Review: Lloyd Beckmann, Beekeeper ~ theatre notes

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review: Lloyd Beckmann, Beekeeper

Lloyd Beckmann Beekeeper, a particularly personal show devised by Tim Stitz and Kelly Somes, is suffused with an old-fashioned, home-made charm. In the sympathetic environs of La Mama, Stitz summons up his own grandfather and, sometimes in dialogue with himself, unearths some painful family history. And, as the title suggests, the audience learns a lot about bees and beekeeping along the way.

For millennia, bees have been a symbol of fertility and industry. They are a miracle of natural production: they gather pollen and transform it into honey. But this symbol has a sweetness cut with a bitter tang: in Lloyd Beckmann Beekeeper, the old man narrating his story uses the brutal life cycle of the bees, who evict their queen from the hive when she gets too old to be useful, as a metaphor for the inevitability of his own aging and death.

The show begins outside, in La Mama's newly extended courtyard, as Lloyd Beckmann, in full bee-keeping regalia, enters with his smoke machine and welcomes his visitors. After a short lecture on the habits of bees, larded with some comic gallantry for the ladies, we are invited into the theatre, which is transformed into a simulacra of an old man's bedsit, complete with family photos, old furniture and pot-plants. Here we are given drinks and nibbles, and a taste of honey, and learn a little about Mr Beckmann.

Gradually, the conceit shifts from our being visitors to Beckmann's bedsit, to our being witnesses to the relationship between Stitz and his grandfather, with Stitz playing both roles. Stitz's performance is slightly stylised and heightened, with a touch of music hall. In his grandfather he recreates a recognisable Australian speech-pattern that is now mostly lost, except perhaps in the country. It's careful to the point of pedantic, and the major curse-word is "flaming". Beckmann also reanimates a kind of courtesy that is forgotten in our tell-all age. We now assume talking out our troubles is therapeutic, but to another more stoic, and perhaps more proud, generation, any self-dramatising was considered in the worst of taste. Sorrow and pain were private matters, and self-pity was for sissies.

It's a reticence that can't but be admirable, but it's also frustrating for anyone who wishes, like Stitz himself, to push past the boundaries of silence. A major tragedy in Beckmann's life is the death of his baby grand-daughter in a car accident and the subsequent suicide of his son, who is Stitz's father; but when Stitz asks what his father was like, all Beckmann can do is offer him some of his old belongings, his boots and clothes.

The show is in fact a complex meditation on memory and the scraps and fragments that ultimately constitute history. It exposes how the act of remembering is not only a reclamation but an act of imagining. Imagination, in the best Proustian tradition, is helped along by sensory triggers: taste and smell matter as much as hearing and sight. The emotional tenor is calibrated by a supple and effective lighting and sound design, which allows Stitz to shift between direct, unadorned performance and a heightened theatricality.

It's charming for its conceit, which literally invites the audience into the experience (it's something to see a theatre full of people unselfconsciously craning their necks to look at a family photograph, as if they really were visiting an old relative). But its achievement is in its tact, which leaves the unanswerable questions unanswered.

Lloyd Beckmann, Beekeeper, devised by Tim Stitz and Kelly Somes, directed by Kelly Somes, performed by Tim Stitz. Lighting design by Bronwyn Pringle, composition and sound design by Li Stringer, sound design and realisation by Neddwellyn Jones, aroma design by Jodie Ahrens. La Mama Theatre, closed.


miss ethel malley said...

Am I the only one who think this sounds like the theatrical evening from hell? ;)

tom said...

Ethel!! You had to be there...

Alison Croggon said...

Just noticed you there, Miss Malley. (I keep meaning to inquire after your brother...) I've been in theatrical hell more than once, and I know what it looks like. This really was a charming show. Though I admit it's a fine line.