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Metaphysics in the mundane

Paul Monaghan finds meaning in the shed

Paul Lum, Shed Paul Lum, Shed
Punctum is a new company (with, however, very experienced personnel) based in Castlemaine in regional Victoria. The company’s first production, Shed, billed as “an installation and a performance that celebrates the shed as a haven where objects carry stories that reveal clues about their keepers” (program notes). The installation consists of a series of shelving units holding myriad objects, as if we are inside a ‘typical’ Australian shed. Of course this shed is rather larger, more organised and aesthetically evocative than most; a number of the objects act as starting points and/or props for the 7 performed stories and one film that comprise the performance that also includes the installation.

The dramaturgy is based in the notion of sheds as “borderline dwellings ... [which] sit on the frontier between daily reality and timeless possibility” (program notes). Each of the “collected” vignettes was written, performed and staged in such a way that I felt I was continually straddling the mundane and mysterious, desolation and community. Ian Scott’s beautifully performed opening monologue contained many of the strengths evident in the rest of the show: a writing style merging the realistic, humorous and ‘bush’ poetic, a simple acting style in which the fictional veneer of the story is thinly painted over the present moment of its telling, and in which simple shifts in voice and posture indicate the 2 characters just enough to tell the story. The sparse, sharp and localised lighting and the superb soundscape—generating experiences of isolation (the silence of the shed), the natural environment, threat and sometimes the release of dream—help to translate the ‘realness’ of the story into the territory of the mysterious and the resonant.

Each of the ensuing vignette/monologues draws on similar dramaturgical elements. Paul Lum plays an earnest and enthusiastic young filmmaker (at least in his own mind) who describes a storyboard in which the humorously melodramatic material of the film mirrors the mode of its telling, and vice versa. The short movie (by Paul Fletcher) takes elements of the Australian landscape (a shed, a fence, a tractor, a sunset) and abstracts them into a shifting collage of light and colour underscored by a soundscape that I can only describe as like the recording of electrical and chemical reactions in the brain. Tammy McCarthy tells a story with great skill and timing from within the persona of a woman whose brother was found dead in a shed; the mute unresponsiveness of a man sitting by himself (I took it to be at a train station) causes another man to imbue him with the existential nausea that he himself is experiencing; a man speaks a letter from a country in which it is his job to collect body parts after they have been blown apart; a woman sits on a step ladder like the oracle at Delphi and tells a mythical narrative about ‘the great man’; and finally a short poem called ‘Pop’ by Eddie Paterson tells of the fragility (and humour) of our return to ashes.

I have noted a trend in recent years, at least in Melbourne, for the sound, lighting and set/space designers to have a stronger, more imaginative grasp of their work than the performers and directors they are working with, an interesting phenomenon (if it is true) that merits examination. However this was not the case in Shed. While the sound by Jacques Soddell and lighting design and installation by Chris Harris were especially strong, the director, writers and performers were equally so. Jude Anderson’s subtle and skilled direction of the moments, performances, transitions and trajectory of Shed revealed a deep understanding of the material as well as the means of presenting it to avoid sinking it in vernacular realism. The 3 performers were highly skilled, engaging and connected to us, and beautifully attuned to their place within the dramaturgy of the installation. Only in one of the pieces, the ‘train station’, did I feel that Scott and Anderson had not yet quite found the way for

the actor to ‘be’ in the story. The writing, largely by Emilie Collyer with Jude Anderson, took us from the mundane to the metaphysical (to the metaphysical in the mundane and vice versa) and back again.

There are many who will find Shed enriching, as I did, and I hope it will soon return to Melbourne and tour elsewhere. It is a most promising beginning for this interesting company.

Punctum, Shed — The Morris Shed Collection, concept & artistic direction Jude Anderson, co-writers Emilie Collyer, Jude Anderson, performers Ian Scott, Paul Lum, Tammy McCarthy, Michael Jewell, installation & lighting design Chris Harris with Grant Davis, sound design Jacques Soddell, film design Paul Fletcher, photography Julie Millowick, costume design Mila Faranov; Studio 45, National Gallery of Victoria, October 18, 2005

RealTime issue #71 Feb-March 2006 pg. 31

© Paul Monaghan; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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