Review/Theatre

Light will conquer all?

5 May 2019

Review: Julia Croft, Harriet Gillies & Joe Lui, Death Throes ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 1 May ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·

You can recognise German postdramatic theatre from the moment where the cast breaks the performance to engage in a political panel discussion with the audience. Employing this device early, Death Throes is both somewhat more timid, but also more tongue in cheek, than much postdramatic performance.

The piece begins with Harriet Gillies delivering a brief monologue on the knowingness of the 1990s generation. She holds an insanely hot light close to her face, apparently unfazed. This light is a parcan: basically a car headlight in a can; stand in front of an old car and see how long you last! Joe Lui then enters to set up tables and microphones. The pair are joined by Julia Croft and immediately Croft and Lui engage in a rambling discussion on the evils of monetary capitalism. So far, so postdramatic.

The most notable tension in Death Throes is how seriously (or not) the artists take their announced politics. Their analysis of monetary exchange holds few surprises for anyone who familiar with John Maynard Keynes or Das Kapital. The trio conclude that the problem with contemporary economics is that money — which is purely symbolic, standing in for goods or commodities — has been mistaken for an almost self-sufficient thing in itself. Monetary exchange therefore does not serve us. We serve it. Karl Marx described this in his account of capitalist fetishism, a primer for which might be offered by this advertisement, where the “value” of the product ends up having nothing to do with how much it costs to produce, or its practical use.

Lui concludes this section with an aside on the links in the productive chain underpinning even a $5 chicken bucket. This retrospectively explains why Gillies chows down on fried chicken, her calm assurance contrasting with Croft’s near manic speechifying.

In the sequences that follow, there is no further reference to economics, which is not to say links cannot be inferred, but it seems unfortunate that the production leaps into the bafflingly abstract. The main dramaturgical through-line (again, in classic postdramatic mode) is a scenographic motif, rather than a rhetorical one. Light, as actively manipulated by the cast, holds a beatific possibility throughout. There is a Barbarella-like sequence where the cast pose with spotlights held like blasters projecting steely beams to either side. The panel discussion itself is closed off by the lowering of a parcan onto Gillies’ now prone form, her head framed under its glow.

Julia Croft, Harriet Gillies and Joe Lui running around a red carpet.
Our performers adopt shiny gold costumes and jog in circles around a central light until exhausted.

In the longest sequence, our performers adopt shiny gold costumes and jog in circles around a central light until exhausted. It is not an especially original motif. Trisha Brown and others founded postmodernist or pedestrian dance (dance made using everyday movements) by running and walking on stage, and complex variations continue today (consider Thierry Thieû Niang’s 2012 …du Printemps!). If this section has a political meaning, it presumably shares it with Situationism and early performance art, where it was claimed that by doing something which has no purpose or productive outcome, such self-motivated acts lie outside of the money economy. It is a nice ideal, but given that the hugely successful performance artist Marina Abramovic made her fortune selling limited edition photographs of her otherwise “unsaleable” art, it is not so convincing.

Death Throes ends with our trio gazing distractedly past the audience, images of blue, cloud-filled skies surrounding them, as fans blow their hair. It is an oddly voyeuristic scenario for a performance which began by advertising its left-wing politics. Farrah Fawcett was the 1970s pin-up for this gently erotic “wind-blown look”, and given that Charlie’s Angels has been reworked as a supposedly feminist classic, perhaps a similar reclamation is intended here.

Death Throes is, therefore, not entirely effective. While not derivative, its elements are not especially novel. Whatever logic governs the selection of material is neither evident, nor is the production a deliberately random assemblage. That said, any show featuring Lui running in gold short-shorts, or Gillies’ supremely unflappable expression, provides a fun puzzler.

Death Throes plays The Blue Room Theatre until May 18.

Pictured top: Julia Croft, Joe Lui and Harriet Gillies in ‘Death Throes’.

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Author —
Jonathan W. Marshall

Dr Jonathan W. Marshall is postgraduate coordinator at WAAPA, Edith Cowan University. Jonathan has written for RealTime Australia, Big Issue, The Age, Theatreview NZ, IN Press, and presented on radio, since 1992. He grew up beside the Yarra River, near a long metal slide, set into the side of a rocky slope.

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