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Perth Festival

Lesson in dying

Josephine Wilson

Charlie Victor Romeo, Irving Gregory of Collective: Unconscious Charlie Victor Romeo, Irving Gregory of Collective: Unconscious
Charlie Victor Romeo is “riveting”, says promotional material from the Perth International Arts Festival. The work originated in New York, where it began off-off-off Broadway (just how off can you get?) before going on to scoop all sorts of awards.

I too was riveted, but in the original sense of the word-beaten over the head and fastened to my seat. The experience was not pleasant. As someone afraid of flying, I am the last person in the world who ought to have seen this depressing and pointless production. Depressing, because even though it was born in 1999, it cannot help but milk that moment in September. Pointless and depressing, because beyond the frame there is death. Hundreds of people died in the six ‘dramatised’ catastrophes that form the basis of CVR. The whole thing appeals to the worst in us, like slowing down to look at a bad accident on the freeway.

The set is minimal: only the cockpit is represented (so real is the production, we learn in the program, that it is used in training for pilots and disaster management courses). In this illuminated space sit captain and crew, their attention on the console before them. Each ‘case study’, drawn from ‘real black box transcripts’ is introduced by a slide. We learn the name of each flight, the number of crew and passengers aboard, and the nature of the problem that will be their downfall: engine explosion (Sioux City), multiple bird strikes (Alaska), incorrect altimeter settings-the whole bleak spectrum of things to fear, from the banal to the catastrophic. At the end of each ‘case’ we are offered another slide, and an enumeration of casualties. I quickly realised there was no point hoping for a happy ending.

From the outset we are subject to an aural assault. In our own little black box we throb, vibrate, gather in the static of radio communication, gloss over the buzz words, tumble into the groan and roar of the machine as it accelerates towards what becomes an inexorable narrative of unavoidable tragedy. The sound design by Jamie Mereness carries this performance, and rightly so, because as anyone afraid of flying will tell you, the ear is the organ of fear.

This theatre of ‘real life’ can only trade in death, and it is the most serendipitous, most spectacular, most horrific of airbound incidents that make it into this cauterised space. I wanted to leave, but I could not. I was, remember, riveted to my seat. But unlike those poor people strapped into their seats on the other side of the cockpit, my situation was never life-threatening. No one dies in a simulator. It is possible (cf September 11) that a being might enter the simulator and train themselves to die, and in doing so kill others. Is this why we are all here, at this performance? Learning how we might die? And having died, end up as a statistic on a projection screen at the Octagon Theatre, Perth. How depressing.

Charlie Victor Romeo, Created by Bob Berger, Patrick Daniels, Irving Gregory of Collective: Unconscious, Perth International Arts Festival, Octagon Theatre, March 25.

RealTime issue #48 April-May 2002 pg.

© Josephine Wilson; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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