be the accused. While he awaits his arrest, his mind races crazily through the events that have led him to this: the sordid underworld of pimps and prostitutes; his love for Cora and their son; her betrayal; and her successor Marilyn, a Thai transsexual who is both prostitute and Buddhist.
The frame that held Cora's portrait is revealed as a screen, where distorted pictures from Bold's mind flicker briefly. Some are horrific. I'll strive to forget the gruesome images of pig slaughter, as he recalls how he hoped to be a painter, but was forced to become a butcher. Yet the light on bare flesh and luxuriant hair is warm and beautiful, and Bold often expresses tenderness as well as brutality. Soft images of breast-feeding contrast with those of blood-splattered violence.
For an hour and a half we are subjected to a manic monologue, delivered with unflagging energy and absolute conviction by the remarkable George Parker. This is a virtuoso performance, ably supported by musicians Emma Johnston and Michael Kime. The expressionistic style can invite ridicule, but Parker's deft handling of both macabre and comic elements effectively controls our response: power indeed.
Under Peter Falkenberg's experienced direction, Parker lures us into Bold's tortured mind in a way that transcends realism, and we are brought to share his hallucinatory vision of life. Bold may be trapped, but he possesses a tormented demonic strength, free because he has no desire to live. “I'm not whining for your fucking mercy. I spit on a life without Cora.” His concern now is with the hereafter.
This is undoubtedly challenging theatre. But if you have the stomach for it, you are in for a powerful and memorable experience.
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