La Voix Humaine
La Boite Indie & Motherboard Productions
27th June – 14th July
The human voice. The woman’s voice. The voice of the weaker sex?
Jean Cocteau’s classic one-woman show has been vividly re-imagined by Dave Sleswick and the multi-disciplinary performers of Motherboard Productions for La Boite’s Indie season. It’s the third of six daring productions in the series and it is sure to divide Brisbane audiences.
This is an intense and completely captivating interpretation of Cocteau’s hour-long monologue, using three performers to encapsulate and recreate the one role, of a woman scorned…though really, as we are asked to accept from the outset; she is simply a woman in love and holds no malice for the man on the other end of the telephone, who is about to marry another. To us, the audience as voyeur, she seems obsessive and slightly mad. That is, she becomes so, once she is interrupted several times by crossed lines and the telephone operator and she tires of hearing unsatisfactory responses to her lies (and confessions), from her lover on the other end of the line. Over the course of the conversation (remember, we hear only her side), she becomes distraught, self-pitying, depressed and suicidal.
But wait! Surely, this is not the picture of Woman that we expect to see on stage these days! This woman, in this enlightened age, must be in fact, our worst, most pathetic version of Woman. It may have been an accurate depiction in 1939 (and within a 1950’s context it may be more clearly depicted again in Francis Poulenc’s operatic version of the play) but the strong, independent, unwavering, contemporary woman we like to see? This is she? Really? Well, of course it is! She is quite possibly each and every one of us, regardless of our education, connections and enlightenment, sitting and waiting and agonising by the phone, only half-expecting her lover to call her back after they are cut off, perpetuating the Happily Ever After myth, making (the collective) us seem as pathetic as we always imagined ourselves to be. We try not to let this dependence on a partner’s attention make us who we are but we are also, at various times in our lives, slaves to it.
I took the six year old and her BFF to see Brave the other day. Would the rebellious Scottish princess Merida wait by the phone for her lover to call? If you listen closely, Disney Pixar tells us that indeed she will! She will, at some stage of her life, wait by the phone for the lover of her choice to call (as opposed to a suitor chosen for her by her parents, as tradition dictates). So nothing changes (though there is some hope for the sanity of the next generation), and there will no doubt be further technological advances so that a break up might one day be not over the phone, not via a text message but by a singular thought, in the first instance, transmitted by some telepathic state and thus saving agony over weeks or months or years of wondering, “Does he love me?” “Is he seeing somebody else?” and “Is this the end?”
At first, the woman – played at first by Noa Rotem – demonstrates tenderness and unwavering love and devotion that infuriates me – clearly, she is unwanted, this guy is already out on the town (in the opera we actually hear a momentary lively jazz segment leaving little doubt about it) and already, completely over her; he’s moved on – but gradually, as her efforts to cajole her lover and win him back become more urgent, more desperate, I begin to recognise her self-doubt, her self-loathing and her self-destructive behaviour. Yes! I too have been that woman, sliding down the wall and wailing, “PLEASE GOD! MAKE HIM CALL ME BACK!” Yes! I know! Pathetic! But that was me. At one stage in my life, that pathetic woman was me. And in Brave the sequel, it might also, one day, be Merida.
Sadly – and happily (and intriguingly) – the scale of human emotion hasn’t changed over time. The tumultuous experience of a woman (of a human), despised and discarded by another is common to all humans, across centuries and continents, the difference being, in how we choose to think about and respond to the awful situation we find ourselves in. The secret must surely be in our capacity to forgive and move on, our ability (our willingness) to draw from our reserve of resilience.
Erika Field presents the second aspect of Woman and Liesel Zink the third, though there may be audience members who struggle to accept the three women as one and who consider the possibility that they play three different women, almost in different eras. While I know and accept that the premise is three distinct voices within this woman, the voices are never conflicting enough to be truly representative of the multiple voices we each have inside us. Or are they? They become blurred, each unsure of her argument; this is also something we recognise and wish we had more control over.
It’s interesting to note that there is no place for social media in this production. We have Skype but not Facebook or Twitter (or Pinterest or Instagram). It just doesn’t go there. I wonder why not?
Together, Field, Zink and Rotem transcend any notion of traditional “acting” and give us instead, raw emotions through incredibly physical performances, enhanced by multi-media and visuals by Brad Jennings and Stephen Maxwell, a challenging sound design by Lawrence English and simply beautiful, intimate lighting by Verity Hampson in an elegantly bare, simple set, incorporating a Japanese style sliding screen (upon which we see some of the surtitles and images) and beyond which we see the unused seats of The Roundhouse: a reminder that we’re in a theatre, experiencing a theatrical work.
The three girls deliver exceptional performances; bold, brave and highly polished in terms of their physical performances. The edgy contemporary choreography, devised in consultation with Brian Lucas, is executed inside and outside the confines of the set with vulnerability, strength and severity, the bodies moving jarringly and the limbs at odds with the organs, in perfect self-contradiction. The dance element is at once an arresting image of the woman at odds with herself and the ideal interpretation of this piece in a physical sense. In these bold hands, the play could easily be presented in its entirety as a dance piece. The vocal work is also impressive, supported by the amplification and distortion of multiple microphones placed throughout the set, with Rotem speaking the bulk of her lines in Hebrew.
As voyeurs to this pitiful woman’s self-destruction, we are alienated on so many levels. We are continuously reminded that we are seeing a play, a theatrical version of events (and what Steven Mitchell Wright, of The Danger Ensemble, refers to as “theatrical theatre”), which may or may not have happened the way in which we have witnessed events played out. Stage directions are expressed explicitly and not followed, opening the show and setting the scene – but not – and in closing the show, when the figure of the woman mismatches the description of her, we are left wondering why we have been exposed to the stage directions at all. It’s a slightly unnerving, unsatisfactory end but then, so is the end of a relationship. And so is the end of a life. We leave it in an unfinished state, as if we are cut off mid-conversation. So many words are left unsaid. So many thoughts, feelings, issues…left unresolved.
Dave Sleswick is a director with guts and vision. Motherboard’s La Voix Humaine will have you thinking and feeling deeply. This is not just new world theatre; it’s a new world order. Motherboard is here to stay.
Here’s a wonderful reminder about why we do what we do here, in this place, from The Escapist’s Helpmann Award nominated, Lucas Stibbard, currently touring his hit show, boy girl wall.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE.
I have been asked, more than a couple of times, in recent months “What is great about the Brisbane scene?”. I usually babble for a bit about quality of life and the relatively strong network and the fact that you can make a go of it here without having to wait tables at Bondi 8 hours a day to pay rent.
Tonight, however, I got a really good answer handed to me. (And forgive me Dave Sleswick if I get this wrong – please correct me.) Anyway, during his speech Dave spoke of the immense amount of support that the community had put behind the work – from it’s inception at Metro Arts, on through their Free Range Program, to further development with Brisbane Festival’s Under The Radar and the Judith Wright Center, on to being picked up by La Boite Independents Program and then rehearsed with the assistance of AusDance, Brisbane Powerhouse and Queensland Theatre Company, with visuals from Markwell Presents, as well as the 53 individuals who contributed $4,000 to their set-build. This combined with the knowledge that Motherboard Productions whilst producing independent art on a shoestring with a group of such talented creatives, cast and crew who have, no doubt, worked for little or deferred payment, have made something magical. By the end of Dave’s words I was a bit teary.
So why is Brisbane a good place to make work (despite the still lifting banana curtain that leads to our work so rarely making it south of the border and current incumbent political bungle)?
The answer is the community.