Combining elements of Science Fiction, teen romance, history and/or science lesson, buddy-flick, and para-fable, David’s fabulous road-trip is frenetic – unrelenting. oceans… asks a lot of its audience, and in exchange, the play offers a world view that is alien, yet frighteningly familiar. Like all good 1950’s Sci-Fi, oceans… casts its eye over society, and, finding it lacking, asks how an individual’s choice/s alter reality. What is too great a risk? – How much can one take before breaking point? – the existential web of life…
Sound is integral to the pace and rhythm of the play. The language, melodic and meandering, is further enhanced by track-titles like: ‘Rich, Thick, Syrupy’, ‘Gruesome, Heavy’ and ‘… to herald in a new era of prosperity…’ Sound has the ability to influence the structure of matter; it resonates within the human body; it is a weapon and has restorative qualities; it has power.
My profound thanks to David for letting me mess with his world – I am forever changed! – & to the outstanding Chris, Raoul, Hanna, Ginny and Lloyd; for forever fixing the world of oceans… in my mind – you are glorious, giving, ‘human beings of the human race’.
Gillian never ceases to amaze me – her holistic approach to design is a delight – I thank her, as I have for the last many-a-show, for her dedication and creative spirit.
Warwick’s and Erika’s compositions are outstanding. The world outside the Starwagon – redolent yet unknown, contrasts the relative sanctuary of the interior.
Jack’s considerable contribution adds a much-needed visual element to support the ‘Radio Play’ concept. The character drawings come to life to support the action.
So settle back – shoes off – turn on the radio and immerse yourself in a young man’s ‘journey of discovery’ unlike anything you’ve encountered before!
barb barnett serious theatre
barb barnett. photo by ‘pling.
Directed by barb barnett
Set, costume and lighting designer: Gillian Schwab Projections designer: Jack Lloyd Music and SFX: Warwick Lynch and Erika Ikenouchi
serious thank –
Caroline Stacey & The staff at The Street Theatre
Bernadette & Barney Barnett
Jigsaw Theatre Company
Dr Russell Brown and Rep
hanna cormick is a licensed religious practitioner. photo by ‘pling.
In January 2004, I received a mentorship with playwright Paschal Berry through the Canberra Youth Theatre Engagements program to develop my script Vampire Play for a production that August. My response to this awesome opportunity was to panic, put Vampire Play aside, and start work on a new script completely, drawing in equal parts from Jeff Noon’s short story Creeping Zero and his novel Falling Out Of Cars. These first sketches were the guts of what would become Car Play, and then Oceans all boiled into sky.
In 2005, I received funding from ArtsACT to write and workshop a first performance draft of the script (under the working title of Car Play), working with dramaturg Paschal Berry, director barb barnett (of Serious Theatre), and five actors (Raoul Craemer, Lara Lightfoot, Alison McGregor, Jack Lloyd and Rob de Fries). From January – May 2006, I wrote endless reams of garbage, while Paschal, barb and the actors attempted to shine a light on what, if anything, was worthwhile about the script. In May 2006, there was a public reading of the script, which was attended by 80-90 people. The feedback from the audience was generally positive (although it was fairly unanimous that the 3rd of the three acts was pointless and boring), and that was that for a while.
In December 2006, Car Play was accepted into the inaugural Interplay Online Festival, and received further dramaturgical support from playwright David Ryding. At the end of the year, the script (now properly named Oceans all boiled into sky) was nominated for the Max Afford Award, a national playwriting competition. The judges described it as:
A sharp and witty comedy with Orwellian overtones. The plot is brisk and engaging and the characters are vivid and enjoyable. The style is theatrical and the conceit of the writing holds up well until the denouement. The panel felt that, whilst the resolution needs some work, the playwright shows great instinct and promise.
At the beginning of 2008, I met with Caroline Stacey, director of the Street Theatre, to ask whether a production of Oceans might be at all of interest to the Street. Caroline was positive, and arranged for the script to receive further dramaturgy from Peter Matheson. I approached barb barnett, who had workshopped it with me in 2006 and directed the public reading. barb was willing to take on directing again, and so Oceans was programmed for a November 26 – 29 season, as a Serious Theatre production for the Street’s 2008 Made In Canberra series.
this happened in the canabrae
orders from the human race in Shanghai
the tale of the mongoose and the two cobras
steam planet motherfuckers
the black mountain
medicine eating song
the only prayer I know is Fibonacci’s
fifty five hour day
have you ever, like, kissed anyone?
there is no protection
feeling funny in my head, lord, I believe I’m fixin’ to die
and a treasure map! made in MS Paint!
Australia’s charming capital city, known to my phone’s predictive text function as The Cancers
this happened in the canabrae
shh. drop it down. arright, now, I need you guys to act real cool for a few seconds. if you’re sitting in a cold dark cave with a projector fluttering and these images spattered on to the wall, then you’re watching this documentary. this was filmed in the capital city of Australia.
me, I don’t know the details, but as I understand it there were networks of humans that linked up into one massive human society, wrapped around the surface of the earth. when the oceans were stuck in the ocean beds, there were humans gathered in knots on all the dry surfaces. here on this fragment of the planet, the humans gathered around a knot called Canberra. in these cracked and bleeding streets there were human men and women lurching around all day on their back legs. now, only a few brave and desperate sapiens dare travel through this fog-ridden wasteland. those humans are we humans. you are watching the soldiers in the battle for planet earth.
a Mitsubishi Starwagon – the interior is 0.58cm wider than the exterior
orders from the human race in Shanghai priest: Stop dancing! Stand still – twitching – wired – all muscles tense – all eyeballs wide and staring! We start from here. The time is zero – it is zero hours since we were here last. Begin! honest: I realise I’m fine. Utterly fucking fine. I feel like someone’s spreading butter on my spine. malkin: Is he still chattering? Give us a job, let’s go. mack: I can’t slow my breath down. I want an asthma puffer. I want more than that, I want two asthma puffers. priest: See here on the floor, the marks and shapes in the mud? It is a message from the city of Shanghai. mack: I think I’m hyperventilating. honest: These are our footprints from dancing. priest: Because you cannot read the code. It is news about the war. honest: What’s happening? Are we winning? priest: See these patterns here, these streaks in the mud? The tide is turning, at long last. All over the planet, human beings are taking back the surface. In Edinburgh, in Brasilia, in Ulan Baator, the humans have taken back the streets and forced the clouds into the sky. honest: That’s fantastic! priest: Here in Canberra we will not lag behind. You have been given a vital mission. Here, these stumbling smears? The human race in Shanghai wants you to capture a live creature. honest: Alive? priest: A live creature. I have a new vehicle for you, salvaged out of the mud. This is a starwagon. This will take you into the heart of Canberra, up the side of the Black Mountain to the Black Mountain Tower. mack: Can you please show me how to get back into the Motor Registry? priest: Honest Jon will be the lantern-bearer. Malkin will record the documentary of your mission. Let me present you your driver: Mack Finch. mack: I’m sorry, I thought you were my driving instructor and I’ve followed you through the wrong door or something. I’m supposed to be in the Motor Registry carpark. priest: This is your test. mack: No, this is all fucked up. There was a door, there, we went through it like two minutes ago. priest: Now this is the importance of your mission: Shanghai has sent you gifts! Here, help me dig them out from the mud. Shanghai has pushed these presents all the way through the centre of the earth and almost out the other side. mack: Where the hell is the door? This is the bottom of a cave! honest: What’s this stuff down here? priest: You realise I wouldn’t send you unprotected into the Canberra! Why ever worry? Let nothing trouble you! Can’t freak out when you’ve got cassette tapes to soundtrack your mission into the wastes! honest: Good crunching crackling human music? priest: Along these thin strips is coded the signals to create the most music music music that there is! Tapes that when placed in a tapedeck summon entire rock and roll bands, or drifting blues songs, or rabid electronics! Tapes for battle, tapes for travel, tapes to soundtrack a hot young commando outfit striking out into the ruins of Canberra! honest: That’s all I need, Mr Priest-man! Good music to keep my ears sweet, a good motor vehicle wrapped around me and good company to roll through the hours with!
