Sunday, 29 June 2014

Postcard from Perth 27



Giving Up the Ghosts/Comaland/WA Theatre Funding Consultancy Findings


On Friday night I attended two events that gave me renewed hope in the craft of playwriting and the genre of the dialogue-driven play still being alive and relevant, at least in Perth.

Giving Up The Ghosts is a co-production by The Blue Room and Owl Productions. It’s the debut play by Perth comedian Sarah Young, who also performs in Barefaced Stories, a regular Perth stand-up storytelling night at The Bird. Perhaps this background contributes to her strengths as a writer: sharp dialogue; a strong sense of character; an even stronger sense of the onstage interaction between characters as the motor of dramatic theatre; a sensitivity to the need for space between the lines for both actors and audience; and a capacity to keep us hanging on every word and guessing what’s going to happen next right up until the last lines.

It would be too easy, spoiling things and in any case misleading to say what Giving Up is ‘about’. Maybe that’s true of most plays or works of art that are worth their salt. In this case, the ‘salt’ consists of two extremely fine performances by Georgia King and Paul Grabovac, and some extremely well-judged direction from Joe Lui (who is also the lighting and sound designer), plus a simple but effective set and costume design by Sarah Chirichilli.

Without going into the ostensibly ‘dark’ subject-matter, let me say that I found the whole experience unexpectedly ‘light’, illuminating and even strangely uplifting. This is largely due to the intelligence of the writing, performances and direction, all which consistently affirm the capacity of human beings (dare I say including actors) to make decisions for themselves. This is even true of characters like ‘Ruth’ and ‘Steve’, who have (perhaps permanently) lost their overall sense of where (if anywhere) they belong on this earth.

In this respect, while marking a departure from Joe’s previous work as a director (and especially from his ‘post-dramatic’ work with Renegade Productions), Giving Up The Ghosts is true to what I see as Joe’s underlying philosophy of personal, political and artistic freedom. Perhaps this makes him the ideal director for a play whose subject-matter might otherwise easily fall prey to moralising or sentimentality. In short: he doesn’t get in the way. For most part (with a few reservations) the same is true of the lighting, sound, staging and design. I wasn’t convinced about one or two decisions here, but these reservations were easily forgotten in the context of a consistently involving experience, especially in the intimate confines of the Blue Room Studio.

To be sure, there’s nothing earth-shatteringly innovative about the work, as a play or a production. But in this case, that’s part of what makes the whole thing so effective. The old ‘two-hander’ as a genre has a venerable tradition behind it arguably going back to Aeschylus, who only used two actors (apart from the chorus), at least until Sophocles added a third; and the play steadfastly observes the dramatic unities of action, time and place (actually Aristotle’s unity of time was confined to ‘a single revolution of the sun’, and unity of place is a neo-classical addition, so in this sense Giving Up the Ghosts is a very neo-classical work).

Credit must go equally to Georgia and Paul’s courageously truthful performances – courageous because they don’t tell us how to react or provide an interpretative commentary on the characters, but simply make them (and themselves) available for us to observe, sympathize, laugh, pity or judge as we choose. Ultimately however, it’s down to the writing, which makes it all possible. It made me realise what a precious commodity good playwriting really is.

I applaud the work of all the artists involved: a Perth theatre highlight for me so far this year, in terms of craft, and perhaps ethics too.

*

Perhaps it’s unethical to review a playreading, especially of a work in development. Nevertheless I want to comment briefly on Will O’Mahony’s new play Comaland, a public reading of which I attended along with an audience of about thirty at PICA on Friday evening before going to Giving Up the Ghosts across the lane at The Blue Room.

Will is an actor and director as well as a writer, and has directed and performed in his two previous plays for his independent theatre company The Skeletal System. He’s equally talented in all departments, and has a truly original voice as a writer. His plays explore philosophical and psychological conundrums with the aid of hypothetical fictions and ‘possible worlds’ that generically resemble science fiction and fantasy; though like much of the best work in that genre they might also be described as ‘thought experiments’. As such they employ plot structures and devices more commonly encountered in contemporary literature or cinema. In the realm of theatre, their precursors include Shakespeare’s Tempest and Calderon’s Life Is A Dream (both early-modern works of ‘pre-scientific’ experimental drama, after which bourgeois theatre largely opted for realism as its dominant mode).

