Review: The Man from Mukinupin ~ theatre notes

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Review: The Man from Mukinupin

Dorothy Hewett would have been amused. Last Tuesday, Ms TN high-tailed it to the Sumner Theatre to see The Man from Mukinupin. I turned up to what I thought was the pre-show scrum, wondered why no-one was checking tickets at the theatre door (how odd, I thought, and shrugged, dismissing the thought), and sat down to enjoy the show. Which I did.

On my way out, still vibrating with Hewett's lyrical passion, I bumped into a well-known Melbourne poet. What did you think? I asked. Oh, he said, it's Hewett attempting to write a Shakespearean comedy, and, well, frankly, it's a bit of a mess... At which point, my mind became a series of exclamation marks. How, I wondered, could you see that play and think first of all about messiness? And a familiar cloud that I associate with the world of poetry, which so often seems like a tea party of Victorian ladies carefully arranging the doilies of reputation, rose like a dank miasma in my brain.

But there were a couple of alarm-bells. The program said the show went for two and a half hours, with a 20 minute interval: but we were clapping the actors after 90 minutes. How strange, I thought, they don't usually make that mistake on a program: and off I went home, beset by vague worry. Over the next couple of days I hunted unsuccessfully for my copy of the play, which along with a whole bunch of other feral books, seems to have vanished into the dimmer recesses of L-space. Finally abandoning the quest, I rang the MTC's PR staff to check the discrepancies.

You will, of course, be way ahead of me. I had turned up at interval, not realising that Tuesday shows start at an hour and a half earlier than usual, and I had happily watched half a play, thinking it was the entire show. Perhaps, thought a chastened Ms TN, I had been mistaken in so hastily condemning the doily-ideology of the poet: perhaps the play really was a shambles. So this Tuesday, neurotically checking my watch, I once again wended my way to the MTC, and saw all of the play.

Is it a mess? Perhaps. I'm not so sure this matters very much. Such cavils remind me of John Dryden's discussion of "dramatic poesy". (Dryden was the first Poet Laureate, and in his day a shining light of the Restoration stage, newly emerged after a long hiatus in English drama caused by the closing of the theatres.) While allowing that Shakespeare was paramount for his vital portrayal of Nature, being superior in his imaginings to the nancy classicism of the French, Dryden concludes his discussion by suggesting that verse is "a rule and a line by which [the poet] keeps his building compact and even, which otherwise lawless imagination would raise either irregularly or loosely".

Order and regularity - if perhaps trumped by the radiant sun of Shakespearean "genius" which is, fortunately, very rare (and he was already a dead poet) - was all. To this end, Dryden rewrote several of his forebears, including an operatic adaptation in rhyming couplets of Milton's Paradise Lost, one of the greatest works of blank verse in English. Given Milton's famous attack on the "the jingling sound of like endings", rhyme being "a troublesome and modern bondage" that shackled the "ancient liberty" of poetry, it seems a foolhardy and impertinent exercise. Dryden's Miltonic adventures suggest that metrical propriety is is merely the outward clothing of an unpoetical moral obedience.

Dorothy Hewett would have given Dryden conniptions. She was lawless in her writing and her life, bowing to no rules. She wrote good verse if she chose to, and ignored it when she didn't; she acted with a fine inattention to propriety of any kind, but always with a passionate truthfulness. Worst of all, she was a woman. In the 17th century, an outspoken woman of letters was considered at best an absurdity and at worst an obscenity. Although things have certainly changed since then, the rags of those attitudes have a strange persistence in many literary circles.

Certainly The Man from Mukinupin demonstrates none of the tidy formality so admired by Dryden. It is a glorious patchwork of pastiche, merrily stitching Australian folksong, vaudeville and Elizabethan epithalamion to some wicked imitations of the more moralistic Victorian poets. It's structured as a classic comedy (everyone gets married in the end). But this is a comedy that talks about Aboriginal genocide, and that takes a satirical glance at the myth of nationhood forged through the blood sacrifice of World War 1, situating both in an evironment degraded by salination caused by farming. The erotic relationships of each of the couples are underlaid by a dark subtext of violence, self-destruction and despair.

