A Prisoner’s Dilemma in Brisbane

Myself and the other subversives of Bohemian Productions have returned to the Cancers after a week’s tour to Brisbane, presenting A Prisoner’s Dilemma as part of the Brisbane Festival’s 2008 Under The Radar fringe program. It were grand fun; hanging out in Brisbane’s CBD at the Metro Arts Theatre along with 25 other companies and collectives, and showing APD off for one final season before putting a bullet in the back of its neck. We had good audiences – not large, but not too small – and they racked up exceptionally high scores on all the interactive games.

the game of Chicken in A Prisoner’s Dilemma. photo by ‘pling.

Weird detail, though: the show finale is an interactive example of the game of Chicken. (Two kids drive their cars towards each other. The one who swerves first is the loser, but if neither of them chicken out, they hit each other head on and they both die.) We play with a bowl full of 14 stones, which we invite the audience to take out. On average, audiences take about 7 stones. In Brisbane, we didn’t get past two. Half our audiences refused to take a stone after only one turn (the best possible outcome), and the other half drew the black stone first or second turn (the worst possible outcome). There’s no reason behind it (that we know of), but if you check out their scores on the Statistics page on Bohemian’s website you’ll see what an anomaly it is.

Shall type up some of the highlights of the Under The Radar festival in a short while – post‘s ‘Gifted and Talented’, Fleur Elise Noble‘s ‘Work in Progress’, Tom Hall‘s ‘Sight Beyond’ and Mrs Freeman’s Dry Cleaning‘s ‘Szentpaly’ were standout, and deserve more discussion.

still from Johan Grimonprez’s Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y.

Meantime, this was completely unrelated to the Festival, but absolutely stunning: Johan Grimonprez’s 1997 film Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y. We caught a screening of this at the Judith Wright Contemporary Art Space and were completely entranced. It’s a documentary / film collage exploring the phenomenon of plane hijacking in the 1960s and 70s: the era of ‘Skyjackers’. I won’t attempt to summarise, interpret or analyse the film’s politics, artistic agenda, or David Shea’s funky soundtrack (for fear of sounding like the other horrible reviews I’ve found online): Just go to UBUweb Film and Video and check it out.

Worst Dinosaur

While waiting in the C-Block Theatre foyer the other evening to see Cathy Petocz’s Open House performance, Muttley and I debated the age-old question which has plagued us since childhood: Which is the worst dinosaur? Many sage minds contributed to the discussion, and the conversation was soon saturated with wisdom. What follows is a summary of some of the candidates, and the reasons behind their inclusion. I shall attempt to express some of the salient points of our discussion here, though I make no claim to recapture any of the contributors’ wit or vivacity.

Iguanodon. For the most part, an unassuming middle-of-the-road duck-bill from the late Jurassic and Cretaceous. It earns its place in this discussion because of the Nose/Thumb Embarrassment. Everyone feels awkward around a guy to whose face they mistakenly glued his opposable digits.

Tyrannosaurus Rex. An obvious contendor. If you wanted to make a dinosaur universally despised, you couldn’t really do better than science did with the Tyrannosaur. First, teach us from the ages of 6-8 that the Tyrannosaurus is the most badass species in the jungle. Then, spend the rest of our lives explaining that the Tyrannosaurus actually doesn’t match up to any of these promises. Thirdly, nickname it ‘The King’. The feelings thus inspired are somewhere between a cringe and a wince – you could call it a crince.

Maiasaurus. ‘Big bird-hipped pieces of crap’ – Muttley.

Brachiosaurus. This is just a fucking diplodocus on a different angle. For god’s sake, Brachiosaurus, think of something.

Dilophosaurus. This goes under the heading of ‘Michael Crichton ruined it for everyone.’ The Dilophosaurus featured in Jurassic Park as the ‘acid-spitting’ dinosaur. His justification for this bit of tripe went along the lines of: ‘Well you can’t prove that it didn’t spit acid,’ relying on the assumption that the default mode for life on earth is Acid-Spitting. Humans evolved complicated apparati to stop us spitting acid*, while the Dilophosaurs apparently did not. Even with this absurd special power glued over the top of them, the Dilophosaurs made a paltry contribution to the death-count in Jurassic Park: one eight-year-old Mexican girl and Seinfeld’s portly neighbour Newman.

Triceratops. Do you remember how awesome the Triceratops was when you first encountered it? When you were four? 9 metres long with an armour-plated neck frill and three giant stabbing horns! Dope! And then you discovered the Styracosaurus. The best we could say for the Triceratops was that it is a Gateway Ceratopsian – in the same way that listening to Groove Armada has no value in itself, but might lead you to buy a Propellorheads record, the Triceratops’ only values is as a signpost to other, better Ceratopsians.

Velociraptor. See Dilophosaurus, re: Michael Chrichton ruined it for everyone. Thanks to Jurassic Park, the Velociraptor is now mostly known as the ‘door-opening dinosaur’.