the tale of the mongoose and the two cobras honest: Chill out, man. No more of this freaking over third gear. You ever hear the tale of the mongoose and the two cobras? mack: No, I don’t know that story. board-game girl: I’m here. Focus, I’m here. Fix the signal. Here. I am – here – honest: I know that story. I’ll tell you what, there was once upon a time a field by a river, and the mongoose came out of the snakehole and said “The cobra was pregnant but I killed it anyway!” and the birds sang a song in the mongoose’s honour and there was peace and safety. Peace, and safety. mack: That story didn’t have a beginning or a middle. honest: We all want peace and safety. Peace, safety and peace. What’s your name? mack: Mack. Mack Finch. I was supposed to be going for my driving test- honest: Mack, the point of the story is don’t worry about third gear. Just keep driving forward until we hit the Tuggeranong Parkway, then on the Parkway up the Black Mountain. That’s how we attain peace and safety.
steam planet motherfuckers mack: What the fuck are these things? malkin: Like a map of pinpricks stabbed out of the air – Honest, cram me into the corner, I want to get a wide shot. mack: I’ve never seen smoke do that. malkin: It’s not smoke. It’s steam.
Our driver starts to understand that this Canberra is not the idyllic bush-capital he is familiar with. Why? What happened here? Honest? honest: The oceans boiled. malkin: The oceans boiled. All of the water that covered seventy percent of the earth’s surface boiled into steam. That steam now floats over every centimetre of the earth’s surface.
Let’s speak with the van’s documentator – world-weary soldier Gwen Malkin. Gwen, how are you doing?
Fucking mostly blind, and I can’t make my arms or legs work properly.
That’s great. Gwen, you just mentioned that the clouds covering Canberra tonight are actually steam from the earth’s boiled oceans. Can you explain what might cause the oceans to boil?
Well the oceans didn’t always rest on the surface of the earth. If we go back – way back – 3.5 billion years ago.
Wow. That’s a long time ago!
That’s right. The earth is forming around a heavy iron core. There’s a sea of molten rock wrapped around, but all the h2o is super-hot steam, blown over the earth by gale force winds.
Eventually, this sea of lava cools down enough that a crust forms over it like the scum on a bowl of soup. mack: What the fuck is this? honest: Tuggeranong Parkway! Now keep driving upwards, this road will take us up the Black Mountain! mack: This is a forest! honest: Once, the Parkway was the avenue of royal chariots. malkin: When the crust on the outside of the earth cools down to about 350 degrees celcius, the steam starts to condense into rain.
All over the earth, huge rainstorms crash down. But the instant that rain hits those burning hot rocks, it boils right back up into the sky! Steam-planet, motherfuckers!
the black mountain tower – image by Amanda Graydon
the black mountain
There are waist high ferns and stumpy conifers to wade through. There is the murmur of dragonfly wings and the screech of centipedes. Off in the distance, though, there is a sound like a thin scream, a frequency you’re just on the edge of tuning into.
It’s the sound coming from the mountain. Really you can only see the base. The whole mountain is wreathed in mist and fog, moving all over it. Sliding all over it. And the steam and fog just reach up into the sky and meld with the clouds all through the city.
That’s a huge puzzle. That’s a tapestry of information woven out of particles of water vapour.
this is an Arthropleura and it is 2 metres long and was the dominant life on this planet for a long (too long) time
medicine eating song malkin: good old lullabye poison!
I hate to have to swallow you
I can feel the inside of my head
my brain my skull the blood the nerves
crumbling into sand
just do your job for as long as you’re supposed to work.
75 milligrams once every twelve hours?
don’t worry about stopping it
but hold as much of my brain together as you can
the only prayer I know is Fibonacci’s mack: I can’t stop thinking of ways in which I might die, might hurt myself. I’m in a spiral and the only prayer I know is Fibonacci’s. one. one. two. three. five. eight. thirteen. twenty one. thirty four. fifty five.
fifty five hour day mack: look at those clouds over to the east. they’re like sheets of blood. what’s making them so red? malkin: the sun’s coming up. lemme get the camera out. mack: in my school we learned 24 hour time. malkin: the day is fifty five hours long. mack: no it’s not, it can’t be. malkin: you were taught with the old clocks where you count to twelve twice and then the day is over. right? that because when those clocks were made the earth was rolling along in its orbit at a speedy speed of 24 hours per spin. but the spin is slowing down. the earth isn’t turning as quickly. these days we see the sun for 20 hours straight. it’s been pitch black night for nearly 25 hours now. mack: that’s not possible. honest: that’s gonna have to be possible. in about sixty seconds the sun is gonna come up and you’re gon have to stare at it for 30 hours straight. malkin: we now move in for a close up as Mack’s head explodes.
have you ever, like, kissed anyone? board-game girl: What do you want? Kisses? Do you want kisses? malkin: Driver awareness reconfiguring. mack: Sorry, what was that? honest: Mack, where are you turning? You’re turning the wrong way. I’m going to have to remove success points from your, your successing. board-game girl: Have you like, have you ever kissed anyone? mack: Yeah, kinda. I kissed Rosemary Barnes in Year 10. board-game girl: Are you serious? She’s such a bitch. mack: Yeah, she is a bitch. I think she was showing off. She did it all in front of her friends and they were all laughing. board-game girl: Was it nice? mack: It was all right. I don’t think she knows – ah, shit! What the fuck are you doing to me? Get out! Get out!
there is no protection honest: I think it’s messing with the blood in my streams. malkin: Of course it’s messing with the blood in your streams. board-game girl: Can you feel it, Mack? It’s knocking your molecules over one by one. mack: I don’t want to die. board-game girl: Why not? mack: Just because I don’t win awards or I don’t have a million friends doesn’t mean I need to – I have heaps of reasons to be alive! board-game girl: Downloading connec – connec – twenty one temperature degrees. Thirteen hours, Twenty one degrees – twenty one – honest: What are you doing to my blood? My fingernails are about to burn off the ends of my fingers! malkin: There is no protection. honest: Music. We need music, we need human – music – malkin: There is no protection. In this van that tumbles through this city that crumbles there is no protection. honest: Where are the cassettes? board-game girl: – temperature – thirty four
– degrees – cel –
thirteen hour –
discon – honest: My fingers are growing tongues!
feeling funny in my head, lord, I believe I’m fixin’ to die mack: Honest. honest: Shit! Mack? mack: Honest. You wanna play a tune? honest: You don’t look too well, Mack. mack: I wanna hear some good music, that’s my trouble. Why don’t you fix me up something twitchy? honest: I’ll see what I can do. mack: feelin’ funny in my head, lord,
I believe I’m fixin’ to die, fixin’ to die-
feelin’ funny in my head, lord,
I believe I’m fixin’ to die-
well I don’t mind dying
but I hate to see my children cry… board-game girl: How are you feeling, Mack? mack: I feel all right. I feel right. I feel like I’ve always been wrong. I’ve wanted the wrong things. I was wrong to try to pass my driving test. I was wrong to try to make my dad proud of me. I know what’s right – I’m a failure and that’s all right. It’s a very special kind of RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT! honest: Hey Mack, man, hey Mack the Mack Finch – are you going to die? mack: For sure! That’s where it’s at, man, that’s the only positive way forward!