In short, Hewett breaks every rule going, which is perhaps why she is often treated with suspicion (as she said, theatre critics always called her a "poet", and poetry critics always said she was a "playwright"). But she breaks the rules with irresistible elan. The patchwork becomes a whole thing because of the fusing force of her passion: passionate anger, passionate desire. And perhaps most importantly, by her direct, unembarrassed desire to make beauty.

For those unmoved by such passions, it's easy to find fault with the text: the first act is perhaps a little clumsy, and the second act (which on two viewings I decided was quite brilliant) features some contrived deux ex machina plotting. And so on. Certainly it's not neat, and perhaps the first act could have benefited from some cutting. But to me such suggestions are a little like saying that Blake ought to work more on his scansion: they miss the point. Quod scripsi scripsi and all that: chilly perfection was never Hewett's bag. And the fact is that the flaws are a little like the asymmetries and blemishes of a loved face: they are its living imperfections, the idiosyncrasies that make it unlike any other.

Wesley Enoch has given The Man from Mukinupin a vitally lucid production that is very much in the spirit of the writing. It subtly highlights the subtext of racism by casting Indigenous actors wearing whiteface, but otherwise lets the writing speak for itself.

Richard Roberts's set is beautiful. Much of the action takes place before a curtain of calico sheets, hung as if on a washing line, which he also uses for some great shadowplay. When the curtains are drawn back, it reveals an edgeless space behind it, a sand-floored, impressionistic picture of Mukinupin seen through the imagery of fringe-dwellers: a broken down caravan with cheap cotton curtains, a stone-edged campfire, the naked limbs of trees, moodily lit by Rachel Burke. The band, playing Alan Johns's arrangement of Jim Cotter's original music, are seen in half-light backstage, near a wooden counter that represents the General Store.

Enoch has directed it as music theatre rather than a musical, with an emphasis on theatricality that generates hugely enjoyable performances from his excellent cast. Suzannah Bayes-Morton, in the double role of Mukinupin belle Polly Perkins and her outcast half-white half sister Lily, perhaps has not the strongest of voices, but makes up for this by the impure poignancy of her singing. Her songs, backed by a wittily directed chorus, were highlights.

Many characters are twinned, with siblings acting as archetypal mirrors of the light and dark sides of Munikupin: the brothers Jack and Harry Tuesday, played by Craig Annis, or Eek and Zeek Perkins (Max Gillies). Others, like the damaged wife of Eek, Edie, are double-natured. Edie is possessed by an oracular spirit which speaks her crushed desires and hatreds, her amplified voice echoing through the theatre like a dark angel. But all of them - David Page, in three roles, Valentina Levkowicz as Clemmy Hummer, Melodie Reynolds as Clarry Hummer and Widow Tuesday, and Amanda Muggleton being fabulous as the melodramatic actress with an eye for the main chance, Mercy Montebello - deserve mention.

Although I was never bored, I was ready for the first act to finish when it did. But the second act - and as you know, I speak from dutifully repeated watching - runs like a river in flood. It's a wonderful play, here given a revival that respects it in all the right ways. It shows that in her political intuitions, Hewett was way before her time, and that stylistically she deserves to rank with Patrick White as a defining Australian playwright. Like White, she draws her theatre from vulgar traditions such as vaudeville as well as modernism, but her attack on vernacular speech has more sheerly joyous vigor, a knowing intimacy that White could not quite attain. And her anger and passion are still startlingly contemporary.

Picture: Suzannah Bayes-Morton as Lily Perkins in The Man from Mukinupin. Photo: Earl Carter

The Man from Mukinupin by Dorothy Hewett, directed by Wesley Enoch. Musical direction Alan John, set and costumes by Richard Roberts, lighting design by Rachel Burke, choreography by Jack Webster. With Craig Annis, Suzannah Bayes-Morton, Max Gillies, Valentina Levkowicz, Amanda Muggleton, David Page, Melodie Reynolds and Kerry Walker. Company B and Melbourne Theatre Company, Sumner Theatre, until July 19.


Born Dancin' said...

