Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Article - Request Programme (Metro, SMH)

"What's My Line Again?"



In January Sydney Theatre Company's "Wharf2LOUD" attempted to live up to it’s manifesto of creating interesting cutting edge theatre by staging a play without punctuation (Dissident, Goes Without Saying), now they take it one step further with "Request Programme," a play without any dialogue whatsoever.

Metro asked Wharf2LOUD Director Brendan Cowell if there's something wrong with his grammar-check.

"We're trying to guarantee our audience a new theatrical experience every time they come here, and we can guarantee that nobody has ever seen anything like this before; it goes for one hour, it's got one woman in it, and she doesn't say a thing, and it's absolutely compelling."

Brendan discovered the play, written in the 70s by Bavaria's leading playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz, while in Berlin in 2003.

"I saw a production of it and immediately began to build one in my head because I thought this was one of the most chilling evenings I'd ever had in the theatre, I was really shaken up after it. But I also thought they got it a little bit wrong. Then I started thinking about it in context of Sydney."

Hence Kroetz's Bavarian heroine has become Ms Emma Swift, and the stage now an Edgecliff flat. She never says anything, but she does everything a women living alone might do, including go to the toilet, use 'feminine deodorant,' and, most importantly, listen to her favourite radio request programme.

"There's three characters in the play; her, her flat, and the radio programme,” Cowell says. “They feed off each other. I don't think [the play's] ever been so pertinent - we're getting so brilliant at being on our own, we all live in these one bedroom apartments right next to each other with our own little lives, "

Emma is portrayed by Suzi Dougherty in her first one woman show.

"In Germany every leading female actor wants to play this role, that's why it's performed so much,” Dougherty says. “It's the kind of play you could see a few times and get different things out of."

Dougherty’s challenge is to flesh out the character solely through her actions.

"It's about the ordinary,” she says. “The sum of the ordinary actions equals the extraordinary event that happens."

Extraordinary, says Cowell, because on this day something is different.

"Tonight she's holding herself up against a few things, which is a potentially dangerous thing to do."

Kroetz intended the audience discover something of themselves through Emma's un-self-conscious actions.

"When you're on your own you behave in a more primitive fashion,” Cowell says. “We're like animals when we're on our own - we feed ourselves, we shit, we listen. You start projecting your own emotions, fragilities and neuroses onto [Emma], that's the genius of the play: it's about us."

Kroetz's extreme-realist plays have caused controversy before. In 1970 when a Munich theatre was put under police protection after violent audience reactions to Stubborn and Working At Home which featured masturbation, attempted abortion and a child murder on stage. Three years later he was Germany's most produced living playwright.

The radio request programme of the title is based upon "Your Request," a Bavarian "Love Song Dedications" of the 70s, currently being updated and localised by Cowell and Sound Designer Basil Hogios.

Hogios: "We had discussions about the whole series of songs mapping the story, having highs and lows."

"They're all love songs," explains Cowell as a Leonard Cohen number floats across the rehearsal studio.

No Slayer then?

"I did suggest some Iron Maiden," says Hogios.

Perhaps a Leonard Cohen cover of Maiden?

"We do have an interesting cover," says Cowell.

Hogios: "We can't mention it yet, but it's a cover of a famous Australian song by a female and turned into a love ballad."

Finally, Mariah Carey's Khe Sahn - only to be played when nobody's watching.


(originally appeared in Sydney Morning Herald, May 26 2006.)

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