Serious Theatre’s show was… Awesome. Director barb barnett took David Finnigan’s po-mo dystopia by its fractured, multi-voiced horns to create a live radio play that ticked all the boxes of compelling, original theatre. Five actors (Lloyd Allison-Young, Hanna Cormick, Raoul Craemer, Chris Lloyd and Virginia Savage) stood essentially still for 90 minutes as, through their different voices, they played out the story of seventeen year old Mack Finch, trying to take his driving test in a post-apocalyptic Canberra. Behind them, Gillian Schwab’s set sketched the broken bones of Canberra, a world dominated by steam and decay and monstrous things. Oceans all boiled into sky is what we hope for in theatre: every move, every change of the eerie light, every sound effect, every decision made by Barnett and her talented cast, contributed to the creation of a new world.
The Priest (Hanna Cormick) is probably one of the monstrous things dominating this world. image by ‘pling.
Have you ever had something important to do, and the night before was full of strange dreams – a playback of snapshots of what happened during the day? Then the dream had by Oceans Boiled Into Sky’s lead character Mack Finch surely was from watching B-grade sci-fi flicks and Fox News the night before taking his driving test. The resulting journey leads from the ‘peace and safety’ of the Dickson Motor Registry to a post-apocalyptic Canberra. Along for the ride in the Mitsubishi Starwagon is the audience, whose smiles and quizzical looks are prompted by expressive cast members and an overall quirky production.
Oceans Boiled Into Sky is a sci-fi black comedy, a 75-minute single act described in publicity as a ‘road-trip coming of age story.’ I’d describe it more of a realisation of consciousness, as we can’t escape our subconscious, it’s hiding in the steam and just when you think it has lifted, it just rains back down – the things we try to block, the other person you want to be.
Oceans Boiled Into Sky is not an A to B story, but one from E to T with bits of C thrown in. The play works well for a Canberra audience who would get the in-jokes and could picture giant creatures lurking about in the fog of Tuggeranong Parkway.
As soon as the yellow doors open on The Street Theatre’s, ‘Street Two’, the atmosphere is set for the unexpected. The wisp of steam fog floats above couches, chairs, crochet rugs and puzzles to create an intimate lounge atmosphere fronted by five microphones with a background of sheer fabric shrouding Black Mountain Tower and outlines of boiling rocks.
The set provided context to what playwright David Finnigan describes Oceans Boiled into Sky as a ‘post-apocalyptic Canberra somewhere in the distant future-past’. Huh? Well, exactly. Though, this confusion is what can be entertaining if you let yourself be taken along for the ride in the 1983 Mitsubishi Starwagon with 3 and a half characters. Half, because one is a ghost. The others are a Fox News-type newsreader with a split personality of a drill sergeant, a peculiar charismatic media-gigolo and a gangly teenage boy haunted by an unrequited love interest – the prim and proper chess starlet.
The characters begin their journey from a cave after being issued a mission by a priest (the Thatcheresque Hanna Cormick) to save the human race. Guerrilla fighters – tough Gwen Macklin and slick Honest Jon – are to be driven to ‘The Black Mountain’ via the Tuggeranong Parkway by ring-in driver, bewildered Mack Finch. Along the way, they must play cassette music to motivate them to fight off nasty steam creatures, one of whom they must eventually capture. Making sense? Not really, but that’s not the point. The characters switch between who they are and who they want to be, eventually finding the truth.
This diverse range of personalities and the complete bizarreness of the story comes from the highly creative mind of Finnigan, who was recently named the tied winner of the second heat of the Canberra leg of the 2008 Poetry Slam competition. The play itself was nominated in 2006 for the Max Afford Award, a national playwriting competition. He has worked on the script since 2005 and has recently brought it to the current iteration with director Barb Bennet who makes the most of the small space and embraces the constraints, by considering every minimal movement made by the actors, such as facial expressions and stances.
Overall each character was expressive and clear, bringing movement to a static situation whereby they flawlessly spoke their lines from a fixed place non-stop for 75 minutes. The furrowed brow and awkward stance of Mack Finch was exactly how gangly teenage boys angle themselves around girls, so that it adds to the cringe moments of chat-up lines involving ‘sh**house teachers’ and ‘parties that are sooo gay’.
The staunch bulldog pose by Gwen Malkin (Chris Lloyd) behind the microphone was an entire presence of stubbornness as she played ‘the strong one’ so common in road-trip storylines, switching seamlessly in her split role of documentary journalist to fearless commando.
As a balance to the seriousness was the deftly played Honest Jon by Raoul Craemer with his pretty-boy preening and suaveness; the equivalent of Fonzie from Happy Days combing his hair just so after levelling a baddie. He delivered the witty muddling lines with winsome charm that roused giggles and chuckles from the audience.
Maybe Lloyd Allison-Young as Mack Finch has really had an out-of-Canberra-Toto moment before, because he was just as contorted with confusion and fear as one could be – face twisted in worry and hands shaking in clenched fists as he drove the mighty Starwagon to their destiny, and his Ps.
Virginia Savage – the Board Game girl – intercepted the story in mysterious voice flashes until becoming her near-real character of a repressed goody-two-shoes teen weary with worldly expectations of her conquering the chess tournament circuit. Holding character in prim poses and sarcastic eye-rolling, she was believable as a teenage girl trying to deal with the inanity of teenage boys.
The nature of the production being in a form of radio play of course means that sounds and music play a significant role. The sound effects such as water dripping added atmosphere and context to the character’s location, while the music served to break the single stream of consciousness into steps up towards Black Mountain. Warwick Lynch and ANU School of Music Composition students compiled the effects and added pieces of composed music from Erika Ikenouchi whose funky beats, bleeps and beeps cause disconnection between real self and expected self. However, the noise got confusing at times with the music being too loud to hear the voice altering tunnel tools.
Gillian Schwab, who also did the set design, continued the multi-sense effects with the lighting design, which was very effective using different colours to show altered modes of the duel personalities/states of mind and provided visual context with the frantic screen sketches flashing from the projector onto a sliver of stage screen.
The highlights of the play were the well-acted one liners from Honest Jon and the part where Mack Finch cringed his way through chatting up Board Game Girl – the script so true to life it seemed lifted from an eavesdropping outside McDonalds on a Friday night.
While I had a smile on my face or quizzical look for most of the time, I felt the fast pace slacken around three quarters before reaching the climax, then the closely followed end. The confusion of each character’s purpose was a bit brain-draining. But then so too can be a Shakespeare play with all the Bottoms and Pucks and Oberons lurking about with their respective motives. Just go along for the ride in the sexy Starwagon and enjoy the groove of the funky music and frenetic scripting with the quirky Canberran characters.
raoul craemer as honest jon. ‘charismatic media-gigolo?’ I think so. photo by ‘pling.
Serious Theatre have presented an innovative work that integrates all aspects of text, sound, mulit-media and human sculpture into a pictures for the audiences imagination.
Writer, David Finnigan, says he was “creating obstacles and hazards to make the director and cast’s job as hard as possible” and writing “semi-unstageable battles”. This required considerable focus from all involved to create a finely crafted sound and visual sculpture that allows the audience to imagine things appearing as if from real life fragments and dreams. It means the reference points for the audience’s experience are drawn less from traditional theatre and more from the likes of “electronic musicians who use the sound of broken and decayed machinery to build a beautiful aesthetic”. Finnigan suggests Kid 606 as an influence.