Dang you Alison! I filed my "washing line" related review before this post, but once again I find we're using similar metaphors to describe plays. And just as similarly, I saw TMFM twice, having left at interval on opening night. The soporific first half put me to sleep, despite some ok moments. But even given the second half's more ecstatic pleasures, this is not a production (or script) that I would highly recommend. Historically important, yes, but we've come some ways in 30 years and sometimes, sometimes, speak about things more openly than was possible in the good ol' days. Ah, nostalgia. I recall it fondly.

Alison Croggon said...

Maybe my response is conditioned by, as it were, seeing the play backwards: but all the same, I'll beg to differ here. I felt exhilarated by the play rather than otherwise, although I agree there was an energy after interval that wasn't there in the first act. What struck me forcibly was precisely how openly Hewett speaks about some things - especially the double life of eroticism and violence - and how seldom we encounter the same kind of directness now.

shawjonathan said...

When will we see a revival of her Joan, I wonder, or Cassandra's Cross, which as far as I know had only one season each the former an amateur Canberra production and the latter in that now defiuunct theatre in Liverpool Street, Sydney?

4 Coffins said...

I think you're right - it is an incredible play. Most people I've encountered have been dissillusioned. I've seen it 16 times (MTC staff - and by the way, you should think of House Attendants when you write openings such as this, I was packing my dacks for a moment) and each time I find another rich vein of Hewitt's savage cheekiness, buried under truly distracting plotlines or pathetic characters. I think it's an absurd combination of Brechtian tropes and Aussie kitsch but I'm completely fascinated by the result - especially because it ain't no crowd pleaser. By the way, I think the first act suffers from the massive interlude of the Othello section, which, although funny, ultimately makes it drag??

Alison Croggon said...

Many apologies for the moment's anxiety, 4 Coffins (4 Coffins?) The MTC staff are nothing if not polite and efficient! Ms TN's fuck ups are, alas, all mine own...

I thought it was interesting that I (and my co-attendee) watched the whole second half without feeling that I had missed anything. Aside from demonstrating my dreadful memory - I have seen this play before, although it was a very long time ago - nothing in the text alerted me: the backstory was simply there, the action all made sense. Which maybe suggests a certain redundancy in the first...human beings can process information very quickly, I guess.

It's a shame it isn't a crowdpleaser. There was a vocal couple behind me the second time I went, who seemed to have problems recognising the actors when they changed costumes... I guess the thing that enchanted me is that Hewett can really write: a lesser lyric gift would be destroyed by the play's "abssurd combinations" (sharp description). I rather suspect it means that audiences aren't used to processing qualities of language, and hear it as a conveyer of information/plot rather than as texture and nuance and emotional colour, which are to me the crucial aspects of narrative.

4 Coffins said...

Yes I agree - dramatic writing/poetry combination is a tough gig for audiences. Interesting comments on the Dryden translation.

Hewitt = great writer. There is one moment in the play where Mrs Perkins is in the middle of a monologue about the terror of the landscape: "sometimes I heard the dingoes howling from the salt lakes and the blacks ... (shuddering) the willy-willies blew the dust (cont'd)" to me the play is full of these provocative/brutal loose ends, buried under white colonial folk tunes and 'it's gonna be okay' sort of bravado (good companion piece to Kantor/White's Optimism?)

I think for racial politics there are few more effective plays, although its sense of nostalgia dates it horribly for a present-day audience. Mum understood more of the references...

(P.S Thanks for the compliment! I hope we're friendly!)

Rainbow Snake said...

Went to the play last night.
Certainly not a crowd pleaser, a heap of people didn't come back after interval, and one of my (regular MTC) group said it was the worst play she'd ever seen.

The most favourable reaction from my group was that it was quirky and had some interesting moments.

Certainly I'm in the middle, it didn't particularly grip me and rather than finding the songs endearing they were usually more irritating and lumpy. I've seen far worse though, and there were wistful moments where glimpses of the eerie remote community came through the mess.

It's a shame but the big song at the end of the first act was incomprehensible. Couldn't make it out, and it wasn't just *my* hearing, no one else got it.

The set was great. The near two-dimensional "town life" in front of the curtain and the "wrong side of the tracks" revealed behind, all gritty, desolate and three-dimensionally real.

Still trying to work out the full symbolism of the whiteface. In your review you make it sound like only the 2 indigenous actors had whiteface - but all of them had it at times. Certainly some of it was a reference to blacked-up anglos playing indigenous roles, and also it provided some way to distinguish between different characters played by the same characters, but I wonder whether there was more to it than that?

Jack, the "good" twin wore whiteface, but his "bad" brother Harry never did. Coming back (corrupted?) after the war, Jack never wore whiteface again. Polly and all her family had the whiteface all the play. The Montebello performers never wore whiteface. Is it something to do with denial, some reference to whitewashing? Or perhaps just personal preference of the actors! :-)

Although I didn't entirely get it, I'm glad I went to see it anyway.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks Paul - it's no doubt my limitation, but I find the negative responses kind of odd. What's not to loike? It's fun, it looks lovely, it moves fast, terrific performances etc...

As for the whiteface: Neandellus has quite an interesting discussion on it on his blog. I think that this play is about class as much as race, and the whiteface plays into that question too. But I took the whiteface first of all as a clue to the clowning style of performance. Then, as a mask on Indigenous and white performers, it's a comment on the fictionality of race, of "white" and "black". No character in the play is full-blood Aboriginal: Lily is the only one left of her community, and she's half white, so the category of "black" is at once problematic. Whiteface perhaps is mostly an indicator of degrees of "white" ideology. For example, after the experience of war, Jack's white socialisation is, as it were, rubbed off by the trauma of his experience: he no longer buys the ideology of the township, of being the sweeper boy who'll rise above his class (an idea that Harry never had any truck with) and moves into the classless world of art (Mercy Montebello is, for all her arty pretensions, a working class English girl).

Rainbow Snake said...

Ah yes, good points about the whiteface, like I said, but with better words-n-thinky-stuff. :)

(I like theatre but am a novice at analysis)

Paul? Hope that's not supposed to be me!

Another point about the singing - maybe it was deliberate, but at times it sounded quite amateur - in no doubt that they were actors asked to sing, not ones who would put it on their CV. This might have been endearing to some who might describe it as "rustic" or "song naif", but stuck in my old-fashionned notions of how music should sound, it just irritated and made me think of kids singing in a high school musical.

Not every song, mind you, but many of them.

Alison Croggon said...

Eek - apologies Rainbow Snake. Should get my nom de plumes correct at least...! Fair point on the singing; though it really wasn't bad the nights I went, they were more actors singing, than singers acting, although they were all holding the tune. I kind of like that quality, which for me gives me an extra layer of expressiveness, but I can understand that others might not.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe anybody in their right mind would find this play even slightly bordering on worth watching. This is a shambles & a disgrace to the MTC. My only mistake was returning after the interval, as it appeared many did not, furthered by a mechanical fault in the set that left us all tediously on edge of being very angry. At which point tickets to watch the show again were offered as way of apology, the remaining crowd (such as myself who appeared to have some sort of self-punishing wish) all bellowed in unison NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Alison Croggon said...

So sad! Though a mechanical fault is just one of those things... but no indeed, not a shambles and hardly a disgrace. Why this level of anger at something that, while it might have its faults (which I think are relatively minor) actually has some brilliant writing in it? Is it that there is little space on the mainstream stage for the poetic and imaginative?

You could make an argument for saying so: certainly Louis Nowra did many years ago, when he said in an interview that Australians just didn't get metaphor. That was about the point where he stopped writing things like (the brilliant) Inner Voices and moved on to naturalism. Understandable, but now he's better known for plays like Cosi than for his earlier groundbreaking work. Things like that make you want to believe in some kind of transcendent artistic justice, but hey.

4 Coffins said...

I don't agree, but in fairness, I think this theatre has a high hurdle to get over to make it something that the audience accepts. If it 'gets there' they love it, but for the majority it's a real toughie. The poetic and imaginative are all very well Miss TN, but inaccessability is another problem altogether eg Rainbow Snake's comment that he can't hear the lyrics to the last song of the first act is symptomatic. If the literal meaning of the text is muddy, its execution has to be as clear as a burning summer's day... under a magnifying glass...