Even as an unstaged work-in-progress, Comaland is a dazzling play. It’s set in a kind of non-theological limbo or liminal world between life and death in which relationships unfold between complete strangers, parents and children, humans and other animals – or even objects (inanimate or otherwise). It’s either a stage designer’s nightmare or delight, and I can’t wait to see it realised – and, I hope, properly resourced as a major new play that deserves to be widely seen in Perth and elsewhere.

One of six projects supported by the WA Department of Culture and the Arts inaugural Theatre Works funding round last year (which distributed State funding previously allocated to small-to-medium companies Deckchair and Thin Ice, both of which folded in 2012), Comaland has been developed over the last nine months with Will at the helm using various actors to test and refine the play. The process has clearly paid dividends, at least artistically, and incidentally makes a good case for at least the some of the Theatre Works funding being given directly to artists rather than being entirely absorbed by the remaining small-to-medium companies and organisations.

DCA has since conducted a consultation process to determine what should happen to these funds in future, and has now released a series of options which involve significant infrastructural changes to the existing small-to-medium sector. These options include the creation of ‘new entities’, directives to existing companies, and the reallocation of venue resources under the aegis of a curatorial ‘hub’. It’s still early days, and the dust is yet to settle; DCA is currently receiving feedback from all quarters, in response to which it will doubtless refine and modify its options before making a decision. Whatever they finally choose to do, one can only hope that plays like Comaland or Giving Up the Ghosts and artists like Will or Joe don’t miss out. The point of arts funding organisations, after all, is to support art, not organisations.

*


Giving Up the Ghosts is at The Blue Room Studio until 12 July. Comaland is hopefully coming soon to a theatre near you. The DCA Theatre Funding Consultancy findings are currently leaking out all over town. Please try to remain calm and follow directions from your front-of-house staff. I’m currently in rehearsals for Jasper Jones at Barking Gecko, so communications may be intermittent for the next few weeks. HB.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Postcard from Perth 26

Remembrance of Things Past




Black Swan The House on the Lake/WASO Mahler Ninth Symphony


Anamnesis – the process of remembering what we already know – is a technique as old as philosophy itself. For Plato, it was the process by which the soul remembered knowledge gleaned from previous incarnations; in Christian liturgy, it became the ritual remembrance of Christ’s passion, resurrection and ascension; in secular medicine, the patient’s narration of their own history; for Freud, the return of the repressed to consciousness.

As a theatrical device, anamnesis is as old as Oedipus. The latter is also the first detective story: a symbolic re-enactment of the primordial murder-mystery, according to Freud. In Plato, Christianity, medicine or psychoanalysis, the uncovering of the truth through anamnesis is a restorative process that leads to enlightenment, wisdom, healing or even salvation. In Greek tragedy, however, and its successors – from Seneca and Shakespeare to contemporary crime fiction and film noir – the remembrance of things past brings justice, but also further suffering.

Last week I saw and heard two works using anamnesis as a central technique and even a structural device: Black Swan’s production of Aidan Fennessy’s new play The House on the Lake and WASO’s performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. If the symphony properly deserves to be called ‘tragic’ in the sense alluded to above (even if the performance perhaps didn’t entirely plumb the work’s depths), the play fell far short of being a tragedy (despite the admirable seriousness of intent and intensity of focus given to it by the production team). To compare Fennessy with Mahler might seem invidious; but perhaps the comparison can reveal something about the role of anamnesis in artistic construction – and perhaps even in the process of production.

*

The House on the Lake is the second new work this year to be programmed in the Studio Underground as part of the Black Swan Lab initiative, following Chris Isaac’s Flood (reviewed in a previous Postcard back in February).

The Lab is designed as a collaborative venture between established and emerging artists currently associated with the company. In this case, the show is directed by Black Swan associate director Stuart Halusz (here making his professional directorial debut with the company) and designed by emerging artist India Mehta (who also designed Flood), with a lighting design by Black Swan regular Trent Suidgeest and sound design by emerging artist Brett Smith. The cast consists of Kenneth Ransome, an established artist and regular with the company, and Marthe Rovik, who originally trained and worked in Norway, here making her Black Swan debut after appearing last year in a production of Hedda Gabler at The Blue Room. Aidan Fennessy is of course an established writer whose play The National Interest was programmed by the company in 2012. The House on the Lake was commissioned by Black Swan and developed by Playwriting Australia.