Stegosaurus. Saved for last, because this one generated by far the most heated debate. There was a major divide between those who believed the row of bony plates along the Stegosaurus’ spine were aesthetically pleasing, useful and/or mysterious, and those who thought they were a waste of valuable back real-estate that could have been devoted to something with a far greater percentage of kick-arse. Personally, I side with the camp that says the Dimetrodon’s big spiny sail kicks twelve kinds of shit out of the Stegosaurus’ ornamental dinner plate collection. Unless the Stegosaurus’ plates could be removed from their sockets and plugged into other Stegosaurs’ backs like USB drives. Then we are in business.

Special mentions:

Ali raised the fact that the Brontosaurus is essentially just a badly assembled Apatosaurus with the head of Camarasaurus, meaning it doesn’t even make the cut as a goddamn dinosaur; I maintain that the Plesiosaurus is just an underwater Diplodocus; Muttley disparaged the Pteranodon for having an excessively large wingspan and no underwater mode, and the general consensus was that giant prehistoric insect and arachnid fauna are just basically pretty lame.

best scene in Shakespeare

In September 2002, Bohemian Productions produced a script by William Shakespeare entitled ‘The Most Lamentable Roman Tragedy of Titus Andronicus: as it was played by the Right Honourable The Earl of Derby, Earl of Pembroke, and Earl of Sussex Their Servants‘. It were directed by Jack Lloyd and featured Stuart Roberts in the title role, accompanied by a vast cast and crew of literally tens. I were fortunate enough to play Aaron, ‘A Wicked Moor’.

Over the course of the production, I surmised several things about the script (Shakespeare scholars feel free to correct me): (1) It was Shakespeare’s first popular success (1594), and (2) from a literary standpoint, it’s not very good. There is very little in the way of complex character shading or philosophical soliloquies, just a host of bizarre, one-dimensional archetypes from the Revenge Tragedy genre carrying on a rather misguided vendetta. It is, nevertheless, fucking brilliant.

In place of realism, philosophy or characterisation, Titus Andronicus features an enthusiastic bloodlust which makes it by far the most entertaining thing Shakespeare ever produced. The plot is focused madness: Titus Andronicus is a popular Roman general returned from a twenty year war with the Goths, accompanied by his surviving children and a gaggle of Gothic prisoners-of-war. In the first of countless insane plot twists, the newly elected Roman Emperor frees the prisoners, marries the vicious Queen of the Goths, and elevates them to positions of power. The two factions – Goths and Andronici – murder each other one or two at a time, until after the final cannibal orgy of violence in Act 5, the Roman throne is taken by Lucius Andronicus (he is essentially the last surviving human being in Rome).

There are so many wonderful moments – the unfunny clown is tricked into delivering an unpleasant message to the Emperor, and is hanged – the Queen of the Goths gives birth to an illegitimate son by her lover Aaron the Moor, and the Nursemaid goes into hysterics at the child’s half-caste complexion (until Aaron chokes her to death) – the famous final banquet where Andronicus feeds the Goth Queen her son’s cooked entrails – but I think I’d give it to Act 3, Scene 1: The Hand.

Context: two of Titus Andronicus’ three surviving sons have been falsely accused of murder and are due to be executed. Titus is lamenting in the company of his son Lucius and his Boy servant, when Aaron the Moor arrives to play an hilarious trick upon them!


Titus Andronicus, my lord the emperor
Sends thee this word,–that, if thou love thy sons,
Let Lucius, or your servant, or thyself, old Titus,
Or any one of you, chop off your hand,
And send it to the king: he for the same
Will send thee hither both thy sons alive;
And that shall be the ransom for their fault.

O gracious emperor! O gentle Aaron!
With all my heart, I’ll send the emperor My hand:
Good Aaron, wilt thou help to chop it off?

Stay, father! that noble hand of thine,
Shall not be sent: my hand will serve the turn:
My youth can better spare my blood than you.

Which of your hands hath not defended Rome,
Writing destruction on the enemy’s castle?
My hand hath been but idle; let it serve.

Nay, come, agree whose hand shall go along,
For fear they die before their pardon come.

My hand shall go.

By heaven, it shall not go!

Sirs, strive no more: such wither’d herbs as these
Are meet for plucking up, and therefore mine.

Sweet father, if I shall be thought thy son,
Let me redeem my brothers both from death.

And, for my sweet grandsire’s sake,
Now let me show a servant’s love to thee.

Agree between you; I will spare my hand.

Then I’ll go fetch an axe.

But I will use the axe.

Exeunt LUCIUS and BOY

Come hither, Aaron; I’ll deceive them both:
Lend me thy hand, and I will give thee mine.

Aaron cuts off TITUS’s hand

Re-enter LUCIUS and BOY

Now stay your strife: what shall be is dispatch’d.
Good Aaron, give his majesty my hand:
As for my sons, say I account of them
As jewels purchased at an easy price.

I go, Andronicus: and for thy hand
Look by and by to have thy sons with thee.
Their heads, I mean. What a good joke.
O, how this villany
Doth fat me with the very thoughts of it!

O, here I lift this one hand up to heaven,
And bow this feeble ruin to the earth.