By the way RS it's a beautiful metaphor about the land as women - here are a few lines:

New Holland is a barran place
In it their grows no grain
Nor any habitation
Therein for to remain

She is my gold, my darling
She brings me drought and rain
When I plough and sow her
Upon a saltbush plain

She is my bitter heritage
She is my darling one...
She drowns me in the winter
and bakes me in the sun.

I'll plant her and I'll rape her
I will not run her down
Upon her gold and torment
I'll build my shanty town

(a brutal mix of sexism and colonialism, Dorothy's harsh critique of Australia is in full force here I reckon)

Alison Croggon said...

Yes, with you there 4 Coffins. But that's a question about a wider culture, rather than the intrinsic qualities of the piece itself. Those issues can end up depressing you enormously, and why sometimes you want to be in places like Paris, where audiences are theatre-literate and value the poetic and the supposedly "difficult"...

I personally didn't have trouble understanding the words of the final song - was that technical difficulties with the mics or performance issues? - but yes, it is annoying if you can't make out words. I have to say that the times I saw it, the thing that struck me as a primary virtue of this production was its beautiful clarity...

Alison Croggon said...

...and PS, thanks for the poem!

Anonymous said...

Tell me, where was the poetry in ham, eggs & an onion?

Where was the intelligent commentary in 'polly put the kettle on'?

The play may have a cult following, but a cult play should not be at the MTC.

Utterly terrible in any decade.

Alison Croggon said...

You see no poetry in vaudeville comedy? What can I say?

Here's Arthur Rimbaud, a great poet in any century, from his poem A Season in Hell: "What I liked were: absurd paintings, pictures over doorways, stage sets, carnival backdrops, billboards, bright-colored prints; old-fashioned literature, church Latin, erotic books full of misspellings, the kind of novels our grandmothers read, fairy tales, little children's books, old operas, silly old songs, the naive rhythms of country rimes... I began it as an investigation. I turned silences and nights into words. What was unutterable, I wrote down. I made the whirling world stand still."

Something like that.

And are plays really about "intelligent commentary"? Just watched The Birthday Party (the 1968 film) which has a refreshing lack of "intelligent commentary".

4 Coffins said...

"where was the poetry in ham, eggs & an onion? Where was the intelligent commentary in 'polly put the kettle on'?"

Fair point - I would see them both as providing counterpoints to Hewitt's more literary moments, but I still think they are self-conscious writings that contain their own lyricism. An 'Am an Egg and an Onion won't win any Knobble Proize fer Litter-itcher but it's self-conscious inanity IS a terrifingly guilty pleasure (I confess to knowing it by 'art. Private performances: see my website

I wouldn't fault the performances or direction in terms of clarity, I think it's a dense text with many potentials, only some of which are likely to be brought out in any given production or audience. It's no Hamlet - but you can only really put forward a facet of the text, you can't produce a definitive version because the damn thing has so many possibilities in it. Unfortunately, Mukka will never be interregated as ruthlessly as Hamlet is every single day, and it is likely to have nothing but a slightly unnerving Aussie revival every few years.

If I have a suggestion within this lengthy discourse it is that believe it to be worthy of more attention than this. I had a discussion with a patron the other day who was affected greatly by it, she said she found it 'haunting' and we had a lengthy discussion about its remarkable 'savageness' and 'brutality'. I don't expect everyone to like it, I do think it bothers to be difficult and I respect it for that. It pains me to hear people rave about August Osage County and pay the cr*p out of Mukka, because it just reaffirms my belief that, as Alison suggests, Australian audiences aren't happy unless being pampered by pillow-theatre, they object to seeing their values challenged, and they go to the theatre to see affirming Disney stories. Go the the footy instead. (Meanwhile - Geelong and St Kilda what an amazing match!!!)

Alison Croggon said...

It pains me to hear people rave about August Osage County and pay the cr*p out of Mukka, because it just reaffirms my belief that, as Alison suggests, Australian audiences aren't happy unless being pampered by pillow-theatre, they object to seeing their values challenged, and they go to the theatre to see affirming Disney stories.

On the knocker, I fear, although I never think there is much of a point in blaming an audience for not getting a show. People are people, and audiences are all different and all made of individuals. The MTC audience tends to be, after all, more conservative than those you might find elsewhere in Melbourne. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars, but in ourselves... If audiences expect theatre to be a branch of documentary television or a kind of soap opera, it's because years and years of programming and reviewing and discussion have led them to think that is what theatre is supposed to be. Those things can be part of its pleasures, certainly, but it sure cuts out what has been most interesting about theatre through the 20th century, from Beckett and Genet to Sarah Kane or Tadeusz Kantor to Peter Brook to Ariane Mnouchkine to Heiner Mueller (pick your favourite "cult" artist) and certainly what might be brewing now... Poetry, if it's allowed, comes with a capital P, or as an easily recognised quotation from Eliot, so much cultural decoration, and anything truthful comes with a prophylactic, so it doesn't cause too much pain or, heaven forbid, self reflection. Which makes me get all Nietzschian and think, as he claimed in The Death of Tragedy, that this is the sign of a decadent society. But that's when you begin beating the walls with bleeding fists...

"New" Australian said...

I have read the discussion thread with interest. I saw the play last night - both acts. I did find it difficult to become engaged with the play during the first act - but enjoyed the quirky humour introduced via the Othello take offs.

How this production and play can be described as one of MTC's worst is beyond me. I can only assume that Australian audiences are not strong enough to see and hear themselves played out up on a stage. Some of the language is very 50's but the racism and social criticism I find as current today as it was prior to the first world war and in 1950's. The problem today is that the 'tar face' now applies to more than just the indigenous peoples of the salt plains.

Artistic 'cringe' is still alive and well in Melbourne obviously.

While not my favourite production I was still most impressed with the technical aspects of the production (lighting, set etc), the writing and direction. I do hope that the MTC gains courage and continue's to offer work that at least raises comment and makes some of the audience feel uncomfortable. However, I do not understand people leaving at half time. There was no bad language, no sex, no violence, just a need to think outside the safety of a 'Mills and Boon' production .... if we can't accept this challenge we may as well stay home and watch television as previously suggested.

Rainbow Snake said...

"How this production and play can be described as one of MTC's worst is beyond me. I can only assume that Australian audiences are not strong enough to see and hear themselves played out up on a stage."

Hmm I can't speak for "Anonymous" but I think my friend who declared it the "worst play ever" was not reacting to the content at all, merely the unusual style in which it was presented, which didn't fit within her stereotypes of what performances should be like.

Personally, I don't mind unusual styles, although this particular one didn't pull it off for me. Certainly I'd never ever leave a play at half time for petty reasons like confusion or boredom or even irritation, unless the content deeply offended me. (Very few things do)

Born Dancin' said...

I think the half-time exit has a very valid place. I see it as corporeal criticism - the in-show walkout is an even stronger kind of commentary. Choosing not to see a show at all is also a kind of criticism, really.

But I'd never critique a show I'd walked out of (in the public sphere). And I'd never walk out of a show from sheer boredom, either. Boredom is an aesthetically interesting response to art; some art actively seeks to elicit such a reaction.

When I skedaddled TMFM first-time round it was because I was falling asleep, literally, which has nothing to do with the production itself. I was wide-awake on my return visit but still didn't thing it really lived out the promise of the script.

4 Coffins said...

"How this production and play can be described as one of MTC's worst is beyond me. I can only assume that Australian audiences are not strong enough to see and hear themselves played out up on a stage."

"New" Australian, you're exactly right, it would be a real shame if MTC regrets putting the show on - it's cheeky, subversive, funny, and it's ABOUT AUSTRALIA, which gives it a chance to actually achieve something political (yet another thing I think audience is objecting to). In a way MTC is the perfect audience for the show - white, nostalgic, apathetic... I think Dorothy would have been delighted, in an odd way. I imagine her sitting there chuckling as audience leave muttering at half time, soaking up the awkward silence as the text moves from quaint to savage at the drop of a hat and the anxiety as Harry threatens to hit Touch of the Tar with a broken bottle. Are we trained too much to respond with "the show affected me in ____ way", a lazy form of viewing, rather than actually paying attention to what is happening before us, and what it means outside the theatre??

