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Elizabeth Ryan, Emma Saunders, Jane McKernan, No Success Like Failure Elizabeth Ryan, Emma Saunders, Jane McKernan, No Success Like Failure
photo Heidrun Löhr
THE REASSURING, NON-JUDGMENTAL FEMALE LOVER IN BOB DYLAN’S “LOVE MINUS ZERO/NO LIMIT” (1965) “SPEAKS LIKE SILENCE/ WITHOUT IDEALS OR VIOLENCE” AND “KNOWS THERE’S NO SUCCESS LIKE FAILURE/ AND THAT FAILURE’S NO SUCCESS AT ALL.” I’M SURE THE FONDUE SET IS NOT TAKING ITS CUE FROM DYLAN’S IDEALISED LADY IN TITLING THEIR NEW SHOW NO SUCCESS LIKE FAILURE, BUT FROM THE SONGWRITER’S KNACK AT CHURNING OUT THE MEMORABLE AMBIGUITIES OF A BEAT POET-CUM-ZEN MASTER.

There’s a peculiar pleasure to be had it seems from obsessively watching failure, hence the current passion for ‘survivor’ reality TV shows of all kinds in which the success of one person is predicated on the failure of many. For these shows there is certainly no success like failure. Similarly, British television comedy has relished the failures of incompetents of all kinds and pushed the attendant embarassment further and further. Likewise, the UK performance company Forced Entertainment’s First Night (2001) wonderfully embodies every stage performer’s worst nightmares, and repeats the agony until it hurts.

While The Fondue Set don’t work the embarassment theme to the same degree, they do generate an enormous sense of uncertainty and unease, as if they’ve not quite worked out everything (they are their own stagehands, props have to be placed, costumes wriggled into, routines set up) or they’re improvising, and sometimes can’t get out of it.

For example, at the opening the Fondues come forward, sit down and chat to us about “the moment before something happens” when you come to the theatre. Soon they’ve whipped up an infinite regression and we’re somehow or other implicated in it: “You’ve also done some preparation to be here...You use your breath before sitting.” Before long we’re considering our family trees, and even when one of the trio drags us back to the present moment, the previous one is almost immediately invoked. A collective awkwardness hangs in the air...and then the show must go on.

At other moments, everything is immaculate as the Fondues expertly parody images of success, the feelgood preen of the ballerina or the taut urgency of strutting beauty contestants or a motivational spruiker for whom saying “Yessss!!” is all that is needed to succeed. But one of the trio is just as likely to have to don a rabbit costume with the hugest of feet and manage to move brilliantly in it—though she knows not why—or drag herself around the stage like some vamp who’s lost the use of her legs. They can list all the things you’d like to say no to (Bono, Martha Graham...), or learn “to say Yes to No!”, as things once again spin out. There’s mad tap dancing, unison sobbing, syncopated breathing and, finally, a return to infinite regression in a virtuosic failure even to find the theoretical niche for their work in these post-post-postmodern or whatever times.

Failure never looked so good, so silly, so successful...and so intelligent as The Fondue Set, with a helping push from collaborating director Wendy Houstoun, achieve a new level of wit in a bizarrely coherent show that is as carefully paced as it is manic and, uniquely, gives each of these talented performers their turn in the spotlight. And no silence. And, yes, violence, of a kind.


No Success Like Failure can be seen at ArtsHouse, North Melbourne Town Hall, Aug 13-16; http://www.artshouse.com.au

The Fondue Set, No Success Like Failure, creator-performers Emma Saunders, Elizabeth Ryan, Jane McKernan, collaborating director Wendy Houstoun, outside eye Julie-Anne Long, designer Agatha Gothe-Snape, lighting design Neil Simpson; The Studio, Sydney Opera House, June 4-8,

RealTime issue #86 Aug-Sept 2008 pg. 36

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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