Brisbane Powerhouse & Wax Lyrical Productions
Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio
February 10 – 13 2016
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
We deliberate over sitting in the front row or hiding up the back like naughty school kids on the bus. The back row wins, mostly because the Turbine Studio is such a tiny space and it’s possible to be too close to the performer here. I feel like we’ve made the right choice. We’ll behave. Promise. But wait! I spot our friend seated a couple of rows in front and call out to her. She hitches up her skirt and clambers over the chairs to join us before a couple of the boys from Wax Lyrical’s Carrie settle next to me. It’s practically the after party before the show’s begun. (The boys have brought in a couple of drinks each because ONE MAN SHOW. And who ever knows what we’re in for at a festival?).
We’re laughing and chatting as the lights dim, and I have to turn away from the conversation and tune into the guitar and vocals of Silvan Rus, who has singularly established the Parisian bohemian street scene as we entered the space, without the help of a set or lighting state. The painting propped on an easel on stage is of a Parisian scene, boasting a red umbrella held by a couple in an embrace by the Seine, but we knew we were going to be in Paris and just…why is it there? And why are the Playschool blocks covered in newspaper? The nondescript design has me stumped so I decide to stop thinking about it. Rus continues to play throughout, effectively underscoring the show and providing the backing for well-placed lines of dialogue to be made lyrical. The moments of song break up the extended monologue, which tells the tale of a homeless, friendless, hopeless (hopelessly romantic) junkie.
Tom Markiewicz appears, unfurling from a position on stage, although because we’d been in entertaining (each other) mode in the back row I hadn’t seen him there until now. He’s tall and slender, superbly, elegantly tragic in a long black dress, with mascara tears permanently running down his cheeks and red lippy that’s slipped and smudged. He’s dishevelled without losing all dignity, and would have looked the bomb before the rain and hash and drinks took effect. This proudly worn forlorn appearance sets the tone of the show. We know it won’t be a happy ending…
AWGIE Award winning Stephen House, playwright and the original performer of the piece, offers a voice to the voiceless, the lost, the forgotten… Having lived on the streets of Paris himself, and observing homeless people all over the world, House was able to write with raw honesty and rare insight, and the poignancy of one who is able to empathise.
This adaptation, directed by Wax Lyrical’s Shane Pike, offers a view of homelessness and hopelessness through a younger, brighter (though blurred) lens and the production suffers slightly for it. It has the potential to read as a slower burning, much darker, more devastating and directly affecting piece. It’s not that this reading misses the mark, it’s just that I would like to have seen an even greater challenge tackled by actor and director, to tread warily through this incredible story until we’re taken right to the edge of a precipice… It’s not quite shocking enough to drive home the harsh reality of the story, and the homelessness almost gets lost in the complexities of the issues that contribute to that very state.
Perhaps the interpretation of the text and the creation of the role were challenges enough, and that’s fine. A whole generation might have connected more deeply than I. Having said that, Markiewicz is a charismatic performer, bold and beautiful to watch, and I certainly felt a connection, which is rare because few performers are confident enough to meet your eye. Many will select a spot just above you or beyond you, avoiding committing to gazing right at you. Markiewicz gazes, seduces, locking eyes with me and others a number of times throughout the performance, justifying his existence and lamenting about having nothing more valuable to offer us, with which he might prove his worth, or actually contribute to society. We feel his failures mounting and we recognise, if we stop and reflect, our own gratitude for the people who take an interest in us, for the roof over our heads, the food on our table, the drinks in our hands. It’s not a show that’s unsettling enough to make me shift in my seat – there’s not quite enough light and shade (and less ebb than flow) – but the poetic language jars and shocks us occasionally enough to make us sit up and, without pitying him or feeling as if we can reach out in some way, at least take note of our own fortunate place in the world.
Despite the heavy content there are some lighter moments, quite lovely moments, including fond references to the various people and places of Paris, and enamoured prose describing the object of his affection, a pretty whore he refers to as the “Paris Princess”. As the object of another’s affection – or dubious attention – he falls prey to Romano, who must also…survive.
Pike and Markiewicz have teased out a gentle new take on the text. Within this demanding 55-minute performance there are a number of sublime moments, and yet others that would fall flat if it were not for the conviction of the performer. Let’s see this work developed further, and see it again.