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Reality theatre, Ranters style

Richard Murphet

Paul Lam, Kelly Tracey, Genevieve Morris, St Kilda Tales Paul Lam, Kelly Tracey, Genevieve Morris, St Kilda Tales
photo Jeff Busby
Ranters’ earlier show, Features of Blown Youth (premiered 1997), was set in a share-house, open to view, filled with chance meetings and relationships developing through proximity rather than commitment, and underscored with a menace not easily absorbed or dealt with by a loosely organised group of urban youth. Their latest show, St Kilda Tales, which opened at Playbox in May is less spatially defined. Anna Tregloan’s set is a field for action, at times interior, at times street. With its various levels, its steel constructions and soaring girder-like poles, and backed by the rear of a line of huge flats, the stage looks like an abandoned building site. Within it, a motley group of inner city dwellers wander, prowl, wait, seeking or avoiding the chance encounters that gradually weave them together in a careful choreography of event disguised as haphazard. Here the menace is internalised, spread in more evenly divided shares in a dog eat dog world where finally life itself is the menace without pity. In this context, it is less easy to locate the malevolent force within one character, although yet again Robert Morgan’s irresistibly evil stage presence does the job of corralling the disparate energies into a vitally contained theatrical force.

The Cortese brothers are charting new horizons of what can only be called ‘reality-theatre.’ The piece is plotless in any conventional theatrical sense, although the stage-field provides a fertile plot within which these vignettes of low-life can take seed and grow. The writing, much of which emerged in response to ensemble improvisations, draws no attention to itself. RaimondoCortese is growing in skill and confidence in the economies of this pared-back style. Adriano’s direction is loose-limbed in its attempt to suggest the randomness of real street life. At times it was reminiscent of the kind of stage occupation practiced by Les Ballet C de la B in shows like Iets Op Bach. It certainly had that same rhythm of alternating slackness and static electricity, breaking through expectations of the well-organised play or performance piece.

If St Kilda Tales is about anything it is, finally, about avoidance—of commitment, of care, of self-fulfilment, of sex, even of violence carried through to its final conclusion. Alcohol and drugs are the substitutes, of course, and a nervy hysteria of mood grows as the evening progresses. The ecstatic Tasso and the hopeful Lucy seem like the possible positives, but Cortese is not so sentimental as to leave us with them. We end on Olivia’s yearning: “I wanna great orgasm! Eh?! Where?! Am I dreaming?!” and with the hysterical laughter that she and Pan cannot control in the face of the hopelessness of it all.

This is a very particular cross-section of ‘St Kilda’ life. It contains no Aboriginals, no ethnicity, no senility, no yuppies, no backpackers. The suburb is the ‘springboard’ for a stage event. Its power is deliberately presentational rather than representational. In the context of Playbox, the critique it presents is finally less of society than of the way that theatre has represented it. The Playbox management should be congratulated for supporting the venture. The joy of the young audience attending is the invaluable payoff.

St Kilda Tales, by Raimondo Cortese, director Adriano Cortese, Playbox, Melbourne, May 15-26

RealTime issue #43 June-July 2001 pg. 27

© Richard Murphet; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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