At an historical moment where nothing is sacred and all is fragmented, Serious’s work is timely and appropriate. barb barnett has been exacting in drawing out sharp voices tuned to strong rhythmic qualities from the actors. The ensemble playing was a lesson for all performers. This was complemented by a superb sound track that intertwined with amplified voices to shape the imagery of the text. The slight measuring of the sound graphics to suit the characters’ voices added to the feel of a recording that could be listened to on headphones.
If the cast’s visual texturing of the moment wasn’t so compelling, one might have closed the eyes and let the sound wash over and around one’s head. Visuals were important and well used in a constrained way by the cast of five: Lloyd Allison-Young, Chris lloyd, Raoul Craemer, Virginia Savage and Hanna Cormick.
I was reminded of watching Jack Kerouac’s film The Subterraneans with its amazing Andre Previn sound track and quick dialogue. The writing of William Burroughs immediately comes to mind as well. Perhaps pertinent in a year where And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, an early novel by Kerouc and Burroughs has been published for the first time!
Virginia Savage plays the part of a pissed off teen prodigy at a crappy house party.
For a moment last night, in my panic at finding myself in a warm theatre, with no decent means of escape, as I felt the combined pressures of a beer-bloated bladder, hot feet, a dizzy spleen, sleep deprivation (only diverted from crankiness by the afore-mentioned beer consumption) and the strange sense that I had stumbled upon a joke that I would never get and of which I might be the butt, for a moment, I say, I thought I might pass out.
It was made worse because, at about minute 65, I distinctly remembered the conversation I enjoyed before the bell with the sound guy (the very enjoyable David O’Rourke) who assured me there was an interval during which we could continue our surprise reunion. This in contradiction to the advice I received from someone who attended opening night. If this is just the first half, how long can this thing go on I thought. And is that the smell of my own feet?
Luckily there were quite a few unshod feet in evidence (there being a carpeted and pillow-bedecked space at the front of the packed house where I was ensconsed), not quite enough to eradicate my concerns about people smelling mine and actually take off my shoes (which I was dying to do, and to lie down on the pillow which was mostly occupied by a lovely lady to my right) and I don’t even have particularly smelly feet…
Luckily again, the aforementioned sound guy was right about the interval but wrong about the show, he doing sound for The Idea of North next door and me seeing Oceans All Boiling Into Sky, the reading of which in our back yard caused a minor kerfuffle ten days ago or so.
With all these things buffeting my normally contented soul, I sat on a cushion in the smoky darkness and attempted to penetrate the many mysteries of ‘Oceans’. The first five minutes made no sense. The pace is ‘machine gun’, many times the cast talk over one another and there is music, adding, initially, to the aural confusion. There was also a perceptable low frequency feedback ring on Hanna Cormack’s mic making her short early addition to proceedings that bit more unintelligible. For a while I feared the tech would get in the way of the play. Wasted energy. The rest of the evening was crystal and nicely balanced. Cormack shed a tear during her brief appearance. I don’t believe it was scripted.
But really the problem is mine. I’m bad enough at listening to, say, a poem, read at normal speed in good listening conditions. Normally I’ll be three lines behind by halfway and just give in to the melifluousness of the sounds (or boredom), a pleasant enough experience if you’re being read to by a beautiful young woman while naked in a bath on ‘e’. But I’m not really ‘getting it’.
I guess I’m just retarded in that way. Even with a preview like I had, I was lost at first, but magically, around minute ten, as if the radio had finally been nicely tuned, the multi-streamed avalanche of jibberish, gobbledegook and hornswaggle gelled into a meaningful discourse that I could follow. Or at least part thereof. It’s a road trip, a nightmarish, Kafkaesque journey through both Canberra and the abysmal labrynth of a teenager’s mind.
The character of Mack, played by a real life teenager, is the perfect vehicle for young Lloyd Allison-Young. Plastic faced and fluid in transition from almost hammy angst to suave candour and blithe unaffectedness, Allison-Young proved that barely anyone has to have any idea what’s going on and the whole room can still be amused. The rest of the cast are excellent, at least to my untutored eye, coping well with a very demanding script, the equivalent, methinks, of playing lead fiddle in a Tchaikovsky symphony.
Raoul Cramer is suitably authoritarian and megalomaniacal, his movember moustache aiding the visual effect admirably. Chris Lloyd, as I’ve previously uttered, gives good female newsreader and effortlessly traverses her multiple characters, and dear Virginia Savage evokes a range of emotions, from lust as pure as the driven snow, to sorrow sweet as mother’s milk.
Laced with local geographical icons, ‘Oceans’ was, for this born and bred Canberran, like viewing the familiar haunts of the past through a fractured looking glass, each landmark a metaphor for something dark or seamy or sad. Are the monsters on Black Mountain the cultural imperialism of the mainstream media? Is Lake Burley Griffin death. Does it matter? Can you enjoy a play like you might a ride on a roller coaster? All sensation and no comprehension? Can you marvellously enjoy a guitar solo without understanding each nuance, every flattened 6th?
Apparently you can, because I did and didn’t (get every nuance). The two blokes in the pisser agreed with each other they had no clue what was happening. Sometimes the best stuff takes closer examination. Perhaps I should go again. This time I’m going early, getting a good posi, and taking my shoes off.
lloyd allison-young is mack the mack finch is dangerously throwing away his mack, mack. photo by ‘pling.
Last night I went with my friend to a performance of a play and it was a hoot. For the first time in a long time I enjoyed myself. I was captivated by the delivery and stunned by the fact that it was written about Canberra. I want to tell you about the doo but I don’t want to give it away. I did speak with the director after the production about the production and she agreed, well she didn’t seem to disagree with my assessment so I will tell you.
One first walks into a sixties type speakeasy, lounging around at tables, on lounges and on the floor. Five mics on stage, simple, five characters, one human, the others afflictions of the machinations of that individual. All in all this play deals with a very serious issue of mental illness and its reality and society’s reactions to it which, as you will discover, is to laugh at and be entertained by it. That is a good question. Why do we laugh at disfunctions? A most enjoyable and thought provoking play.
gwen malkin (chris lloyd) is disappointed in you, david. Sci-fi misfires. tsk, tsk, tsk.
Alanna Maclean, The Canberra Times
Thurs 4 Dec, 2008
Go into the Dickson Motor Registry for a driver’s test and you could end up in the hands of aliens, driving through a Canberra that is nothing like the one you know.
At least that seems to be what is happening in Oceans all boiled into sky…
Visually this production is challenging.
The five characters stand in front of a scrim and work to mikes on stands.
Elegant projections appear to one side.
Gradually, behind the scrim, a dark burned-out diorama of Black Mountain looms up, complete with a car driving up it and the tower.
The feeling is part graphic novel, part ancient science fiction radio show as Mack Finch (Lloyd Allison-Young) is kidnapped at the Dickson Motor Registry to serve the somewhat unclear aims of Gwen Malkin (Chris Lloyd) and Honest John (Raoul Craemer).
He finds an ally in the Board-Game Girl (Virginia Savage), despite the fact that she appears to be dead.
A wrecked Tuggeranong Parkway peopled by giant centipedes, dragonflies and spiders makes getting up Black Mountain to capture some cloud creatures difficult and Lake Burley-Griffin is as dry as the boiled-dry oceans of this post-disaster world.
However, despite the splendid set design (Gillian Schwab), Erika Ikenouchi and Warwick Lynch’s disturbing sound scape and some hard work by the performers, it is hard to grasp what drives this show.
