Posts Tagged ‘matt seery

28
Apr
17

ENGLAND

 

ENGLAND

Nathan Booth, Matt Seery & Metro Arts

Metro Arts Gallery

April 19 – 29 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward / Meredith Walker

 

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LOOK.

The floor creaks comfortingly (or disturbingly perhaps, if it’s your first time here), and the walls are almost completely bare, except for selected works by up and coming Brisbane artists, their pieces, for me, neither relevant nor irrelevant to the play, which is about art and heart and perspective.

The ink on the concrete stairs has worn off in some places, barely reminding us of who lives here, and who lends support to the place. The lift is out of order. I never used it. But others need to…

I’m flying solo, as I often am in galleries, when I take myself off on an “artist’s date”, to gather myself and spend time in spaces dedicated to nourishing us, rather than robbing us of feeling, of seeing, of soul.

In a post-show Q and A session to his 2013 Brisbane Festival show I, Malvolio, Tim Crouch described his advocacy of asking new questions about the artform through increasing consciousness of the alert and alive relationship between audiences and theatre makers, united in a live situation. Those who saw Crouch’s An Oak Tree at the Bille Brown Studio in 2011 will expect no less from the experimental theatre maker, given that work’s failure to play by ‘the rules’ by including a guest actor, without script familiarity, being guided through the performance by stage directions fed through an earpiece.

This is the world of Tim Crouch and of his 2007 work ENGLAND, which rejects typical theatrical conventions and, instead, invites its audience to help create the work. Perhaps as a consequence, the provocative text has only ever been performed once before in Australia. But this only makes the Queensland premiere of the tricky work from Nathan Booth and Matt Seery, the Hamish and Andy of the Brisbane theatre scene, all the more impressive.

Certainly there are easier challenges in theatre than taking on a show like ENGLAND. The script allows for anything; lines are not allocated to performers and there are no stage directions or indications regarding set or lighting. Yet, in Seery’s directorial hands, the scatter becomes a sophisticated performance work that starts as a gallery tour before becoming so much more in its look at life and impending death.

The story is well suited to the intimate venue of Metro Arts’ Gallery and the staging is well managed to account for the limitations of the space, which sees the action move from Brisbane to London and from a clean-lined gallery to a shabby sitting room. It begins with two attendants who share a duologue in talk of a wealthy art-dealer boyfriend in need of a heart transplant and as guide of the audience through a contemporary art exhibition (the work of artists Amelia K Fulton, Brigid Holt, Dana Lawrie, Charlie Meyers and Damien Pasquale), with comment on the works’ amazing colours and how art should be for all. As the audience is urged to look at the lines and colours and even the wood of the floor, we are reminded of the beauty of life’s little details, even as description moves to what’s on the walls of a doctor’s surgery and then in the search for health at any cost. It is a work of two acts at either end of the stylistic spectrum and yet it works, more because of, rather than in spite of, its contrasting forms.

Give the site-specific nature of the work, audience members should aim to arrive early to wander around the gallery until the work begins with performers Barbara Lowing and Steven Tandy take place to part the crowd and take command of the space. A two-hander from Lowing and Tandy is weighted with expectation; each brings a wealth of experience to the show and, accordingly, in their hands, the dialogue flows easily without overwhelming the delicate nature of the production.

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LOOK.

I end up sitting rather than standing, so tired, in the darker end of the space beyond a wall, waiting for the play to begin (are they late to start? It feels like they are late to start), and with a number of other guests, I’m asked to move back to the central, well-lit space, which is where we’ll start, standing for perhaps 25 minutes. I suddenly regret the decision to bring a tote that I must hold with both hands, rather than a little Miss London clutch. My wrap, in case it’s cold, for the record, does not fit into the clutch, so…..

Steven Tandy and Barb Lowing, all in black except for Lowing’s statement floral scarf, enter the space with the authority of tour guides or gallery owners. They are the same person. But we don’t know this right away; the realisation drops in later as we process the strategically shared narrative. It’s a lovely surprise, quite unexpected, because who else but our Tom Holloway can write like this, with lines left unsaid and many more overlapping and repeated? LOOK. We have a sense that some theatrical cleverness is at work, but without any pretentiousness or actual theatricality whatsoever, writer (and actor) Tim Crouch simply delivers the story. The actors simply deliver the story. It’s rare that high expectations are met.

They’re more than competent, assured enough to trust and let the text do its work (other actors say they do this, but rarely do they let things be and actually do this), and directed by Matt Seery (his Directing Mentor, La Boite’s Todd MacDonald), which lets us experience, moment to moment, at the core of the work, at its heart, sensitivity, beauty, patience and grace. And then there are the political layers; layer upon layer upon layer…what IS beneath the niqab, anyway? Only the eyes… LOOK.

This is a wake-up call for some, and palliative care for the not-knowing-they’re-already-dead set.

These actors are no less than iconic in our industry, both adored, genuinely respected; their performances in ENGLAND are testament to their ability and sensitivity as performers. These characters – this character, which they share in the first act – is someone gravely ill, waiting to die…waiting to live. Waiting to live, given a new chance to do so, given a new heart… An Islamic heart, which has become available through diabolical means, and accepted with basic, innocent gratitude. 

Lowing is a tour-de-force on any stage and Tandy gives a finely balanced performance in counterpoint to the vulnerability and strength of her presence. Indeed, it is testament to the craft of both the artists that they are at most captivating when seated in a conversation of sorts for second half of show, when travel is made to an unnamed country to thank the widow of a heart donor with a gift of a valuable painting. The ambient sound design and intricately composed score, are similarly memorable in their frame of the story’s essential emotions.

 

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In Act 2 the narrator offers the gift of a valuable work of art to the widow of the man whose heart she/he has within her, and a translator reduces the conversation to its essence. It’s absolutely fascinating to watch Tandy ponder, mentally processing what he must say aloud to make the conversation between the two women possible, plausible, relatable, reasonable. It’s heartbreaking to tumble into Lowing’s abyss of ignorance and misconception and wistfulness and wonderment, and frustration and anger and guilt and pity and……. for some reason, I’m thinking about My Name is Lucy Barton, another extraordinary piece of writing, and then, with fireworks, a display that’s fierce and frightening and shocking, before I can think any more about anything at all, the play is suddenly finished. But nobody moves. Nobody applauds. Nobody can move. And then, finally, after several deep breaths, there is applause. And we can go. And I do, because it’s a slightly earlier night than usual and, we are done. But not. This piece will stay beneath my skin for a bit, like ink. A reminder. Art permeates life. And love. And life.

ENGLAND is a wonderful show of little details and big thematic ideas about, for example, the effect of art and what constitutes its meaning. Much like last week’s Australian Stella Prize annual literary award winner, The Museum of Modern Love, it captures art’s ability to ‘wake you up, break your heart and make you fearless’.

The creators of the exhibition/performance/gallery tour that is ENGLAND have crafted something very special from its most arbitrary of guidelines. At once beautiful, powerful and devastating, it is an affecting and rewarding theatrical interaction, layered with meaning for contemplation and conversation about the difference between looking and seeing and the need for art in all its manifestations to enrich, sustain and lift us out of life’s hardships. 

This is a provocative piece for galleries…and for humans. It comes boldly, exquisitely from a team of creative hearts to yours.

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