Socíetas Raffaello Sanzio: Tragedia Endogonidia Br. #04 Bruxelles by Romeo Castellucci
Tragedia Endogonidia Br. #04 Bruxelles. Directed by Romeo Castellucci and Chiara Guidi. Set, costume and lighting design by Romeo Castellucci. Vocal, sound and dramatic score by Chiara Guidi. Trajectories and writings by Claudia Castellucci. Original music by Scott Gibbons. “Statics and dynamics”: Stephan Duve. A Societas Raffaello Sanzio production. Merlyn Theatre, The Malthouse, Southbank. Friday October 13. Season is sold out.
Michael Gene Sullivan’s two-scene one-set adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four presents the story of “6079 Smith” via his interrogation and torture. Winston (P Adam Walsh, left, photograph by Jean-Louis Darville) is shackled throughout.
Four party members, bearing reproductions of his diary, read out his thoughtcrimes and re-enact various scenes while he confesses to the face and voice behind the various viewsceens. (O’Brien, Winston’s friend and tormentor, appears in the latter part of the play.)
Sullivan’s text is shrewd, if occasionally rather heavy-handed. It’s at its weakest in the few places where it deviates from Orwell’s plot-line. (At no point, for example, is there any possibility of Winston’s release after his ‘cure’ in Sullivan’s version. Winston’s execution is a fait accompli.)
The script demands an intense and physically committed performance. Which, unfortunately, it singularly fails to get.
Under the direction of Tim Robbins, this Actors’ Gang production has all the physicality of a radio play... broadcast on AM radio through tinny speakers.
It’s a modest and bloodless production especially unsuited to the Arts Centre’s State Theatre, a three-level, 2000-seat opera theatre. Even the Royal Shakespeare Company gets lost in this theatre.
Radio microphones can’t compensate for an absence of physical intensity. And the Gang’s “head acting” is essentially undramatic. Anti-dramatic even. (Photograph of Brian T Finney, VJ Foster and Kaili Hollister by Jean-Louis Darville.)
Though this is an incredibly inauspicious curtain raiser for the 2006 Melbourne Festival, I suspect that George Orwell’s 1984 is a kind of overture to the festival. The ideas and themes the production raises -- and the images conjured up by Orwell’s words -- will resonate through many of the scheduled events.
Another night, another bitter disappointment. Off-the-plan, my “pick of the festival” was a single instalment of Romeo Castellucci’s 12-part Tragedia Endogonidia. [N.B. There are eleven numbered parts, but M.#10 Marseilles is in two parts which are performed at separate theatres. See the complete list, below.] Just sixty minutes in duration... But anyone who has seen a Societas Raffaello Sanzio production will know how rich and dense and affecting an hour in the dark can be; will know how much havoc can be let loose in mind and heart.
I saw Castellucci’s three-part work Genesi: from the museum of sleep in Melbourne in 2002 and then again in Perth the following year. A single act of that work could fill a mind to overflowing. Seen in sequence, in the course of a single evening, three silenced me with a chaotic awe.
But Bruxelles, on its own, had no centre. No artistic gravitational pull at its core. No obvious through-line. I don’t mean plot, here, necessarily. This is imagist theatre. What you see is what you project. But I’m a firm believer that for audiences to make meaning (impute meaning, call it what you will) from a piece, any piece, the performers themselves need to have some idea about why they are doing what they are doing. I got no such sense.
Bruxelles (Photograph by Luca del Pia, click to enlarge)
They went through the motions... so it seemed. Mopping marble floors, dressing and undressing, pouring blood in pools, beating the crap out of a prisoner with batons, pulling teeth, smashing fluorescent tubes and so on.
While it was possible to delight in certain aspects of the performance -- a tiny dance, some agonised writhing, some shadow puppetry, strobing fluorescent lights, design elements and so on -- the noise to signal ratio was way out of whack. Too many signifiers and no detectable significance.
Of course, there’s every chance that Bruxelles would make more sense in context -- as one station of the cross in a vastly bigger work -- but it’s as meaningful on its own as the middle act of Siegfried, say, without the rest of the Ring Cycle.
The numbered sections: