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Alexa Taylor, In the Shadow of the Wild Alexa Taylor, In the Shadow of the Wild
photo Lisa Johnston
THE BLUE ROOM HAS BEEN A CENTRE FOR INTERESTING NEW WORK THIS YEAR. RECENT GRADUATES FROM EDITH COWAN UNIVERSITY’S PERFORMANCE COURSE PUT ON AN AMUSING, HIGHLY THEATRICALISED MEDITATION ON THE ORESTEIA, WHILE MURDOCH GRADUATE ALEXA TAYLOR REMOUNTED HER HIGHLY POETIC HONOURS YEAR INSTALLATION IN THE SHADOW OF THE WILD. BUT IT WAS THE BRITISH PLAYWRIGHT SIMON STEPHENS’ MOTORTOWN, DIRECTED BY MARISA GARREFFA, THAT REALLY SET OFF THE SEASON.

The five women who created this production of The Oresteia depict those incarnations of unreasoning vengeance, the Furies, as three performers trapped in a motel room strewn with newspaper and accoutrements such as a telephone, couch and venetian blinds—each of which featured repeatedly in the dramaturgy. Brutally simple puppets scrunched together from paper were a particular treat. The cross-dressing narrative was a retelling of the events which led to the Furies’ imprisonment, namely the matricidal affairs and murders which led prince Orestes to kill his faithless mother and her new lover so as to avenge his own father, before the Furies in turn pursued him to vengefully tear him apart. Apollo eventually intervenes and it is decided, as one of the founding acts of the Athenian republic, that such bloodlust is inconsistent with Apollonian civilisation, leading to the Furies’ banishment.

Great fun though this tongue-in-cheek retelling is, there is no reason why the Furies should be in a motel room (as opposed to a bathroom, swimming pool, cave or theatre). Nevertheless, one cannot resist any piece performed by actors given to chanting mellifluously “blood, blood” and bursting into song as readily as into game-play, and who can produce the rubber-lipped sound of a phone ringing with such aplomb.

Alex Taylor’s In the Shadow of the Wild is a performatively gentler, serious work, relying on an affective yet simple relationship between text (some of which is reproduced on the white drapes which line the shared space of performer and audience), design (a pool bounded by piled sand and framed by arched poles behind which Taylor eventually crouches) and presence. Taylor’s text is affectively coherent more than conceptually framed, and while exploring issues of wildness—including notions of terrorist, child and ‘wild’ indigene—Taylor’s associative logic owes more to stream-of-consciousness than cultural critique. She acknowledges that seeing Aborigines as ‘wild’ says more any non-Aboriginal culture than about indigenous reality, but she does not pursue this. She is more concerned with generating a relationship with her audience that, like her soft white set, evokes a sense of dreamlike intimacy over and above imparting specific content. One carries away from this piece the sense of a cotton-woollish embrace, and while one might quibble that Taylor’s political references demand a more forceful interrogation, such a strategy would make impossible the quiet, measured speech and address to the audience which underpins her aesthetic.

Writer Simon Stephens and director Marisa Garreffa by contrast stimulate reflection through a hyper-intense, yet nevertheless acoustically poetic, dramaturgical flagellation of the audience. Motortown follows the actions of returning UK Iraq War veteran Danny (Richie Flanagan)—a loser before he left and now even more damaged. Danny stays with his socially inept, near autistic brother Lee—a tremendously hunched, frightened, loving and apologetic Glenn Hall, who later morphs into the cynical, suave and dangerous pimp who regales Danny with tales of social decadence.

After abortively attempting to reunite with a woman who Danny believed was his girlfriend, but who now denies this and recognises that Danny has become deeply scary, Danny kills the pimp, abducts the latter’s underage lover/prostitute Jade (a suitably naïve, flirtatious and unspeakably terrified Amanda Woodhams) to lecture her in a wasteland before despatching her too. The piece ends with a pair of codas in which Danny meets a sophisticated, swinging bisexual couple who attempt to pick him up before he mouths off at Britain’s professional class and their sexual peccadillos, later to retreat back to Lee’s flat where Lee declares that while once people were concerned about what he might do to them or their children, it is really Danny whom they should fear. Throughout, Garreffa and her cast keep the dialogue crisp even where the characters are stuttering in terror or abjection, and the volume within the small space seems sharp, loud and reverberant.

The production functions as a series of shocks or blows delivered at quite what one is not certain, except that society in general is implicated. Stephens locates the war, its chain of command and post-traumatic stress firmly within the causation of the malaise he depicts, while also insisting that there are other factors which cannot be ignored. Having endured the godawful National Theatre of Scotland production of Black Watch in which one of the characters, without any sense of condemnation, either in terms of direction or audience response, blithely exclaimed, “What the fuck have the Iraqis got to do with it?”, Motortown comes as a necessary corrective, dragging not only the scarred soldiers but the whole of modern western civilisation back into the mire of the conflict. For Stephens and Garreffa, the whole horrible mess is inextricably interlinked and tragic—not in terms of classical heroic resistance, but in the way in which patterns of self-loathing and non-redemptive violence repeat themselves today; a wakeup call for this post-Howard, post-Blair political climate.


Duck House Theatre, The Oresteia, director, producer Gita Bezard, director, production manager, Kathryn Osborne, performer-devisers Alissa Claessens, Sarah McKellar, Fran Middleton. April 22-May 10; Renegade Productions, In The Shadow Of The Wild, deviser-performer Alexa Taylor, music, lighting Joe Lui, May 28 - June 14; Motortown, writer Simon Stephens, director Marisa Garreffa, assistant director, producer Renato Fabretti, performers Richie Flanagan, Glenn Paul, Amanda Woodhams, Melanie Munt, Ben Russell, Anita Erceg, James Helm, lighting Karen Cook, music Steve Hearne, costumes Skye Hegarty, June 17–July 5; Blue Room, Perth

RealTime issue #86 Aug-Sept 2008 pg. 10

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

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