|Elizabeth Ryan, Emma Saunders, Jane McKernan, No Success Like Failure|
photo Heidrun Löhr
Expressing the conundrum that Performance strategy cannot concentrate on obsolete genres because we as Performer-Audience are by definition in a process of Becoming, while simultaneously bemoaning the utter bewilderment initiated by infinite variation upon endless versions of the Real which characterise contemporary life, The Fondue Set accept their inevitable fate with a forced shallowness and disappear down their Hyperreal burrow.
But, depending upon your disposition, life can be found in that which was once presumed lifeless. Jane McKernan plays the hostess with the mostest in an intellectualised version of Wheel of Fortune. Preceded by a playful demolition of the 26 letters of the alphabet, and replaced by the infinite permutations that can characterise the free associating human brain, the essential question is finally asked. '"What is Your Reality?", McKernan wants to know. But the audience is preoccupied with a risky strategy of deadpan delivery and Elizabeth Ryan merrily-merrily waltzing in an Elizabethan dress. All airs and no graces she carries an opening night bouquet of flowers and plays the humbled if not martyred Actress with a whopping capital A.
The deadpan delivery continues and in anticipation of its necrosis my sight is drawn to Emma Saunders in the wings donning a dopey bunny suit. Meanwhile, McKernan is hiding behind the washed out palm tree and providing prop relief to Ryan as she slinks across stage. Having undergone a costume change and now performing the role of cheap, night club whore extraordinaire, Ryan outlines all her happy parts—her happy calf and happy leg, the happy back of her happy head—then collapses in a snoring heap, prostrate on the floor. McKernan remains hidden behind the phony palm tree, (preparing for what will be a show stopping scene), when bouncing across the meadow comes Honey Bunny Saunders. With hind feet the size of solar panels she commands all attention and in doing so, the deadpan delivery gathers momentum. Saunders is the working rabbit of the still snoring Elizabeth Ryan's dream. But she's grounded by a string of complaints that arise from being a bunny imprisoned by the Herculean demands of someone else's fantasy. Somersaults at high speed and performing the rigorous requirements of Ryan's somnambulistic imagination have taken their toll. Consequently, Ryan's sleep is disrupted and Honey Bunny Saunders simply disappears.
Abandoning her Indian Pacific palm tree McKernan rocks up with microphone in hand and puts the No in MaNifestO. It's negatori good buddy to everything: 80s truckin' songs, Poststructuralism, Pertinent Comments from Prophetic Intellectuals, Peace, and Hot Vindaloo; all negated by McKernan's punch drunk delivery and accompanied by scree guitar. There's a suspicion that this might be the epiphany of the performance. But like all extrapolations upon the Hyperreal, there's always More. McKernan collapses in the wings then resurrects herself by joining her collaborators in a line dance that mocks the monumental moments of sadness. There's the buckling belly that is a result of the self inflicted dagger plunged deep into the guts. There's the tableau of the melancholic, so absorbed by simulating the correct position of the sunken head slumped on despairing breast that the person, if not already, is at once stricken by melancholia. And this mocking dance continues, becoming more ridiculous by turn as cliche after cliche of the Stanislavkian actor is given a sound thrashing.
Interesting though is a concomitant sense that beneath this enduring yet dubious tragedy is a genuine pathos on the part of these performers. Confronted by the complexities of contemporary performance in which it is required we reveal not the artful presentation of a person we have never met, but instead, who it is we exactly are as well as who we might be, the temptation to conform to traditional modes of performance remains a compelling one. McKernan, this time wearing thick horn-rimmed glasses, returns with her Wheel of Fortune board, still asking the question "What is Your Reality?" It's a lecture of types; a remote yet histrionic lecture during which Mckernan cries her little eyes out in crocodile tears. Baudrillard's name is mentioned; which is entirely appropriate. When it comes to knowing what your reality is in a Hyperreal world, "The truth is there is no truth." The Fondue Set's No Success Like Failure is a beguiling expose of the contingencies hidden within that mysterious warren known as Postmodernism.
The Fondue Set, No Success Like Failure, creation & performance Emma Saunders, Elizabeth Ryan, Jane McKernan, collaborating director Wendy Houstoun, outside eye Julie-Ann Long, lighting design Neil Simpson, collaborating designer: Agatha Gothe-Snape; Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, March 5-7; Dance Massive, March 3-15
© Tony Reck; for permission to reproduce apply to email@example.com