Let me say straight out that I think the Black Swan Lab is a fantastic initiative by a major theatre company attempting to bridge the chasm in Perth (and elsewhere) between established and emerging artists – and more generally between ‘mainstage’ and ‘independent’ theatre. I should add that I don’t mean ‘chasm’ in terms of quality but chiefly in terms of resources. Around the country there’s no dearth of emerging and independent artists with talent, skills, energy and vision – the problem is that money and infrastructure are desperately lacking for them to develop and consolidate their work, in comparison with the ongoing funding and corporate sponsorship available to the major organisations. Funding cuts to the Australia Council recently announced in the Federal budget (and paralleled at State level, most egregiously in Queensland) exacerbate this structural imbalance, as major organisations are relatively protected in comparison with small-to-medium companies, independent artists and projects (which must bear the brunt of the cuts). So it falls to the major organisations themselves to bridge the chasm by lowering the drawbridge, so to speak, to those currently outside the castle walls; and this inclusiveness can only be of artistic benefit to the mainstage companies themselves.

It’s perhaps ironic then that the strengths of The House on Lake reside in its creative team while the weaknesses lie in its structural – and primarily textual – foundations. Full marks go to India Mehta’s hauntingly toned, carefully degraded and impeccably detailed set: a fading green-hued hospital room complete with peeling walls, stained and cracked tile floors, and mesh-guarded windows of translucent glass, beyond which leafless trees press and beckon. This ensemble is dynamically lit by Trent Suidgeest with an appropriately flickering logic that tells its own disjointed story, accompanied by the equally unpredictable fluctuations of Brett Smith’s soundscape.

Placed in this stylishly executed environment, the two performers struggle to inhabit or flesh out their cripplingly schematic roles. Everything is in the service of plot, genre, mood and atmosphere; and alas, none of these are remotely original, fully realised or even rigorously thought-through. The play itself has the sense of an exercise, owing a painfully obvious debt to amnesia-whodunit films-noirs like Christopher Nolan’s Memento. In fact it borrows heavily from the latter – an unreliable protagonist suffering from anterograde amnesia, a murdered wife, a set-up involving a change of clothes with the intended suspect, etc – without any of the film’s structural cleverness (chiefly the reverse chronology) which alone made it remotely interesting (at least as a film).

In comparison The House on the Lake fails as a play not only because its dramatic structure founders in the no-man’s-land between a conventional sequence of scenes and the dramatic unity that might be achieved by a single act unfolding in real time and punctuated only by lapses in the protagonist’s short-term memory (a structure which might have been interesting if sustained). It also – and more crucially – fails because the characters lack any credible depth or compelling dynamic between them. In short: nothing happens onstage except that the ‘truth’ about what ‘really happened’ is predictably yet randomly (and rather implausibly) revealed.

Faced with this almost insurmountable challenge, Ransome at least invested his character with a convincing vulnerability, which however (and rather unconvincingly) gave way as the pressures of plot began to mount. Meanwhile Rovik (who gave us a fiercely adamantine Hedda at The Blue Room last year) struggled to be more than functional in a hopelessly underwritten role as a ‘doctor of psychology’ who is supposedly assigned to uncover the truth – and supposedly does so after entering a rather unlikely labyrinth. As for Halusz: I felt this play was a thankless task for an emerging director and (for his sake and the playwright’s) should not have been programmed in its current state of development, if at all.

Once again this raises questions for me about the whole process of commissioning, developing and programming new work, at least as habitually practised by major theatre companies. Perhaps there’s something inherently problematic and even arse-about in the conventional sequence by which a playwright is (first) commissioned to write something which (then) goes through a stage of dramaturgical development (possibly through a separate organisation or with individuals who may have nothing to do with the eventual production) and (then) gets programmed (possibly well in advance of the play itself being ready) before (finally) being assigned a creative team and cast.

No matter how individually talented or experienced the people involved in this chain of production, it seems to me to miss the crucially collaborative process by which theatre is made by a consistent team or company of artists, including the playwright. The latter incidentally is the development model adopted by most independent ensembles. Mainstage companies more often than not merely commission writers or employ artists on a piece-meal basis and hope for the best. These are hardly ideal conditions for new work to come to fruition. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why it's so much ‘safer’ for mainstage companies to opt for established or ‘classic’ plays instead.

It’s not however how Shakespeare, Moliere, Chekhov or Brecht (to name a few) produced those same ‘classic’ plays. Like most ‘independent’ writers today, they wrote for (or were key members of) their own (or their own chosen) theatre companies. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why they wrote such good plays, and why paradoxically we still perform them today.

