Bare Witness

Bare Witness


Bare Witness

La Mama Theatre/fortyfivedownstairs

Toured by Performing Lines

QTC The GreenHouse

Bille Brown Studio

9th – 13th October 2012


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


This review comes rather late. I saw one of the few Brisbane shows after re-arranging my life to see this production, let it haunt me for several weeks and then remembered that the tour continues and that I should still post something, especially for those readers interstate. I’m not happy with what’s here – I haven’t actually managed to get more than a few thoughts together – but nevertheless, here is something.

I was blown away by Bare Witness, a riveting 75-minute performance, by highly accomplished, passionate performers and a director who challenges everything we thought we knew about working in the theatre. It’s a new brand of theatre and it’s the first thing to have made me catch my breath in a long time. Achieving precisely what Catharsis wants to when it grows up, in terms of bringing various art forms together live on stage, this is an incredible work, inspired by the lives of the photojournalists living and working in war zones all over the world.

This production premiered in Melbourne in 2010.

When we enter the space, the first thing I notice, strangely, is a toolkit placed beside a cello (and lights. There is a light wall to my left and fluorescent cylinders and a chaotic mess of leads placed variously throughout the space. The actors cleverly manoeuvre these to become laptops and use them to light their subjects). I realise very early in the piece that the tools are tiny, shiny instruments of torture and the cello a body…another body. Another voice. Snap! Clap! An image is captured. The voice, the context, gone; lost in the dust.

What’s it worth? A picture tells a thousand words and might be worth thousands of dollars. Who are these people and why do they do what they do? Probably the first play about combat photojournalists, the snappers’ stories are all similar, and similarly bewildering. Writer, Mari Lourey, has deftly wound together several stories that shock and remind us how lucky we are. And how brave (or foolish) and incredibly dedicated the snappers are.

Without bringing on board a choreographer, the director and her close-knit, impressively fit company of actors, have devised highly physical theatre – it’s not dance, as the actors are quick to point out after the show – it’s theatre that comes instinctually from improvisation. The rehearsal process involved many hours of improvisation before any thorough text work was undertaken. I do hope the high schools are sending their students (and teachers) to see this work…

Bare Witness

I feel like I often talk about process here. Perhaps I think about it more often than write about it. Process fascinates me. The journey as much as the destination and all that stuff. The collaborative nature of the work and how it all comes together. Fascinating. In this case, the re-staging of the project received money for four weeks of creative development, however, Director, Nadja Kostich, managed to stretch it over seven weeks. She says the extra time was necessary to boost fitness levels; it worked like bootcamp with bonus improvisation exercises and movement rather than any sort of specific choreography. The actors said, of the pros of re-staging and re-developing the work, “We can fix bits.” (Ray Chong Nee) and of Kostich, “Nadja…she’s got the most amazing energy.” (Daniela Farinacci).

Improvisation helped the actors explore their feelings around the challenging content and themes of the piece; issues that we don’t, under normal, happy, safe, sheltered circumstances, need to face up to. “Through the repetition you find the meaning.” (Adam McConvell).

Bare Witness

With the writer, Mari Lourey, in the room the first to throw out the book, the actors enjoyed time and space to collaboratively explore subtext and come at the story from their own starting point. Two workshops shaped the story. Kostich, brought in books and imagery, which “informed the subconscious mind” (Daniela Farinacci), stimulating the actors’ imagination as well as their conversations. It shows. There is rich contextual detail at work here. We feel as if these actors have really been there to experience the full horror of a war zone. I feel like turning it off (you know I don’t watch the news) but of course I’m trapped there, unable to escape, as a rookie snapper, in the act of remembering, plummets through her award-winning photos numbered 011 through 01. I’m terrified and amused – there are lovely light, wry moments, and hilarious drunken moments, as well as terrific sexual energy and light-hearted banter between characters – but overall, this putting-your-life-on-the-line-for-some-picture stuff still terrifies me.

The final movement sequence performed by Todd MacDonald that, in one foul swoop, delivers the entirety of the story and all its evil machinations somehow had the same effect on me as seeing the end of Life is Beautiful. Well, it’s almost the end. You know the scene. It makes me consider the manipulative job of a parent. What are the sorts of images we allow our children to see? What do they see anyway? I’m left stunned in the same way, unable to breathe, tears streaming down my cheeks, wondering who it is who demands the snappers continue their snapping so we may see the “truth” of war. Is it them? Is it the editors? Is it us?

Kostich’s approach is very much to work with a vision that continues to funnel down and refract over time. She gives her company of actors free reign and then stops them to tell them, “THAT! Keep that!” It’s a matter of seeing the big picture and then refining it and refining it in order to get to the crux of the story. The inclusion on stage of Kristen Rule, The Unconventional Cellist, gives the piece yet another layer. The live music evolved the same way as the acting. It’s another language. A shared language. Shared history. Rule’s cello is 130 years old!

If you are anywhere near Ballarat, Mildura or Hobart, and you can catch the end of the tour, you must see this extraordinarily powerful piece of theatre. Bare Witness penetrates the mind and heart, and leaves an indelible impression on the soul.

Writer – Mari Lourey

Director – Nadja Kostich

Performers – Ray Chong Nee, Daniela Farinacci, Eugenia Fragos, Todd MacDonald, Adam McConvell

Designer – Marg Horwell

Musician/Composer – Kristin Rule

Lighting Design – Emma Valente

Video Design – Michael carmody

Production Manager – Natasha James

Stage Manager – Rebecca Etchell

Image – Jeremy Angerson, Rusty Stewart, Tony Yap


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