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the wrong mr right

jonathan bollen is enaged by unreasonable adults


Caroline Daish, The Last To See Her Alive Caroline Daish, The Last To See Her Alive
UNREASONABLE ADULTS’ THE LAST TO SEE THEM ALIVE WAS SUBTITLED, LIKE A PAPER AT AN ACADEMIC CONFERENCE, “SEX, SLAUGHTER AND THE CITY.” LIKE A STRAIGHT-TO-VIDEO-RELEASE THRILLER IT WAS TAG-LINED “HOW DO YOU MEET MR RIGHT IN AGE OF SERIAL KILLERS.”

This new work is an essay of sorts, devised and realised by Fiona Sprott (texts), Caroline Daish (performance) and Jason Sweeney (music/songs/soundscapes) during and after a Month in the Country residency at HotHouse Theatre in Albury (RT75, p46). Sprott's writing tests our appetite for sex-crime fictions of the sort served up nightly on our television screens in endless seasons (or so it seems) of CSI and SVU.

Sprott's insight is to articulate these fictions as the erotic fantasy of their ideal reader—the working woman reading crime fiction while waiting on the station for her train home; the single woman at home alone in an apartment, watching CSI to exorcise the fears and fantasies, conjured and consumed daily, of falling victim to one of the city's killers.

Daish, dressed for success in a business woman's best, gives body and voice to these fantasies and fears. Seated at a long table set for a media conference, she addresses the audience through the intimate clarity of a microphone. A jug of water and a vase of flowers are set on the table; a video monitor and a technician (Sweeney) are set alongside.

Daish recalls how mothers once warned their daughters to beware axe-wielding murderers and sex maniacs. Today, she observes, the single woman fancies herself the ideal next victim of the serial killer's cold, clean and clinical obsession. With perverse technical efficiency, Sweeney aims a live video camera beneath the table, between Daish's legs, treating the audience to intimate vision of Daish's panties on screen.

In another uncannily intimate use of live video, Daish sits on a stool, her head obscured by the monitor. Only her lips are visible, enlarged upon the screen, as she divulges an erotic fantasy. The invasive intimacy of such close-up assemblage of vision and voice gives bite to the satire of Sprott's text.

The woman longs, she confesses, for a gentleman caller. She leaves her window open at night. However when her intruder arrives he is not quite the gentleman of her dreams. He is clumsy and inarticulate; he makes her wear a pillow case on her head; he ejaculates prematurely on her wool crepe skirt. Disconcerted and disappointed, She calls the police with a complaint. As gentleman rapists go, he was-well, just, "not very good."

As a performer, Daish maintains an unsettling low-level intensity at the threshold between presentation and performance. She delivers her lines with the efficiency of a media presenter, with none of the actor's embodiment of character. I never believe she is the female subject of the fantasies she recites. She is their avid consumer instead.

Sweeney's presence onstage is also disconcerting. When he is not focused on operational tasks cueing video and sound, he stares at women in the audience, glances furtively at Daish and stage manages her wardrobe changes. He is her partner-pimp through the performance-the police detective at a victim's media conference, the backroom dealer for her corporate striptease, the floor manager of her chat show confessions.

Daish sings and she dances for us, but also for him. At one point, microphone in hand, she walks into the audience. We are seated at tables set cabaret style with flowers and red tablecloths. She flirts with a man and invites him to dance. She really wants more, she says in an aside, but she's settling for less. Her diaphragm fitted and her dress now zipped up, she sits on his knee, announcing "I'm always prepared for rape."

The city which compels such preparation, such anticipation, is the fictional New York of television's crime shows. Sweeney's work with audio extends to the city outside. Before the show, he unobtrusively interviewed women in the foyer. "Where do you live?", he asked them, and "How are you getting home?" The replies, some candid, some suspicious, are mostly evasive. The recordings are played quietly as the performance comes to a close.

Softness is an admirable aspect of the artistry of Unreasonable Adults. Unlike so much that is robust and loud, performance at low-level intensities can evoke in an audience a desire to lean in, to make an approach, to attend and make contact on their own ground. Quiet suspicion and seduction by stealth drew me towards this work.


Unreasonable Adults, The Last to See Them Alive, performer Carolyn Daish, text Fiona Sprott, media Jason Sweeney; Higher Ground, Adelaide, Feb 9-11

A re-worked version of The Last to See Them Alive with four performers (Caroline Daish, Fiona Sprott, Jason Sweeney, Julie Vulcan) was presented as part of the SPILL Festival of Performance, Soho Theatre, London, April 13, 14 (see preview, RT 77, p6).

RealTime issue #78 April-May 2007 pg. onl

© Jonathan Bollen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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