*

Mahler’s final completed symphony was written after the death of his four-year old daughter in 1907 and the simultaneous diagnosis of his own fatal heart disease. Death haunted Mahler all his life and permeates his works, from the funeral march in the slow movement of the 1st Symphony to the Songs on the Death of Children (the composition of which Mahler retrospectively blamed for his own loss four years later). He even claimed to have cheated death by surreptitiously writing his ninth symphony without naming it as such in the form of the symphonic song cycle The Song of The Earth (Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorak and Bruckner's ninth symphonies all being their last). 

Nevertheless, the wordless presence of death is imminent throughout the Ninth Symphony proper. The faltering rhythm of the opening motif mimics Mahler’s irregular heartbeat; and the descending three notes of the main theme quote the opening motif of Beethoven’s sonata Les Adieux (‘Farewell’). They also echo the falling notes of the final sung phrase ‘Ewig, ewig’ (‘forever, forever’) at the end of The Song of the Earth - the last movement of which is also entitled Der Abschied (‘the farewell’). As for the last movement of the symphony, its elegiac main theme recalls the famous hymn ‘Abide With Me’; in its closing moments, it repeats a line from one of the Songs on the Death of Children; and the last note is marked in the score to be played ersterbend (‘as if dying away’). Some of these features were elucidated in a pre-concert talk by musicologist and Jungian analyst Sally Kester, who outlined what she described as the work’s ‘emotional program’.

This sense of ‘farewell’ is not only personal but also cultural and historical. After the blows of 1907, Mahler had resigned from the Opera and left Vienna for New York (although he returned for the summer to finish The Song of the Earth and begin the Ninth Symphony). Among the group of admirers who gathered to farewell him at the station were the composers Schoenberg, Webern and Zemlinsky, the conductor Bruno Walter and the painter Gustav Klimt – his musical and artistic heirs. Klimt is said to have murmured as the train pulled away: ‘It’s over.’ He said more than he knew.

The Ninth Symphony is not just Mahler’s swansong but a lament for the passing of an era, perhaps even an entire civilisation. It stands on the cusp between late romanticism and early modernism – in particular the musical expressionism of Richard Strauss and the early Schoenberg, but perhaps especially the work of Schoenberg’s disciple Alan Berg (whose music is also haunted by death). Berg is anticipated above all in the sardonic folk-dance rhythms of the second movement and the grotesque humour of the third movement’s rondo burlesque. Beneath it all, as in Kafka’s work, one hears the approach of something inhuman, and feels the irresistible undertow of impending historical catastrophe.

Crucial to the emotional and technical progression of the symphony as a whole is the effect of things remembered: feelings, thoughts, melodic and rhythmic fragments, musical forms and structures – both endogenous to the work itself and from other sources - which change their meaning and become transfigured by the process of memory itself. In this Mahler has as much in common with that other great early modernist Proust (whose use of anamnesis equally spans both personal, cultural and historical dimensions) as he does with Kafka. This is illustrated by the anecdote (divulged by Mahler during his brief analysis with Freud) about the composer’s childhood memory of fleeing the house during an argument between his parents and encountering an organ-grinder in the street playing a banal popular tune; or the similar (almost Chekhovian) experience towards the end of his life of overhearing the muffled drumbeat from a fireman’s funeral through the window of his apartment in New York and incorporating the sound into his unfinished Tenth Symphony. Fragments of a life cut short and a world in ruins are redeemed and made whole through memory. Nowhere is this process of transfiguration more apparent than in listening to the Ninth Symphony.

WASO’s new chief conductor Asher Fisch confidently led the orchestra to new heights in this monumental work (the symphony lasts for about ninety minutes, and occupied the entire duration of the concert without an interval). I’ve never heard the strings in particular sound better, especially in the extended lament that stretches across the final movement (marked ‘very slow and held-back’), highlighted by spellbinding solo work once again from acting concertmaster Paul Wright and guest principal viola Paul McMillan. If anything, I missed only some of the work’s more anguished and tumultuous depths; Fisch and the orchestra seemed more temperamentally inclined to explore the sunlight on the heights and the serenity of the Elysian fields than the darkness that continually threatens without and within. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to hear their forthcoming Beethoven cycle together. It promises to be a grand journey.