Worthy Andronicus, ill art thou repaid
For that good hand thou sent’st the emperor.
Here are the heads of thy two noble sons;
And here’s thy hand, in scorn to thee sent back;
Thy grief was their amusement.

The Messenger gives TITUS his severed hand and his sons’ severed heads.

So the end of June: Bohemian Productions – A Prisoner’s Dilemma – five nights at the Street Theatre, Canberra. We sold out our last three performances and Aaron Ridgway from the Canberra Times described it as a ‘bold fusion of performance and philosophy’. All in all, satisfying.

Two new modules – Poison and Switch and Flying Dudes – gave us a full hand of good scenes for the first time in the play’s history. In Poison and Switch, the audience uses antique console controllers to operate two players in a Machiavellian Princess Bride-esque showdown involving a set of scales, two bowls of poison and a trainwreck of bluffing and counter-bluffing.

Jackal and myself play Poison and Switch. photo by ‘pling.

Flying Dudes is an arcade game where two characters – a Doctor of Science and a Doctor of Exploration – race to escape a cave-in. Audience reactions ranged from ‘It is Lemmings on stage!’ to ‘Why were those two crabs dancing?’ High score goes to Pat Gordon and Max Gambale on the Wednesday night, who completed the whole scene in under 100 seconds – less than half of the second best time.

It is Crab Dancing, aka Flying Dudes. photo by ‘pling.

Next up, we travel to Brisbane in several weeks to perform as part of the Brisbane Festival’s Under The Radar program. We run 6.30pm 25 – 27 July and 1pm 26 – 27 July at the Metro Arts Theatre. Tickets available from www.brisbanefestival.com.au


after a home brand breakfast cereal play

Last weekend (being June 28 and 29) I were happened to be a part of the opening performance event for PlayWriting Australia‘s National Script Workshop, held during winter in the Cancers. 2008 is the second year of the Workshop and this time around, PWA Artistic Director Chris Mead decided to kick off proceedings by commissioning four new scripts to be written, dramaturged, rehearsed, directed and performed within the space of 48 hours.

Four writers (myself, the black witch Hadley, Emma Gibson and Jim Jones) were gathered on Friday evening to draw lots for stimulus material (gibberish), our cast and our director; in my case, a cast of three women (Ally, Marti and the inestimable Shasta Sutherland) and director Kate Shearer of Jigsaw Theatre. The piece I produced was entitled after a home brand breakfast cereal play – this is its name and you may click the link if you have the desire to read it in full.

I started with a single half-unshelled idea; I wanted to make fun of shite indie-rock music videos featuring guys in beanies with flaps over the ears and girls tramping around crowded cities looking isolated and lonely (and thanks to my frere for providing me with a perfect model in Death Cab For Cutie’s new clip). Knowing that Kate Shearer digs Suzanne Vega (and in homage to Sam Burns-Warr and Jordan Prosser’s The Landlords), the play became the story of an attempt to cover Vega’s 1987 track ‘Tom’s Diner’. By the time of the Sunday morning deadline, two of the characters had morphed into recurring duo Weasel and Brown, and the other was a ‘non-traditional folk-balladeer’ in the Free Folk vein, bearing the idiosyncratic stage name of Rice Pops.

My favourite lines in the script:

brown: Why am I in the mountains?
weasel: You’re the man that’s being stalked by the woman in the video clip.
brown: That’s what she’s doing, that’s why she’s in the mountains. What am I doing?
weasel: You’re doing what a man does. What do men do?
brown: This?

Brown does what men do.

weasel: That’s good. Now do that, but in the mountains.

In the final 12 hour countdown, Ms Shearer managed to take my stream-of-consciousness drivel and find in it a story and characters, which she and the actors somehow brought to life. I am both impressed with and grateful to them for doing the script more justice than it could possibly deserve.

The final Sunday night performance was revelatory. First of all, Emma Gibson’s tightly wound dinner-party drama After Richard and Jim Jones’ police raid on the home-base of a politically-savvy revolutionary Wrong Number were both packed with intelligent content and more twists and turns than I was expecting.

Then Hadley’s piece (the name of which escapes me but which included the words Anal Sex I think) blew my mind right apart. It was purportedly a traditional British manor-house murder mystery, in which a detective and her assistant investigate the murder of a Duke (clubbed to death with an iron). It rapidly diverged into a demented ramble through a rich and cluttered catalogue of ideas reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges being fucked in the brain by jagged glass penii: the history of a Byzantine-era tribe whose language was called ‘Iron’, the categorisation of objects with names, the consequences of having and/or professing a true or false idea, and the history of the domestic clothes press, all mixed in with a virulent take on Conan Doyle / Agatha Christie dialogue. By the end, the script had given up any pretense of narrative, and it concluded with a stage direction (delivered by Hadley and shaped more like a poem than a direction) for the theatre to be invaded by a horde of Neanderthal children and burned to the ground by in a waltzing, hand-shaking fire. At the end of it, I was all speechless and head-shaking. Fucking Hadley.
*neither of these are words.