MIAF: That Night Follows Day ~ theatre notes

Monday, October 27, 2008

MIAF: That Night Follows Day

Festival Diary #12: Friday

That Night Follows Day by Tim Etchells. Tim Etchells & Victoria. Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse. October 24.

Some theatre refines its form to such a degree of purity that it seems almost indescribable. It simply won’t translate into language that effectively communicates its experience.

This struck me forcibly when I attempted to describe That Night Follows Day to a friend. This exquisite show is a collaboration between British innovator Tim Etchells and the Belgian company Victoria, which features 16 children between the ages of nine and 15.

“They were lined up in chorus on what looked like a school basketball court,” I said. “And they listed all these ways that adults shape the reality of children. Things like ‘You cut our hair and our fingernails,’ or ‘You take the coins from our money boxes and promise to pay it all back later’.”

“And…?” said my friend.

“Well, that’s all it was,” I said.

“For an hour? In Flemish?”

"Well," said I defensively. "They had surtitles on a blackboard above the set..."

Clearly this was inadequate.

That Night Follows Day is in fact a quietly revolutionary work which, with immaculate artfulness, strips theatre back to the barest essentials. Performance is the simplest utterance, and the text – a beautifully modulated series of variations on a theme – is a sequence of statements.

With the clarity and poise of a poem, these statements accumulate to become a complex portrait of the relationships between adults and children.

It is wholly recognisable without ever becoming cliched, delicately exploring the truths and untruths with which parents condition their children, and revealing the complex mutual dynamics – love, play and betrayal, dependence and rebellion – that underlie these relationships.

As the recitation evolves, the military ranking begins to dissolve: children wander to the back wall, where they hang upside down, or sprawl on plastic chairs. At one point they break into playground mayhem.

The chorus speech is counterpoised with solos and duos and trios and undermines any tendency towards cuteness by giving the smaller children some of the more confronting lines.

Etchells directs his impressive young performers with an austerely profound understanding of the stage. The children move with a precision that itself comes under question during the performance, as one more instance of how adults control children. But, like everything else in this show, this is done with a light touch.

That Night Follows Day demonstrates how few elements are required to make compelling and moving theatre – words, a stage, performers. And, perhaps most importantly of all, unsparing intelligence and honesty.

Picture: That Night Follows Day. Photo: Phile Deprez

This review appears in today's Australian. Ms TN isn't up to an extended review today.


Martin White said...

Nicely said. '... quietly revolutionary...' it took me a while to come to this conclusion, indeed it was not until I wrote about it that I realised what an impact it had on me. How refreshing is it to see children presented as we know them? And to have not a moment of condescension? And to be left with a profoundly complex truth?

Anonymous said...

It probably says more about me than anything else but of the 9 things I saw, the 3 I liked best were "pared back" in style and didn't involve any multimedia razzamatazz, viz., "7 Important Things", "Night Follows Day" and "If I Sing to You". Not that that guarantees that I like something a lot, e.g., I thought "An Oak Tree" was OK but I wouldn't rate it at the top of my list.

I'm sure "Endgame" would have rated higher than any of the 9 things I saw but I saw that a couple of years ago, not this time around.