July 02, 2009

The iceman cometh memorably into focus

Conceived by Simon McBurney and Devised by Complicite

State Theatre Company of South Australia
In association with the Adelaide Festival Centre’s inSPACE Program
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre.
July 2 . Tickets $45 – $60. Bookings BASS 131 246
Until July 18.

What are the traces of an individual life, a culture, a relationship, a family? How are they remembered and, in the end, what do they mean ? UK’s Theatre Complicite’s inventive investigation of memory and meaning, Mnemonic, first performed in 1999, begins with a lengthy prologue on, among many things, the biochemistry of the brain, and the way it bookmarks events and the complex ways we recall them.

The brain “sprouts” connections and the synapses carry them, darting in all directions and making free-associations – rather like Complicite’s Mnemonic itself, as it traces the people and events leading to and from the 1991 discovery of the 5000 year old Ice Man and the disappearance of Alice, a young woman lost on the almost illegible trail of a Lithuanian father she never knew.

These Butterfly Effect narratives are familiar these days – in films like Crash and Babel and in theatre works by Robert Lepage and recently, Andrew Bovell.
In this State Theatre production, director Adam Cook has faithfully retained the idiosyncratic Complicite text- even including the part where each audience member puts on a night mask and investigates the textures of a leaf as an exercise in self-reflection and sensory deprivation.

Nick Pelomis, at first delivering the original McBurney prologue and then morphing into the character of Virgil, is an important, and excellent, link to the disparate elements of the production. Naked for much of the time on stage, he embodies the vulnerability of the homo sapiens individual – whether a man bereft at the total disappearance of his girlfriend, or the Ice Man whose skin, innards, and artifacts are investigated and argued over for their meanings and implications.

The rest of the cast of seven – Lizzy Falkland as Alice, disappearing through the looking-glass of postwar Europe, Renato Musolino as Simonides, a Greek migrant now in London, soon perhaps in Melbourne, and Andrea Sobik as Professor Spindler delving the life and death of the Ice Man, assisted by Roman Vaculik, Rob McPherson and Antje Guenther – all perform strongly in a play which is a mystery trail, a conundrum, and ambitiously, a reflection on sentience itself.

Elegant in its minimal design (by Brian Thompson) the stage is bisected by a long diagonal curtain rail, trimmed in blue neon, as the events are forensically, sometimes gorgeously, lit by Mark Pennington. Stuart Day’s music is like one long, warm Laurie Anderson chord as we enter Adam Cook’s intriguing, satisfying and – you’d have to say, memorable – investigation of the elusive, turbulent synapses of self and society.

Murray Bramwell

“The iceman cometh memorably into focus”, The Australian, July 6, 2009, p.30.

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