David Finnigan’s script is poetic and occasionally funny but it all seems a little aimless and lacking in tension.
Yet it is good to see a Canberra playwright turn places we know into an alternative universe that draws on memories of the bushfires to call up an image of the city in decay.
And the little dialogues between Finch and the Board-Game Girl about school and relationships are so coolly done by Allison-Young and Savage they ring true and local.
Being very well disposed towards the various worlds of science fiction and knowing the power of fantasy genres I found myself wanting it all to mean much more.
oceans all boiled into sky
or, we welcome the future because we have no choice
design by gillian schwab. photo by ‘pling.
A play for the men and women of the planet.
Oceans all boiled into sky is a road trip / coming of age story set in the nation’s capital after the Earth’s oceans have boiled into clouds of steam. Year 11 student Mack Finch is preparing for his driving test when he is kidnapped by a priest and co-opted into a desperate band of guerillas. Instead of showing off his parallel parking, Mack finds himself driving a reckless team of commandos on a do-or-die mission into the heart of Canberra’s fog-shrouded ruins. To attain his P plates, Mack must not only face the horrors of the steam-apocalypse; he must face his own feelings for the girl who rejected him at the Year 10 Formal.
Oceans traces Mack’s journey from the dragonfly-plagued jungle of the Tuggeranong Parkway to the terrifying heights of The Black Mountain, with a jiving soundtrack of the most music music music that there is! Direct from the Panasonic tapedeck of a 1983 Mitsubishi Starwagon: music for battle, music for travel, music to soundtrack a hot young commando outfit striking out into the ruins of Canberra!
if you want to, you are welcome to have, read and produce Oceans all boiled into sky (MS Word document format). The only caveat I’d insert is that if you want to produce it, or any of it, or all of it several times in quick succession, just give me an email and let me know so I can get excited.
chris lloyd is hot commando soldier-scientist and film-maker gwen malkin
Serious Theatre’s November 2008 production of Oceans all boiled into sky was the finale of the Street Theatre’s Made in Canberra season. Director barb barnett and a squadron of phenomenal actors, musicians and designers transformed the Street Theatre into the living-room you remember from the 1950s, where you and your family would gather after tea to hear the latest radio-play broadcast over the wireless. Over four sold-out performances, audiences curled up on couches and cushions with their loved ones to relive the ecstacy of those days with this all-live radio-drama.
Just been rereading Jeff Noon’s 2001 manifesto ‘How to make a modern novel’. This essay and Noon’s work in general, has been a massive influence on me since my brother Tom first loaned me a copy of Vurt in 1997.
Sometimes I even forget how much my work has been shaped by his. Looking over the Manifesto again, I’m struck by how many of Noon’s precepts have been incorporated into my work. Discussing a record by Richie Hawtin:
‘The CD consists of 38 pieces of music, played on a number of turntables, with two or three records being played simultaneously. Hawtin includes a diagram on the CD’s sleeve, which depicts where each record begins and ends. With this in mind, we could use Richie Hawtin’s CD as the template for a novel. We need to create 38 stories, which then blend into each other using the CD’s diagram as a guide. As one story comes to an end, another story, or two other stories, are mixed into it. These new stories are then carried on, until further stories are added to the mix.
Hawtin will return to the same record twice, or to a different remix of the record; we can use this technique to allow our various stories to reappear at different places in the narrative. There are no rules, only opportunities. Above all, imagine the pleasure gained from following the various stories through the mix.’
This is the exact route through which a lot of my work has come about. Always and all the time, creating tiny short fragments of writing – scraps of conversation, settings, characters, story arcs, anything. Then, whenever a larger work needs to come about, grab a selection of these pieces (the more disparate the better) and drop them in one place.
Now, how will these pieces fit together? Most of the time, they won’t. Any sort of coherent thread linking the fragments at this stage is an unlikely bonus. Nevertheless, find some links, somewhere, between some of the pieces. Put two different speeches in the mouth of one character, place two disconnected events in the same setting at the same time. When you’ve aggregated together some larger chunks, you can start hunting for the threads that will hold it together – and noting which pieces still don’t fit, no matter what you do to connect them.
Originally, I used to do this other writers’ words – again, borrowing from Noon’s lead. However, where Noon’s transformations left his source material utterly transformed, my pieces often ended up as pastiches of other people’s work – in music terms, more like a CD compilation than a proper DJ set. This was the criticism behind my 2003 play w3 w3lcome the future (actually, there were many and varied criticisms of w3w3, but that’s the one that I think was most relevant).
The one occasion where this sampling and remixing really came into its own was the frozen shape collective’s Chosei: Eternal Life (2002). The collective in question was myself, Nick McCorriston and David Shaw, and the show was produced by Opiate Productions as part of a double-bill with an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The System of Dr Tarr and Professor Fether. Nick, Muttley and I each contributed a short story to the mix (with additional material donated by Emma Markala), and we attempted to gather them into one coherent whole.
Brian W. Aldiss – Swastika! Greg Egan – Axiomatic Anton Chekhov – Death of a Clerk Jeff Noon – Homo Kareoke Ted Chiang – 72 Letters Tibor Fischer – A Portrait of the Artist as a Flaming Deathmonger
Chosei went through a huge range of incarnations in the space of a very few weeks, finally settling upon an idea which to this day I can’t determine the origin of: set in 1953 in an old Soviet prison camp in the wilds of Siberia, Jewish scientist/mystic John Genius has been employed by Stalin to prophecy the future of the USSR. Genius’ method is to use the re-animated semen of Adolf Hitler, collected from two ejaculations of the Fuhrer in 1927 and in1945. The two different batches of sperm produce different variants on Hitler, which are kept under control by Genius by use of Kabbalistic magic (precisely formulated magical instructions imprinted on the back of their necks), and forced to face one another in endless games of Go, which Genius analyses to interpret the future of Russia.
Chosei is something we are all fairly proud of – whatever else you can say about it, it was original in its own happy way.
More recently, the mix CD process has been behind the formulation of my spoken word pieces. The current piece I’m working on: god is a renegade (for performance at This Is Not Art on September 29) has been gathered together out of scraps from play scripts (The North Sea, Weasel and Brown on the Beach), conversations with friends (duels to the death, prostitute confessional) and other poems (Platypus Fever). The linking narrative has grown out of some words I found in a folder of some old word documents:
‘We know that God has a variety of different personas that he adopts. That he adopts because certain activities require a particular personality, or because he simply likes one or two attitudes more than others at particular points. We know that the most common persona he adopts is that of a harried resistance fighter, a sort of covert soldier who is constantly under attack and/or surveillance, and is always nervous and never at rest.’
Another of Noon’s tricks was to publish a Discography of his novel Needle in the Groove. These were the artists and albums he was listening to while creating the work, and music and rhythm being such a central aspect of Noon’s writing, he elected to highlight them. Whether influenced by Noon or not, I think it’s fair to say that certain musics, texts and movies have been significant factors in the creation of all my works. I would love to acknowledge and give props to as many of these musics as I can think of (without in any way blaming them for the work that resulted thereby). This will be my page of sources.
A short play in which a hangman (a particular kind of hangman) named Can I arrives at a casino to carry out a sentence on a noble-born lady named Littul. Although Can I tries to make the process as pleasant as possible, Littul is not reconciled to the judgment attached to her crime.
…in the dark rain over the flood
cowering in the last branches…
There are 12 stage directions in the play. They appear in the order: casino
You should definitely think about changing around the order that these occur in.
in the last branches
Can I: I can do it I can do it because I want to do it – it’s for you!
