March 24, 2006

Festival Theatre

Filed under: Archive,Festival


Here Lies Love
David Byrne
Ridley Centre

The Three Furies
By Stephen Sewell
Dunstan Playhouse

By William Shakespeare
Scott Theatre

David Byrne is just the sort of person you want in a Festival. Since fronting the innovative, late 70s band Talking Heads, his singular career has continued to thrive with a fascinating array of projects – and his world premiere of Here Lies Love, a song cycle based on the life of Imelda Marcos, written in collaboration with Fat Boy Slim, promised much.

And it delivers some. For a start, Byrne himself performs and narrates (complete with photo images) the Imelda story – rising from prom queen to wife of Ferdinand Marcos, the notoriously corrupt President of the Philippines. In a part club, part theatre setting, Byrne heads up a slick band of keyboards and percussion while his two talented lead singers – Dana Diaz-Tutaan as Imelda and Ganda Suthivarakom as the faithful servant, Estrella – belt out several dozen new and well-wrought compositions. There are few signs of Fat Boy Slim, but plenty of David Byrne’s tuneful, upbeat rhythms. Despite his affable style, though, the show’s narrative – and narration – is loose, equivocal and unfinished. Here Lies Love is still under construction and its direction not yet clear. It may yet be the hit of the Liverpool Festival, but Adelaide has seen only a project development.

Three Furies is also a biography – of the UK painter Francis Bacon and his model and lover, George Hyde. Augmented by songs written by Basil Hogios and sung by Paul Kapsis, it explores the abusive, alcoholic love/hate relationship between a painter who sees the world as meat and a young man too violated to be anything but unfair game. Stephen Sewell’s text ramps up the melodrama and Jim Sharman’s direction serves only to amplify it. With strips of neon along the stage, three doors waiting to become a triptych, and an onstage trio led by the composer, Three Furies is played like hellish cabaret.

But despite Paul Capsis’ best efforts with repetitious lines, and ghastly settings of William Blake’s The Rose – the mawkish music undercuts the dramatic gain. Simon Burke is valiant, but miscast, as the Painter. Playing him as seedy matinee idol rather than conflicted introvert, he turns Bacon into ham while Socratis Otto’s Cockney Model is reduced to proletarian caricature, Burke’s performance (and Sewell’s text) emphasises the cruelty towards Hyde, but ultimately the play gives us scant reason to care. This production is full of sound and Furies, but signifies far less than it could.

A one person Macbeth ? What is this – economic rationalism gone completely
mad ? In fact, Stephen Dillane, astutely directed by Travis Preston, turns the Scottish play into an epic poem. It is a startling performance, fluent, restrained and full of intelligent surprises. Lady Macbeth is young, foxy and French, Malcolm has an upper class stammer, Macduff is reduced to stony silence at the death of the innocents. Performing on blackening iron sand with a trio of musicians who provide sounds of almost subliminal virtuosity, Dillane reveals in the play its harsh wit and haunting futility.

Published as “Scottish Play Burns Intelligence”, The Adelaide Review, No.288, 24 March, 2006, p.14.

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