Mahler, incidentally, as a conductor of his own work was known to change his orchestration in rehearsals, in response to what happened on the floor. It’s harder to imagine that being possible today in the industrial mode of production common to orchestras or opera houses. Again, perhaps this indicates that something’s been lost in the process; another argument in favour of ‘the remembrance of things past’.

*

The House on the Lake closes on June 22.


WASO’s Beethoven symphony cycle conducted by Asher Fisch is from August 22–24 and 29–31.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Postcard from Perth 25


Narcissism and its Discontents





The Blue Room: Rabbithead and Elephents 


In the last two weeks I’ve seen two shows at The Blue Room with animals in the title and narcissism in their sights. By ‘narcissism’ I don’t just mean the psychological condition (or even the full-blown personality disorder) but the cultural ideology that defines consumer society (and arguably finds its political counterpart in the global rise of identity politics).

Narcissism in this sense is the successor to the individualism that accompanies capitalism throughout its history. After the economic and political crises of the Great Depression and the Second World War, new forms of mass production, distribution and consumption (including mass culture, the mass media and advertising) emerged triumphant and spread across the globe (assisted by new technologies) – together with a correspondingly new form of ideology. Its emblematic ‘delivery platform’ is the screen - or more precisely, the hand-held touch-screen – which today assumes the role of imaginary mirror in a generalised 'society of spectacle'. Its archetype is of course the reflective surface of the water into which the mythical figure of Narcissus gazes captivated – and into which he eventually falls and dies.

As such, narcissism is to be distinguished from individualism by the fundamental hollowness, emptiness and exchangeability of the narcissistic ego as opposed to the properly individualized one. The self becomes pure form without content: in other words, a commodity – much like the increasingly simulated objects and experiences it consumes. In the sphere of culture, information or ‘knowledge’ (each with its own designated post-industrial ‘economy’) much the same transformation takes place – with the same primacy of form over content, style over substance, medium over message. This is the world we live in now – and make theatre in (and about). If you grew up in the last twenty years or so, it’s the only world you know.

This is the world – and the generation – that’s reflected in much of the work I see at The Blue Room. The venue provides a home and support structure for the development of independent theatre artists, especially emerging ones, here in Perth – but in truth I don’t know if there’s anywhere else like it in the country. Disclaimer: I’m on the Blue Room Board now, as well as being an occasional guest artist (though I’m getting a little long in the tooth to be called ‘emerging’ any more). Moreover, I don’t see everything that goes on – there are about 14 shows a year in the two main seasons, not to mention the explosion of activity during Fringe in January–February. Nonetheless, I’d venture to say that more than any other theatre in Perth (and perhaps elsewhere) it ‘holds the mirror up’ – not necessarily ‘to nature’ as Hamlet suggested, but to the flawed world of its audience, and especially its fledgling artists.

*

Rabbithead is a co-production by Little Y Theatre Company and Whatshesaid Productions, imaginatively directed by Ian Sinclair and co-devised and performed by Holly Garvey and Violette Ayad, with cartoon-style set and costumes by Tessa Darcey, simple but effective lighting by Chris Donnelly and a moody sound design by Catlips (aka Perth electronic composer/DJ Katy Campbell). It’s a twisted re-imagining of Barbara Baynton’s classic Australian Gothic short story ‘The Chosen Vessel’. Here however the isolated bush wife has become two twenty-something Perth housemates (‘Holly’ and ‘Violette’) addicted to their smartphones and sharing dreams of romantic/material success; and the mood has switched from nineteenth-century rural horror to twenty-first-century urban kitsch.

The luridly camp pantomime surface of the script, staging and performances nevertheless conceals a layer of Lynch-like surrealism that manifests itself in moments of poetry and menace – which are in their own way surprisingly faithful to the eerie spirit of Baynton’s original. ‘Violette’s’ creepy boyfriend Bottleshop Rob is literally a cockroach (played by a Holly in a cockroach-costume complete with multiple roving feelers) who conceives a batch of eggs with her; ‘Holly’s’ one-night-stand pickup is a balding middle-aged Lothario (played by Violette with a scraped-back wig and demented stare) who works in the resources industry and gets high snorting lines of sugar; and a pet rabbit that dies in mysterious circumstances ends up being reincarnated in a truly monstrous form. The set is a mountain of white cotton-wool fairy-floss through which puppets and performers emerge, crawl, frolic and disappear, and the action is punctuated by spectacularly choreographed Britney Spears karaoke dance sequences. (Another disclaimer: the show also features a voiceover track ‘narrated especially for you by Humphrey Bower’ – which I did as a favour in production week without reading the rest of the script or seeing any of the show).

