Friday, October 23, 2009

“The tabloid trap”

Absurd ... Bliss intertwines fantasy with the mundane world.
Photo: Edwina Edp

Benito Di Fonzo
Sydney Morning Herald, October 22, 2009

French-Canadian playwright Olivier Choiniere's Blisstakes us into the tabloid-fuelled minds of four shopping centre employees. Like the pages of a trashy mag, it juxtaposes their obsession with Quebecois chanteuse Celine Dion against the tragedy of a crippled girl beaten by her father. Blissdoes this in a heightened world – it is in turns a serious social commentary and blackly comic theatre of the absurd.

The director of the Australian premiere, Shannon Murphy, says: “What really drew me to it is that even though it is so incredibly dark there's actually a lot of humour in it, some of it disturbing and some just outright funny.”

Much of the story emerges from the mind of character the Oracle (Krew Boylan).

“We are actually watching the production through her mind. In a way the Oracle is the Celine Dion character in the sense that she moves from being the girl at the supermarket to being Celine Dion who becomes the victim because she has the miscarriage who then becomes the daughter who the family come to visit, which then becomes a domestic violence case who then . . . ” Murphy says, before trailing off into laughter.

Boylan, along with Libby Fleming, Simon Corfield and Matt Hardie, portrays the characters in the real and imagined worlds of the play.

“My job is to work hard at creating as much clarity within the piece as possible,” Murphy says.

Murphy is no stranger to controversial productions – her shows My Name is Rachel Corrie and Age of Consent dealt in turn with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Jamie Bulger murderers. Murphy believes that, though never purposefully courting controversy, her non-conventional choices stem from being born in apartheid South Africa and growing up in Hong Kong during the Tiananmen Square riots.

“These things have really informed what I do and I believe that I pick stories that do make a bit of an impact,” she says.

Bliss uses its bizarre narrative form to examine a cult of celebrity where, Murphy believes, the turns and travails of celebrities carry too much weight in our lives.

“Like when Michael Jackson dies and how terrible that is [but] a guy that's lived down the street for 20 years dies and we don't even notice,” she says.

Are trashy magazines a blackly comic theatre of the absurd all of their own?

“Completely, and that's what this piece is," Murphy says. "These people work this job and for their escapism they fantasise about celebrities and then their fantasies get incredibly out of control.”


Previews Thursday, runs Saturday to November 22, various times, Belvoir Street Theatre, Surry Hills, 9699 3444, $29/$23.

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