|Andy Jones, To the Wall|
photo Michael Rayner
Inspired by the popular writing of Stephen Hawking, this is a journey of amateur philosophy, theology and science. All the big questions get asked, and yet Jones finds many of his answers in the parochial tales from his own family history and their long involvement in the town of St John’s, Newfoundland. His overactive imagination is as ever expanding as the universe itself, seeming to drag everything and anything into his vortex of “N factor” reasoning (Newfoundlanders apparently do everything slightly different from everyone else).
The set is simple yet a little bizarre. There is a desk covered with a piece of crushed velvet, a ‘salt beef’ bucket, an old desktop computer, a wardrobe full of priestly vestments and a gold-detailed podium. Collectively they do not create a setting so much as provide Jones with a selection of props used at various points to elucidate his ramblings. The bucket for example aids Jones’ metaphor for chance: “How many times would you need to throw a salt beef bucket filled with sand to create a perfect image of a map of Newfoundland?” Image projection is used to similar ends with Jones’ wonderful family photographs from the early to mid 20th Century, epitomising the microcosmic dimension of his metaphysical investigations.
The intensity of Jones’ narration played on the anxiety I have experienced when cornered by a talkative boozer at the pub, or when a relative reaches for their photo album. It’s the fear of getting stuck in somebody else’s reality. Jones has studied the techniques of Newfoundland’s Irish Catholic preachers, and the ‘priest gone mad’ strategy has clearly influenced his own performance style. It’s akin to stand-up comedy, even Jones’ appearance—middle-aged man in nondescript black outfit with loud, open shirt—pays homage to this genre.
Jones is very much an entertainer and audience participation is part of his act though no one leaves their seat. Questions were posed to us and I was pulled into hypothetical scenarios, called upon to support his nutty ideas by raising a hand or stamping my feet. I became embroiled in Jones’ world by being made to laugh. To the Wall has many genuinely funny moments, and though it deals with life’s hardest questions this is essentially a light and engaging play.
Apparently, God invented randomness in the Big Bang in the hope of indirectly creating a “lovable equal other.” Jones establishes this role for himself in relation to his audience. Theorising that humour is a biological method of exuding “non-specific attractiveness”, his ridiculous imitation of a bird mating dance doubles as metaphor for the courtship between actor and audience in the theatre. Deviation into sexual innuendo and quips about gender politics however constitute the least interesting moments of this otherwise intelligent show.
Unfortunately the conclusion was abrupt and weak. Jones issues God an invitation to join us in the theatre for a question-and-answer session. He doesn’t come, and in frustration Jones proclaims his atheism. God instantly strikes him down! Or, was it just that he tripped over the keyboard cable? Either way, through the resultant paralysis Jones’ belief in the almighty is renewed and the final scene is a conversation between Hawking and Jones, projected in text and ‘spoken’ through voice synthesisers, where they debate their different theories about the origins of the universe. As Jones himself says, we may be alone but at least we have science. However, all the effort of setting up his theory of the universe over the course of the performance never seemed to pay off. Perhaps, as with science itself, the point is that theories are not always about proving a hypothesis correct—the value lies in the journey of inquiry itself.
To the Wall, writer-performer Andy Jones, director Charlie Tomlinson; Playhouse Theatre, Ten Days on the Island, March 23-26
Bec Tudor is a writer and researcher based in Hobart. Her interests include fine art, philosophy, environmental thought, education and community.
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