Can I: yes that’s it that’s definitely it, that’s it ready to run out and go.
Can I: No definitely, definitely, completely. All there, all there, everything ready. Noose, yes. Noose, yes. All the pieces here, yes. Noose, yes. All the pieces here and I’m here because
But I’m so glorious! So dazzling! I knock you to the ground with power!
You’re still going to swing.
But I have everything here for you, I have all the bits you were ever missing in your life here for you in this small grey pouch here for you!
You’re still going to swing.
But you’re sorry for me! I’m a speck in your flood. I’m a little broken mote floating across your eyeball. I’m not big enough to even –
You’re still going to swing.
even to –
You’re still going to swing.
But I can outwit you and trick you. I can choke you and stomp on your throat and trick you and stick you.
You’re still going
But you already –
I did already swing.
You already swung.
But you’re still going to swing. Finished? There you see I out-debate your every point. It’s easy because I can do it because I want to do it – it’s for you.
Littul: WHO’S TOUCHING ME?
You dirty maimed dog! You put your paws on me? My dogs will tear out your arms by the roots! Croupier, slice this vagrant in half! You don’t interrupt me during a game. You don’t touch me without permission.
Can I: May I touch you?
Littul: I know what you are. I know what you’ve got. You don’t dare come for me.
Can I: I’m here.
Littul: If you try to give it to me they’ll take you apart. My old chamberlain, his son now works for the Head of the Guard. I can have you arrested, have your face underwater in a tank before you get as far as the gates.
Can I: I didn’t realise that.
Littul: I’ve got friends in every hand of the Administration and just even for the damage you’ve done already, coming in and insulting me in front of these people, they’ll punish you, just even for, just even for interrupting me in the middle of – in the middle of –
Can I: Were you winning?
Littul: They’ll know who it came from, it’ll have your fingerprints all over it, your every prints, and they’ll drop you in a hole – there’s people in every hand of the government, I have birds on every feather of every wing of – adminis – they’ll know who it’s from, and you’ll – you’ll die sucking gravel at the bottom of a well if you touch your skin to my skin –
Can I: Maybe. You’re still going to swing. Now what do you want me to wear?
Can I: Colours. What colour should I dress in?
Littul: Silver. Black. Wings. It doesn’t matter.
Can I: It always matters! I can take from your clothes if you like, or I have a bag full of different outfits. What colour turns you on?
Can I: Transparent? I have a dress in here transparented. Do you like that? You like baby blue?
Littul: Do you think you’re going to – right here? You think you can just pass it to me in the middle of a casino?
Can I: You knew I was coming. You could have run and been halfway across the rivers by now. Didn’t have to come here.
Littul: How do you think you can get away with it in front of all these people? Everyone here knows who you are. They know what you’re carrying. Everyone knows what this woman is, don’t you?
Can I: Yes they do.
Littul: No shame! This woman, not ashamed to walk into a casino, to walk right into the middle of a game and grab a victim. Why should she be ashamed? Look at her! Standing here wrapped in rags with her bare feet and hair washed in a river, what’s she got to be ashamed of? Standing there as if none of you know why she’s here –
Can I: -they know why I’m here.
Littul: You should have brought an escort of guards and knocked on my door in the morning, instead of coming here by yourself. Shouldn’t have shown everyone your face.
Can I: Maybe not. You’re still going to swing.
Littul: Doing yourself up like a hermit with a noose – why don’t you wear a hood and carry an axe?
Can I: You’re trying to shame me in front of these sad pissheads? Hangman wears a hood cause she’s scared of being recognised. I take responsibility for every head I ever put through a noose, but I don’t feel – I don’t feel – You sour animals, on the other hand – all you behind the poker machines and you creatures behind the bar – you’re glowing with guilt and fear. I might have been coming for any one of you. There might still be someone coming for you, on their way right now. If this woman deserves to swing, so does every one of you. Do they know what you did?
Littul: …might have guessed.
Can I: They’ve done worse than you. They’ve all got something following them. Who knows when it’s going to catch up, but they know it’s on its way. They’re watching us now because they want to know what it looks like when it gets here. Pay attention, all of you! This is how it happens. One of us – maybe me – comes for you especially. All for you. This lady can dress me how she likes, have me whatever way she wants. This arm, think of this arm wrapped around you – look at my legs – think of these legs wrapped however you want them – my face, my mouth, saying whatever you want to hear…. Or are you scared to look at me?
Can I: Now what do want me to wear? Any outfit, any costume – if you have something in your wardrobe, I’ll wear it. What do you like?
Can I: You want me nude? Is that what you like?
Littul: Only I’m not turned on right now.
Can I: That’s okay. That’s okay. Naked’s fine, I can do that.
Can I: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you then. Just watch me. Eyes open, keep your eyes on me. Just relax. Watch my shoulders.
Littul: You’re not attractive.
Can I: I’m sorry, I know – that’s why the outfits.
Littul: I don’t mean – I mean, I’m not into…
Can I: I know. I knew you were straight. I mean I knew about your – I knew about Rory, so I figured. Even so I can make it good for you. I can make you sing. Even when – I can make you sing.
Littul: You can be bribed, can’t you? You’ve been bribed before.
Can I: Not for money.
Littul: No, not money. A hunk of meat or a puff on a cigarette, maybe, yes? No? What about a job?
Can I: A job?
Littul: A job, that’s right. In my gardens. Shade from the sun all day and then a meal at night. And sleeping out of the wind.
Can I: Sleeping?
Littul: Out of the wind. A little nest in the garden with dirt piled up and soft grass inside it. Out of the wind. And food, and a pair of shoes, and no more sleeping in trees to keep out of the lion’s reach. A place to sleep. Do you want it?
Can I: How can you –
Littul: Yes. I can. I have moneys. I have – I pay – I move you creatures through my gardens like pieces on a board.
Can I: Used to.
Littul: Still! I have money still!
Can I: Even if you still did –
Littul: I do! I move you creatures through my gardens like pieces on a board!
Can I: You’re still going to swing. How do you want me to touch you? Like this?
Littul: That’s why I came here tonight. I was going to win enough to buy you off with.
Can I: Touch you here… How does that feel?
Littul: No, Rory touched me – I had seven dollars and now they have it. They gave me one of those bones with nothing on it.
Can I: Where did Rory touch you?
Littul: If I’d kept hold of that money – the rivers, the dolphins in the rivers – no, not there, don’t – don’t – I could have afforded to keep him.
Can I: Maybe you wouldn’t have kept him even then.
Littul: I wouldn’t have done it if I could have afforded – if he hadn’t gotten expensive – don’t. Don’t.
Can I: Please don’t plead. Please relax.
Littul: It was a mistake. It was a mistake. I don’t know what it was. I didn’t think it would do this much damage –
Can I: Don’t jerk your head.
Littul: It’s not fair punishment. I didn’t have anything to do with it, I didn’t untie it – I can’t untie anything. This is not – it’s not – not compassionate – it’s not –
Can I: Please, please don’t panic. It’s scary, it is scary. But I want it to be nice as well. Help me.
Littul: Why do you want to make it good for me?
Can I: Because it was bad for me.
Can I: When you were sentenced, when they announced what you’d done, I asked for this. I wanted to be the one that swings you. I thought you should – I want to make you sing. What did Rory do? What you want, I want to do that for you.
Littul: What I want?
Can I: I’m here for you. Whatever makes you feel, whatever makes you shiver in the base of your belly.
Littul: Your breath.
Can I: My…
Littul: Hold your breath.
Can I: Is that what Rory did – what you enjoy?