Anonymous said...

Yes I too would never leave a theatre production at half time, although I may challenge that thought next time I am presented with something like TMFM.

It wasn't to my taste that is all, & my taste isn't pillow theatre as someone described earlier.

I am not sure why people are referring to 'Australian audiences' who don't, in large, get this sort of thing. I presume from this that those who believe this frequently visit the theatre hotbeds of london or new york & guage their reactions to similar dribble?

I also think it a triffle unfair to encourage those to stay at home & watch Television if TMFM does not appeal. Theatre is for everyone & sometimes theatre can be magnificent, sometimes it can be eye-scratchingly god awful. TMFM sits in the latter tray for me.

Anonymous said...

@ Born Dancing -

There is art in everything around us, but maybe I am missing the beat when you exclaim some art seeks to elicit boredom.

Does this mean there are artists out there looking to punish their audience in this instance???

I don't think I have walked away from something I was insanely bored by, only to stop in my tracks, smile, & knowingly nod my head in recognition that I have been fooled again by those devilishly selfish artists...

Born Dancin' said...

Anonymous: yes (although I wouldn't use the word punish!).

More of a tradition in experimental film or sound art. Think Warhol's 'Sleep' or 'Empire'; some of John Cage's stuff; contemporary 'dronology' music.

There are different schools of thought on boring art - Heidegger wrote about the way deep boredom can set us free from learned expectations and lead us into a more open encounter. Or it can be a provocative challenge - Cage's silence made people aware of the lack of silence. Others see deliberate boredom as a way of inducing a transcendent state.

On the other hand, you can think boredom culturally, not as a passive response to a lack of stimulus but an active refusal or gesture of disengagement. The bored, affectless characters of early Godard or the image of the perpetually bored teen connote a rejection of their social world.

None of this has much to do with TMFM obviously. Just rambling.

Alison Croggon said...

I don't have a problem with leaving at half time. It's a wholly legitimate response, and it's very rarely exercised by critics (nd never without controversy, which is also wholly legitimate). The Age's dance critic Hillary Crampton once wrote a spirited defence of it. But maybe my favourite halftime exit is one of Dorothy Parker's.

I can identify two kinds of boredom. The one I can't bear is the kind of thing that happens to me in bad opera (and which is the best cure for insomnia I know) - an expectation generated by the stage and event that something is happening that collides with the increasing realisation that nothing is. It collides in the middle of my brain and causes a very identifiable sense of numbness. There's another kind, rarer I think, where boredom is a resistance, an active denial in the mind of discomfort or painful insight. For example, the first time I read Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky) I was aggressively bored, and to an unusual extent. I resisted it all the way through. But when I reached the end, something clicked; I read it again, this time being open to the experience, and discovered it was a masterpiece.

But it's the ulitmate subjective state. I don't get bored in many things that bore others to bits, perhaps because I enjoy meditative states (which can be confused with being bored). But I need the art to feed that meditative state - it can't be a passive experience.

Born Dancin' said...

When I first saw Tarkovsky's Stalker I was aggressively bored, then emerged from the cinema into the night as if my brain had been scrubbed clean. The world actually seemed to be sparkling.

Balletlab's Brindabella also featured a great sequence which was pretty much just 20 minutes of dancers running in a circle. What should have been boring instead produced a crystalline, focused intensity of attention.

Anonymous said...

My Husband and I went to the show last night and were very disappointed. We paid a fortune for the tickets and thought the show was an absolute let down. We both walked away thinking that was the best set I have ever seen for a ameatuer highschool production.
Im sorry if this is rude - but I am just so annoyed that we paid so much money for a play that should have been professional but was not.
The singing was atrocious and often off key and some (not all) of the actors were appaling and had no emotional stakes. It was our first MTC production and after that we won't be rushing back.