March 18, 2010

Adelaide Festival Theatre

Filed under: 2010,Archive

The Sound and the Fury
(April Seventh, 1928)
Text by William Faulkner
Elevator Repair Service
Dunstan Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre .
March 11, 2010

Ngurrumilmarrmiriyu (Wrong Skin)
Written by Nigel Jamieson in association with Joshua Bond,
the community and elders of Elcho Island and The Chooky Dancers.
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide. March 12, 2010

The American novelist William Faulkner took the title of his 1929 masterwork from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The inventive, Brooklyn-based, Elevator Repair Service has taken the first section of Faulkner’s complex text and given it such a lift that it signifies much – and makes mesmerizing theatre as well.

Divided into four , the novel has different narrations. Three of them, are told by brothers – Benjy, Quentin and Jason Compson, all from a Mississippi landed dynasty now seen (like the American South itself, in Faulkner’s view) in racist decline. This production uses only Benjy’s tale which prefigures the dysfunctional family’s tragedy and, since he is a mentally disabled mute, it is a tangled telling. Events are out of sequence, sensations are mixed with factual details, conversations are reported but not understood.

Directed by John Collins, the accomplished actors of Elevator Repair Service take this torrent of poetic consciousness and present it, not as naturalistic dialogue, but as read-aloud text – complete with “Mother said”, “Caddy said” etc – establishing a dissociated but lilting cadence which carries the story (and the book it is being read from) from player to player, adding layers of implication and perspective as roles are shared and reinterpreted.

The realist shabby domestic décor is counterpointed by projections of text on the walls, intermittent bursts of absurdist hoe-down choreography and a continuous flow of sound, static and half-heard commentary from the large parlour radio. In making the familiar strange and remembered emotion freshly vivid, this remarkable production not only revives a marvelous text but also renews our sense of theatrical possibility.

The story of The Chooky Dancers from Yolngu country in Elcho Island off North East Arnhem Land is an inspiring one. Putting their zany interpretation of Zorba’s Dance on YouTube to the delight of millions of viewers, brilliantly reminded us, particularly here in Australia, that remote is not remote in the old way any more. Mobile phones and the internet are transforming culture everywhere.

Building on these contrasts, writer and director Nigel Jamieson mixes video, techno and re-runs of YouTube, alongside traditional dancing and singing, to tell a fragmented version of Wrong Skin – two young lovers caught in Romeo and Juliet style conflict because their clan and kin lines forbid their relationship.

While this commendable production has been a huge venture for all concerned, its ambitions are greater than the capacities of the performers and its tragic theme is curiously at odds with the exuberance and energies of the Chooky Dancers and the cultural adventure they themselves have created. While not minimizing the challenges facing indigenous communities, perhaps, for once, the real story here is one called Right Skin.

Murray Bramwell

Published in abridged form as “Tangled narratives of tragedy and hope” The Australian , March 15, 2010, p. 17.

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