Littul: Hold your breath. Yes. And I’ll tell you what I enjoy.
Littul: Keep going, that’s right. This is what I like. Lie back. I need to be on top. And you have to hold my hands – take my hands in your hands – lie back, I’m going to sit on your stomach, keep your breath in – now, take my hands and lay them on your throat. This is what Rory did for me, and he used to drag my fingernails down his windpipe as well. Hold your breath – keep holding. And he rested his arms at his sides. He rested his arms at his sides. He laid his hands on the ground. Hands – yes, hands on the ground. This is what I like.
Littul: You plague-bearing bitch! You asked for – you let them poison every cell in your body and then you sign up to keep spreading it – you requested me? You requested me? You –
Can I: You’re still going to swing.
Littul: You’re going to choke, you horrible bitch! We’re going to cover you in chalk and bury you in the mud! You –
Can I: I’ve got your eyelid. Feel that?
Can I: And I’ve got your tongue, and I could pull it right out of your head before you bite down on my fingers. Feel that?
Can I: So take your hands off my throat.
Can I: All you animals on the edges, I can see you. I’m memorising your faces. You want to be stepping back behind your pokies, behind your bar, behind that roulette wheel. Or maybe you want to keep coming closer. What do you think?
…my throat is burning. That was stupid. That was stupid of me, that was stupid of you. You’re trying to turn this into torture, and it doesn’t have to be. My throat is killing me, I need an orange.
Can I: Want an orange? Okay, well you can have a piece of this if you change your mind. Tell me, how was that ever going to work?
Littul: I can’t even imagine what it must be like in your head. That you can bring yourself to do this over and over again – your brain must be stewing with river mud and razorblades. I mean it’s a horrible thing that you had to swing, but you’re a poison sadist for volunteering to pass it on. …Can I have a bit of that orange?
Can I: Here you go.
Littul: When did you request me? When Rory was… gave them my name?
Can I: Tortured. You can say it, it’s not a secret.
Littul: He never even said my name to me, not as long as I remember. He called me – he called me – but he never said my name, not to me. I half thought he didn’t know my name. I never told him not to call me by my name, but he never – I don’t remember him ever using it…
Can I: Of all the throats going through the noose, yours deserves to sing. I want – I want to – give that to you. But – listen, don’t go down into yourself, listen to me – they are going to have you. There are no one in a thousand chances. You’re going through the rope. But I swear
I promise you
I can make it good.
I can make it sweet and soft and you moaning and sobbing and your face like a bird struck with lightning
I can hold you there
hook you and dangle you with one little finger inside
can make you scream and shake yourself into a whole new world shredded together out of orgasm paper –
I want to. I want to.
Littul: How long does it take?
Can I: Don’t know. Some people, a few hours. Sometimes a lot longer.
Can I: Me? Four months ago.
Littul: What did you do?
Can I: Nothing as righteous as you. You should be proud.
Littul: I should have known better.
Can I: You knew – you knew –
They said ‘She’s deliberately set loose a saboteur in the system.’
They said ‘She’s jettisoned a valuable commodity in order to deliver it to its own savagery’ (they said).
They said ‘She’s angry because she has to give a good hard cock away in spits and shackles.’
‘Her family (they said) once was a Family – now one decaying lady and a couple of barely sapient cousins crawling around a shrunken garden –
‘No workers (they said) no servants no soldiers no human flesh to rise on the back of, and all she feels now is anger (they said) and only anger because she can’t afford dresses to sweep the floor at every function, can’t sponsor every expedition and have her name inscribed on every raft that pushes past the waves –
‘She feels hatred because of how little she has left (they said) and so she’s deliberately set loose a saboteur in the system.’
I thought you were a woman risen above her own lies.
You untied the knot. Why should you, of anyone who has ever swung, why do you have to shake and quiver and burn up piece by piece? What for? You earned a sweet farewell and to trickle through the loop in a daze of orgasms.
Littul: It was the way he looked – the start of it was – his legs looked – I thought they’d – when they moved – I thought they were running – I didn’t think – and how he smelled, how he smelled when I found him – very very cheap back then he was very very cheap back then he got more expensive as he got – his voice for starters, it was breaking and cracking, but when he got his man’s voice he sounded beautiful – his voice in my hair – his voice in my hair – he never said my name, he called me – he called me – his voice in my garden and the wind over trees – wind over the fence in the dark – I thought he’d keep quiet – I thought he’d slip under – he had strong arms I thought he’d swim – cross the rivers, or sneak through the swamp – he was out of my reach I thought – out of everyone’s reach I thought – it was the way his legs looked – moving – his legs moving –
Can I: Tell me.
Littul: I thought he might stay – even after I untied the knot I was waiting for him to say – maybe I won’t go – maybe I’ll stay –
Can I: He was grateful.
Littul: He was tortured.
Can I: He was grateful. Even when they started on him he was grateful. He looked up at the roof and said no thing but he looked up at the roof and somewhere he was still gripping you –
Littul: He gripped me –
Can I: Tell me.
Littul: He laced his hands behind my head and put his face – his face down on me – you’re not – you’re not –
Can I: Shut your eyes – his face –
Littul: His face down on me – and his tongue – climbing – to the light –
Can I: to the –
Littul: to the light – but you don’t smell – you don’t smell like him – no –
Can I: No, let me – his smell, let – no, don’t – his smell –
Littul: bleach – and dirt – and wind, and cold, and rust from old chains – and his knee between my legs – and his fingers digging into my wrists – climbing –
Can I: climbing –
Littul: to the light – to the light –
Can I: lie back – part you – you
Littul: don’t – don’t – you don’t sound – you don’t sound –
Can I: his voice –
Littul: not his voice, his breath – in my ear, on my cheek – he called me – all over my mouth, he called me – and his tongue – and his fingers climbing – his nails in my wrists – climbing to the light – to the light –
Can I: and his fingers –
Littul: and the dirt against my back – and the grass – against my – he called me – you – you –
Can I: I can make you sing –
Littul on the grass – on the grass on the dirt –
Can I sing –
So: three reviews of Hate Restaurants from the Labfest performances. Three out of three of them politely, objectively and definitively destroy it. I can’t say I blame them – without trying to wriggle out of anything, Hate Restaurants is a piece I wrote more than 6 years ago, and I honestly believe that I’m better than that now. Nevertheless, as much as I’d like to disassociate myself from the bad press, these three reviewers have done me the courtesy of engaging with the work and I am honoured and grateful enough to want to respond.
Pregg and I agreed that the weakest play to us was Hate Restaurants. I did not empathize with any of the eccentric characters in the play (except maybe the chubby girl who had an amazing way of laughing during her short scene). There is no connection with me, so that I could have felt what they were feeling. Is it because it was written in English by an Australian? Or is it because the layers of characterization and ironies of the cast were unclear to me? Or maybe, I just did not get it.
Much as I’d love to say ‘You didn’t get it because it was written in English by an Australian’, the truth is that you didn’t get it because there’s nothing really to get. There are no layers of characterization and irony, clear or otherwise.
In a world that inadvertently drives everyone to insanity, holding on to that precious strand of normalcy can be pretty challenging, disregarding, of course, the fact that even the very definition of normalcy is also open to question. In the play Hate Restaurants by Australian playwright David Finnigan, the predicament of the character Toby as she confronts all the characters who are in the verge of dementia or already enmeshed within its webs plays the central theme.
