Perth Festival review: A Farewell to Paper ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, 17 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·
In 1982 I was seven years old and learning to write with a fountain pen at my primary school in the UK. It’s not something I’ve thought about for decades but when Evgeny Grishkovets pulled out a sheet of blotting paper at A Farewell to Paper last night, I was suddenly remembering my own blotting paper; its mottled texture, its pink hue, my attendant anxiety about handling the strange pen nib. Sitting in the theatre, struck by this long-forgotten memory, it occurred to me that I must have been part of the dying throes of an era, one of the last school children to learn to use a fountain pen.
It’s this passing of an era that Grishkovets is marking in A Farewell to Paper. Both written and performed by Grishkovets, it’s a monologue (of sorts) that plays tribute to paper and its traditions. Behind him, five doors act as portals to the paper past; in the foreground, a writing desk is almost drowned in vintage accoutrements of communication (plus laptop). Typewriters, telegrams, aerogrammes, newspapers, books… some are gone, some are going and Grishkovets wants us to consider what we’re losing as we move into an age where draft copies don’t exist, where we no longer recognise a loved one’s handwriting, where our memories are no longer stored in shoe boxes but on external hard drives.
It’s poignant but light-hearted; telegrams and texts are held up for comparison (“A man didn’t get drunk and send a whole heap of telegrams to his exes”), the postal system of the past is admired (“Here in Perth you have a magnificent old post office and now it is… a supermarket? No! Worse, it is an H&M!”).
A Russian author, director and actor, Grishkovets delivers the show in his native tongue, with a live translator and interpreter, a role taken for this season by former Australian diplomat and Australian National University fellow at the Centre for European Studies, Kyle Wilson. Although it doesn’t appear that performing arts has been part of Wilson’s extensive professional experience, he is completely at ease in this role, managing not just the nuances of translation, but numerous hilarious interactions with Grishkovets, with aplomb.
At just over two hours with no interval, the only criticism to be made of A Farewell to Paper is that it felt very long. Grishkovets must realise this; he warns the audience of the work’s length at its outset and, amusingly, provides reassurances, at various intervals, that the show IS going to finish after two hours, as promised. The nature of the work, which doesn’t have a clear story arc but instead follows a meandering path through Grishkovets’ memories and musings, is charming. Nonetheless, it would, perhaps, be more effective with some culling to keep it under the 90-minute mark.
Even if he doesn’t have every audience member in the palm of his hand for the work’s entire length, Grishkovets is an endearing and engaging performer. As a solo show, A Farewell to Paper is a remarkable achievement, a whimsical and timely reflection on an age that has almost disappeared.
Pictured top are Evgeny Grishkovets (foreground) and Kyle Wilson (background) in ‘A Farewell to Paper’ at the Heath Ledger Theatre. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.