Saturday, September 15, 2012

Review: Bare Witness - reversing the gaze of war photojournalism

Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (14 September 2012) presents a La Mama Theatre/Fortyfive downstairs's touring production.

Bare Witness
confronts, distresses and challenges perceptions of war journalists. We have all – to various degrees – seen the war in Iraq, the Balkans, and East Timor play out on our screens, radios and newspapers. But how often do we stop to think about the people providing such harrowing images, soundbites and quotes?

A short byline is all we get, and an edited snapshot of what a journalist sees. But, is the photo staged? Did the photographer manipulate the position of that lifeless body for dramatic effect? How did interviewing a mother grieving over her son’s lifeless body affect the journalist? Do they have nightmares?

Bare Witness
presents fictional yet plausible snippets of war journalists’ life. From the infrequent calls home to see how mother is doing to the fear of hiding in enemy territory while a shower of gunfire opens up outside, the play takes the audience on an at times literal and at other times abstract journey through the motions of war.

Some scenes (directed by Nadja Kostich) come across as too abstract to the point that meaning is lost, but, on the whole, contemporary movement combined with prose is an effective mode of storytelling. The Casula Powerhouse is a larger and more conventional theatre than the original staging in Melbourne’s 45 Downstairs, but the creative team make a good effort to preserve the rough and gritty nature of the play in its new venue.

With a strong cast (particularly Daniela Farinacci as Dannie) – albeit with some questionable accents – and a strong concept, Australian playwright Mari Lourey’s work makes for a valuable night at the theatre. Valuable because Bare Witness fulfills one of the most important roles of theatre: to make an audience think by taking them out of their comfort zone and challenging the way they understand and make meaning of the world.

Bare Witness
asks the important question: who bears witness to those journalists who bear witness to the victims of war? Journalists risk everything to tell the horrific stories of the disempowered who are used as political pawns by their governments, but who is telling the journalist’s stories?

As the show's symbolism suggests -
like wolves, journalists hunt in a pack searching for meaty news pieces to send home to their hungry audiences. Yet, if the pack prowl too close to enemy territory where the juiciest cuts are, they become the hunted. It’s our job as an audience to track those movements and bear witness to their successes, failures and sacrifices.

Bare Witness runs at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre from 14-15th September

Monday, September 10, 2012

Why 'I Will Survive' should survive

I Will Survive is getting a hammering from critics. Some reasons are valid but I also get a sense that there's a stifling of any real desire for originality within the talent show-slash-reality genre.

Daniel Burt for one is more than happy to bang on about the “confused” concept and the fall-through with the prize to perform on Broadway. Sure, men in drag doesn’t equate to a triple threat ready for the bright lights of Broadway and, sure, the boys won’t get to play Tick in Priscilla. I’ll also grant that the show’s structure focuses a little too much on un-related whimsy (like playing footy and going to firing ranges) and not enough on showing off the contestant’s talents.

But, what the show does offer is an acknowledgment of the musical theatre audience in Australia, and I think that is long overdue. Triple threat isn’t a word used much on talent shows. Sometimes “talent” doesn’t even come into play; a good sob story is worth its weight in airtime over someone who can hold a note for longer than two seconds. Shows search for the “x factor” and wind up with another Justin Bieber or Katy Perry. Musical theatre is different. It is home to triple threats who don’t want to be on the next cover of NW Magazine but want to slog their guts out singing, dancing and acting live on stage eight shows a week.
Talent shows in Australia are scattered with musical theatre performers. The likes of Jaz Flowers and Matt Heatherington from the first season of The Voice spring to mind. Yet if either had sung a song from a musical using their trained musical theatre technique, they would have been crucified. The musical-theatre-loving audience is almost completely ignored on commercial television. Why? God knows.
So I for one am happy to think that Kyle Sandilands would have his head in a bucket being sick at all the “musical theatre cheesiness”. I Will Survive celebrates diversity. It talks about and brings value to the idea of a triple threat, it showcases some talented Aussie blokes who otherwise never get their spot of commercial television, and it celebrates Australia’s best-known musical export – Priscilla.
Does the exact format of I Will Survive work? No. It is confused and does focus more on the fun of drag rather than the skills needed to be on Broadway. Is it a fun show to watch? Yes. There are loads of laugh-out-loud moments and the contestants are an interesting bunch.
I would love to see a talent show like BBC’s Any Dream Will Do! and How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? that casts the next lead in a musical. That format would give a real perspective of the musical theatre industry. But, for now, I will certainly settle for I Will Survive, and applaud Channel Ten for giving this show a chance.
So to all the haters: get off the soapbox. If you want to play the ratings card, take a glimpse at what is rating higher than I Will Survive and have a quick think about how that show is contributing to greater diversity on Australian television. Do you really want to watch another reality show filled with models pretending to be “wife-material” or “geek-trainers” to get a leg up in their next audition?
I Will Survive is catering (albeit strangely) to a neglected theatre-loving audience. Let's support this strange child that is trying to do something different for once.
I Will Survive airs Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 7:30pm on Channel Ten.