Touchingly na├»ve or terrifyingly self-absorbed, the characters in Rabbithead are all victims of narcissism in its various forms. ‘Violette’s’ wide-eyed but deluded fascination with pop culture and info-tainment; ‘Holly’s’ frustrated and destructive obsession with marriage, money, status and success; and the rampant selfishness of the male characters – all reflect and refract the anti-social personality disorder of the anti-society that surrounds them, epitomized by interchangeably insubstantial soft-porn girl-stars like Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus or whoever’s currently trending on Twitter, YouTube, MySpace or Facebook (even the names of the websites allude to their ultimately narcissistic function).

Performances, production and script were sometimes a little rough around the edges, but that didn’t really impede the satirical impact of the show. Perhaps it could have been a little darker, a little more finessed; a little more Barbara Baynton, and a little less Britney Spears; but to me, it spoke directly, painfully and accurately of the materialism of the society (and the town) I live in. The audience laughed a lot, and I laughed with them (and sometimes, cringingly, all on my own) – but was it the mocking laughter of derision, or the rueful laughter of self-recognition? In a narcissistic hall of mirrors, who can say?

*

Elephents (the misspelling is intentional) preceded Rabbithead in The Blue Room Studio with a season that ended a few weeks ago. It was the first production by much-heralded new Perth indie outfit The Last Great Hunt, which somewhat confusingly includes artists from various former and ongoing groups including The Duck House, Weeping Spoon and Side Pony. Elephents is a new play by Jeffrey Jay Fowler, directed by Katt Osborne and performed by Jeffrey Jay, Adrienne Daff, Gita Bezzard and Pete Townsend, with deliberately minimal design by Tarryn Gill and lighting by Chris Isaacs. It also features songs by Jeffrey Jay and arranged by Brett Smith, which were sung by the cast and accompanied by Brett on digital keyboard (and occasional electric guitar).

Essentially it’s a darkly comic off-Broadway musical: tightly written dialogue-scenes interspersed with songs in which characters express their feelings and thoughts: the ‘elephents’ in the room, so to speak. The title also refers to a real elephant whose recent death in the zoo serves as an emotional catalyst for the plot, in which three awkwardly matched couples and at least one loose unit (all played by the same four actors, with the help of some nifty wig-work) negotiate their discontents. The biggest ‘elephent’ however lies just outside the door: an accelerated level of global warming, indicated in the production by an orange light that became visible whenever someone entered the room (whereupon they routinely and without comment wiped the sweat from their faces and hands with a towel).

Underlying this is the sense that these characters (like the girls and their men in Rabbithead) are completely absorbed in themselves and their feelings, and have completely unrealistic expectations about their lives and their world, which is clearly going up in flames. The theatrical form of the show reflected this extreme pitch of dramatic irony: stylized costumes, wigs and characterizations; and a deliberate poverty of means in terms of lighting, set, sound, music – and even singing ability. The songs themselves weren’t particularly original or accomplished either musically or lyrically – and varied considerably in execution – but I felt that was least partly intentional, because their role was to expose the characters and their illusions (for example, two brothers who are singer-musicians with wildly divergent and incongruous notions of their own talent). As such they have something in common with songs in the theatre of Brecht  – which notoriously work best when sung by performers like Lotte Lenya (who couldn’t technically sing).

Elephents was a much more ambitious work than Rabbithead, and Jeffrey Jay is a subtle and devious writer (as well as being an extremely entertaining actor). In fact the overall aesthetic of the production and the company (including the house-style of the actor-devisors and director Katt Osborne) was emotionally cooler, more covert and underhand than the brazenly messy broad brushstrokes and deliberately overheated histrionics of Ian Sinclair and his collaborators. Perhaps for that very reason I couldn’t help feeling that for all its sophisticated irony Elephents didn’t quite hit its target – perhaps overshooting it, or even rebounding on itself; whereas Rabbithead for all its crass vulgarity landed its punches fair and square. In both cases, though, I left The Blue Room feeling that there’s a new generation of theatre-makers who are struggling with what it means to have a self, a voice, relationships or integrity in a narcissistic world – and that in that struggle there’s at least an artistic authenticity that’s worth watching and listening to.

*

Rabbithead is at The Blue Room until 14 June; Elephents finished on 18 May and is now part of The Last Great Hunt’s touring repertoire.