Festival diary #11: Thursday
Appetite by Ross Mueller, directed by Kate Denborough. Set design by Kennedy Nolan Architects, lighting design by Niklas Pajanti, costumes by Paula Levis, composer New Buffalo (Sally Seltmann). Kage @ Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre, until today.
As we barrelled down St Kilda Road in search of post-show consolation, my outraged son told me that Appetite had bruised his soul. I guess he takes his theatre very personally. But then, how else is one to take it?
And I was right with him. Appetite was one of those dismaying experiences which make you flee the theatre in search of strong alcohol, so disheartened that targeted destruction of the relevant memory cells seems like a top priority.
I'm sure I sat through most of it with my mouth open in disbelief. Kage is, after all, the same company which made Headlock, and Headlock was, in stark contrast to this show, a visually thrilling piece of physical theatre that was an intensely moving and honest exploration of masculinity. (It also, signally, didn't have any words in it). Appetite, on the other hand, was a very bad play punctuated by some ordinary songs and uninspired dance.
I wanted to stand up like John McEnroe and shout, You can't be serious! Being a well-behaved little crrritic, I didn't. Alcohol was the only option. (This is why theatre can be so bad for you.) But onto the post mortem.
The text of Appetite seems, in fact, like a bad imitation of Moira Buffini's West End hit Dinner, which was produced by the MTC back in 2004. Dinner is the story of a woman who throws a celebratory dinner party for a representative bunch of friends, during which their hypocrisies and moral emptiness become manifest and the emptiness of their lives is exposed. I am almost going to sleep describing it, although to be fair it wasn't a bad couple of hours in the theatre. For all its superficiality, it was sharp and funny.
Take out Buffini's mordant, literate wit and throw in a good dose of moral sentiment, and you have the premise of Appetite. Catherine McClements plays a woman who is turning 39 and, in celebration, throws a dinner party with 39 courses - one for each year - for some badly chosen friends. As they consume various courses and drink excessively, they degenerate into an orgy of drug-taking and sex.
At about course 124, over the suckling pig, McClements begins to see the emptiness of her careless, middle class life and rediscovers her love for her husband. It ends with a cosy uxorial chat over the wrecked dinner table in which the happy couple croon truisms to each other about living each day as if you are falling in love, instead of doing the proper thing and shooting each other.
In between the excruciating dialogue, there were sequences of dance or almost dance that failed almost completely to exploit the accomplished dancers in the cast. The only interest I managed to get out of the evening were moments in which something in the movement began to come to life, but these were shortlived. Certainly, New Buffalo's trite songs (originally intended to be played live, but delivered as a recorded score due to the artist's illness) did little to enliven proceedings.
It was nicely lit and quite pretty. But seldom has decadence been so dull.
It's only fair to say that this show cued a lot of enthusiastic applause from the capacity audience. (My inner McEnroe stood up and shouted again). OK, I'm cantankerous, but my feeling of utter discouragement was quite real. There was not one point where the self-involvement of the characters on stage cracked open, not one point of imaginative contact where the script - and I blame Ross Mueller's text for this debacle - opened up into actual complexity. As an audient, I was expected to run along the rails of this moral fable to its banal revelation, when the playwright offered up the Meaning of Life as a reward for obediently making my way through the rat maze of Art. The only other possibility was total revolt.
So, gentle reader, I went out and was revolting. And then I wrote this purgative review.
Picture: Catherine McClements and Michelle Heaven in Appetite. Photo: Jeff Busby.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Festival diary #11: Thursday