I was honestly unable to comprehend at first the direction the play is heading during the first few minutes. I thought I was being led to expect something close to a deconstructionist, structuralist, or simply a surreal theatrical presentation that will go into the dangerous waters of exaggerated profundity, an act too perilous as to try to be more intelligent than the audience, considering that first and foremost art must be enjoyed, not to be dissected as if it is a piece of cadaver awaiting for an autopsy.
In all fairness, I think I should point out that I never intended Hate Restaurants to try to be more intelligent than the audience. I did hope that an audience would enjoy it rather than dissect it, but if a piece of theatre dies on stage, it’s entirely appropriate to perform an autopsy to figure out why; and Recabar is certainly thorough.
But as the play progressed, in fact it is rather long, an hour based on my estimate, the characters are allowed to unveil their true identities and there under the glaring spotlight the character’s static identities are exposed. Each has his or her simple cartoonish complexities, each representing a kind or personality devoid of any possibility to develop into a mature character that the audience can sympathize with; each is placed inside a box, and remains boxed until the play’s conclusion.
Simply put, each of them seems to represent a specific mental illness in a psych ward. A class reunion of used-to-be-patients of mental institution showing some recurring symptoms of their illnesses every now and then – the bipolar Toby, Cyclothymic Lucille, mildly autistic Billy suffering from episodic hypomania, schizoid (or simply inebriated) Louise, anorexic leader of the Little Friends of Science, and the probably-bulimic assistant to the leader of the Little Friends of Science.
Not to belabor the point, all the characters lack pathos and poignancy.
This is the crux of the review, and the key failure of the script. I don’t mind characters with ‘cartoonish complexities’ that are ‘devoid of any possibility to develop’, but the point is that if your characters are completely 2-dimensional, they’d better be so sparklingly hilarious that the audience doesn’t mind the lack of depth. Not to belabor the point, the characters in Hate Restaurants are not sparklingly hilarious.
A friend pointed out that the reason of its complexity is the fact that it has a middle-class sensibility, the members of this class being more psychologically complicated than the rest of the population. But it’s quite hard for me to agree with this view simply because all of the characters, except for the members of the Little Friends of Science that transcend class categorization, are members of the working class. In fact all of them are overworked, including the owner of the restaurant Lucille, a fact that can explain the absurdity of their actions. Moreover, this play, written by an Australian using his country’s realities as a vantage point, is simply too detached from an Aussie middle class experience.
The class reading of this is interesting, and probably the closest I came to actively reflecting my country’s realities in the play. I would suggest that two of the characters (the chef and the kitchen-hand) are working class and the other two (the waiter and waitress) are dilettante members of the middle-class (both are underachieving university students). Beyond that, I’m curious as to how Recabar feels the play is ‘too detached from an Aussie middle class experience’.
It is a complexity that went out of control, I believe. For a one-act play, the characterization fails to support the apparent simplicity of the plot. It is too much of this that made the play seems bloated and the audience, as a result, became incontinent by the play’s end.
Allow me to concur that nearly an hour is too long a running time for this piece, which should be a brisk 30-40 minute comic sketch at most.
My professor in Literature, Dr. Leoncio Deriada, in UP once mentioned in our class that incomprehensibility does not make a piece of work inferior. I beg to differ. Oh I failed to mention, Billy the Rat, has the most profound character development in the story; from a lowly, decapitated, big, black rat to a cute, docile looking rodent in the end.
And let me confess that Billy the Rat’s development from decapitated rat to docile rodent is not in the script; the most profound character arc in the play is the work of director J Victor Villareal and co.
Hate Restaurants is a play I love and hate at the same time because it unintentionally gives a glimpse of how the Filipino conyotic and burgis (read those nakaka-asar-as-in-grabeh- guys from Ateneo, La Salle, and College of Business Administration in UP) probably think and act, which is stupidly funny and offensive at the same time. I love it because I’ve many friends whose real life tragedies and dramas revolve around their crazy officemates. I hate it because, shit, they seem to live in Mars and not in the Philippines where many people’s daily problems are getting hungry, sick, and being oppressed/exploited. The play is utterly devoid of issues such as poverty or corruption in the country. It’s about weird middle class people in weird middle class situations with weird cults driving every possible normal person/place under its dominion. The characters speak in English in the accent of the conyotic yuppies in Makati. The setting is in a restaurant that could be somewhere in Makati, Ortigas, Manhattan, San Francisco, who cares! It doesn’t matter, because they’re all urbanites with urban concerns and urban sense of paranoia.
Plot: very sane cute girl works as a chef in a restaurant that is owned by very insane woman who’s madly in love with her insane and supercilious macho but nerdy-looking chef employee who himself hates everyone in his workplace, especially this other insane and sadako-looking manager-employee. One day, restaurant is invaded by people from friends of science cult who look like haughty Makati office girls and who don’t eat flour, only barley. Each person from the restaurant is eventually converted to the friends of science, and sane cute girl uses flour with all her might to defend herself from these mad people. There is another character in the play, the mouse, who is beheaded and who in the end reappears to kill his butcher.
(Side note: this plot synopsis is the best thing in the world and this is how I’m describing the play from now on if anyone asks.)
Okay, so this is probably satire, or making fun of the often weird-acting and weird-looking city people. I love the way the play concerns itself with the neurosis of the middle class, their issues with co-employees, officemates, boss, and other people who have a world of their own. For this play to be shown to a middle class audience who probably share the dilemmas of the characters in the play but who live in a third world country is so… perfect! In one level, I can clearly relate with the problems of the sane cute girl and I can identify people I know who are exactly like the weird neurotic characters in the play. In another level, because the play does not tell me where it is set or does not even attempt to make a statement about glaring issues about poverty or corruption – clearly the “real” truths about the place where I live – I feel alienated by the play. It’s as if it doesn’t give a shit about theater’s moral obligation (is there?) to address gripping issues that affect/afflict its audience. In this sense, it’s very academic. It doesn’t have a political view or leaning to preach to its audience, it just presents the lives of a composite group – the middle class – and its sensibilities.
But Filipino middle class are nuanced by the ever present face of poverty. Who doesn’t have a yaya who’s poor or a driver whose family lives in the squatter’s area? And from what I’ve studied in college, middle class Filipinos do not necessarily have Western middle class sensibilities or culture capital (yes, after Bourdieu). In short, a Filipino chef who may live in a condo unit in The Fort and drives a Honda may have different values and concerns compared to his contemporaries in Sydney or London. She may probably have poor relatives, or parents totally dependent on her, or she may be sending several siblings to school. The play is therefore actually very alienating even to middle class Filipinos, except maybe to those few who come from Ateneo or La Salle, grew up in gated communities, chauffeured to “safe” places in Metro Manila, and whose idea of poverty is getting a second-hand iPod instead of a brand new.
This is a criticism that I could never have anticipated, and one which I don’t think I can defend against. Hate Restaurants was a vitriolic piece of scorn directed at the miserable world of restaurant-servitude, written when I was 19 between midnight and 5am when I had to leave to start my breakfast shift at the Pancake Parlour. I didn’t and I don’t believe that theatre has a moral obligation to (consciously) address issues relating to its audience, but I believe that a well-written play will naturally reflect and shed light on these issues. Hate Restaurants is not a well-written play; let’s get that out of the way straight away. But if it had been well-written, would it still have alienated its Labfest audience? Could the script have been changed in some way to reflect the values and concerns of Filipino restauranteurs, or was it doomed to sit uncomfortably in a Manila festival no matter what was done to it?
Part of me would love to be able to palm the responsibility for the play’s failure to connect on the difficulties of translating an Australian work into the Philippines milieu. A larger part of me is convinced that it could have connected with its audience if I’d done something different; I’m just not sure what.