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KAREN THERESE’S THE RIOT ACT FOR CAMPBELLTOWN ARTS CENTRE IS A GRUELLING PORTRAYAL OF THE SYMPTOMS AND CONSEQUENCES OF SOCIAL DISADVANTAGE.

A conventional opening satirically trashes the caring rhetoric of politicians, bureaucrats and welfare NGO executives, their public platitudes eviscerated by a string of mobile phone calls they insist on answering. A subsequent media circus bribes the disaffected to perform badly, as expected, while behind the action huge projected graphs of crime rates and domestic abuse statistics in Sydney’s outer suburbs pulse by. Then everything changes. We’re transformed from our addicted media watcher selves into clinical observers of caged animals, society’s victims, in a world where time slows almost to a numb halt. The Riot Act has mutated into a largely mute, contemporary performance work where appalling states of being are doggedly examined.

This imploding non-time is interpolated with outbursts where the subjects abuse themselves and each other in acts sexist, racist and seemingly psychotic. Eventually a riot erupts from an apparently incidental trigger, igniting the fuel of accumulated pain and the delirium of insistent state surveillance. It’s a riot without an agenda, unplanned and with nowhere to go except more punishment and abjection—guilt confessed to the media, save for one dissenting voice.

The Riot Act offers neither small ‘l’ liberal comforts—there is rarely reassuring compassion in this non-society, rarely any reflection, sustained games, completed art—nor radical analysis. The riot itself is generalised: it doesn’t explode from a single motive—resisting or enacting racism in Cronulla or protesting police arrest in Macquarie Fields. Therese appears to be saying, specific trigger or not, the potential for riot is ever present given the abject states her subjects must endure. To amplify the danger inherent in this condition, she has chosen, in the style of Les Ballets C de la B, to convey a sense of real threat with performances that read like improvisation, unpredictable and sometimes visibly dangerous. But there is none of the Belgian company’s redemptive choreographic and musical collectivity. Therese’s performers are not allowed such spirit or virtuosity. It’s a risky strategy that inclines the Riot Act to one-dimensionality, melodrama (compounded by a point-scoring sound score) and formlessness. That said, the performances are passionately committed and, like a bad dream of a life you would not want anyone to live, the Riot Act worries at you weeks after you’ve peered into its darkness. The Campbelltown Arts Centre has boldly championed a challenging if challenged work.


The Riot Act, director Karen Therese, performers Matthew Day, Matt Prest, Georgie Read, Lalau Leo Tanoi, Latai Tauoepeau, Lizzie Thompson, design Mirabelle Wouters, Lara Thoms, sound design James Brown, Gail Priest, dramaturg Chris Mead, movement Kathy Cogill, video Scott Otto Anderson, lighting Paul Osborne, producer Annemarie Dalziel; Campbelltown Arts Centre, June 4-13

RealTime issue #92 Aug-Sept 2009 pg. 38

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

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