Review: Glasoon ~ theatre notes

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Review: Glasoon

Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm's eight-day season of Glasoon is the hot ticket in town. It sold out in five days after its announcement on Facebook, so if you're not already booked, you'll have to resort to blackmail, robbery or espionage to get a ticket. To give it even more an air of samizdat, the location is "undisclosed": you have to phone to make a booking, whereupon you're told to head for a certain bar in East Brunswick at a certain time, buy a drink, and wait, like someone out of Smiley's People, for the Sign.

Which is all cool enough. The actual site is a warehouse music venue scrawled with graffiti art from floor to ceiling, with rugs on the floor and battered laminex kitchen chairs and ancient sofas as seating. And then there's the performance, which won't disappoint any Black Lung aficionados. It begins with a Christ figure stumbling through a door, covered in blood, and being revived by an operatically-attired and voiced mother figure who offers him her ample breast to suckle. It continues with a vicious parody of fatherly advice to a young man and then descends into a kind of sexual hell, a dizzying, blackly funny and relentless parade of bodily incontinence, perversity and violence, where people fuck and vomit in each other's mouths and dance even though they're dead, where a zombie doll in a dress is playing an electric guitar, where God is a man with a beard in a Britney Spears wig and lace panties who lounges carelessly to expose his testicles.

In fact, there is plenty of opportunity in this show to contemplate the fact that the Black Lung fellas really have balls, some of them startlingly waxed.

You could just go ZOFMG!!!! and leave it at that, but it seems inadequate (Oh, those bad Black Lung boys!) The alternative is to flail in several different directions at once, since the show is sort of indescribable. It makes a guerilla foray on the conventional wisdoms of rocknroll death art, attacking the glamour of those impeccably masculine acolytes of Thanatos, Jim Morrison to Nick Cave, fake Rimbauds the lot of them. Rebellion here is is stripped back to its egocentric adolescent defiance, exposing the incontinent holes in its skin, its deadly cunt envy. What rock critic Anwyn Crawford describes as the "bodiless despair" of the male rock god is given back its body. And it's not pretty at all.

If Glasoon were pretty, it would become seductive; for all the nudity and sex, it's not sexy. It's an assault, mostly on the male body. Though it certainly has a kind of beauty: that of the abject body unsexed and pinned to its mortality, like the dead Christ in 17th century Spanish art where the god is so embodied, so corpse-like in his meticulously rendered wounds and green-mottled skin, that it seems shockingly blasphemous and perverse.

Glasoon isn't merely sensational épater le bourgeois. If it were, it wouldn't be nearly as interesting as it is. It's certainly obscene, but it makes you realise that the obscene is of a different order than the pornographic. The obscene, even if it violently rejects the idea of God, is on the same spectrum as the divine, while the pornographic is monodimensionally of the order of capitalism: cummodity for the masses, rather than ecstatic nightmare. Think of the 17th century saint, Margaret Mary Alacoque, who wrote of licking up the vomit of her patients, a "pleasure" she wished she could repeat every day, or of St John of the Cross, cleaning out the sores of lepers with his tongue.

Mere sensation wouldn't sidle into your subconscious like a slow-release toxin. It wouldn't create this riveting theatre, sharp and loose, galvanically in the present. Glasoon plugs into an inner urgency, a neurotic anxiety that spirals into a excoriation of the murky solipsism of the self, an unforgiving massacre of internalised social authority. It employs the vocabulary of now, but its circling gods seem to be Nietzsche and Freud: Civilisation and Its Discontents, Beyond Good and Evil, thrown on the pyre of its malicious laughter.


I googled "Glasoon", and found no definitions, aside from it being a surname about as rare as Croggon. Warming to my search, I looked it up in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (no entry), the Oxford English Reference Dictionary (nothing between Glasgow and Glasnost) and a series of online maritime dictionaries (nada). Nor is it mentioned anywhere in the play itself, which is, despite all appearances to the contrary, a tightly scripted work from Thomas Henning.

Glasoon is, it seems, a word that means nothing, and refers nowhere. It's a nonsense coinage, empty of semantic meaning. It is a perfect Dada word. As Tristan Tzara said in his 1918 Manifesto: "Dada means nothing". Dada expresses, he said, "the knowledge of a supreme egoism, in which laws wither away". It's worth pursuing Tzara a little further here, from his 1922 Lecture on Dada:

The beginnings of Dada were not the beginnings of an art, but of a disgust. Disgust with the magnificence of philosophers who for 3ooo years have been explaining everything to us (what for?), disgust with the pretensions of these artists-God's-representatives-on-earth, disgust with passion and with real pathological wickedness where it was not worth the bother; disgust with a false form of domination and restriction en masse, that accentuates rather than appeases man's instinct of domination, disgust with all the catalogued categories, with the false prophets who are nothing but a front for the interests of money, pride, disease, disgust with the lieutenants of a mercantile art made to order according to a few infantile laws, disgust with the divorce of good and evil, the beautiful and the ugly (for why is it more estimable to be red rather than green, to the left rather than the right, to be large or small?) Disgust finally with the Jesuitical dialectic which can explain everything and fill people's minds with oblique and obtuse ideas without any physiological basis or ethnic roots, all this by means of blinding artifice and ignoble charlatans promises.

As Dada marches it continuously destroys, not in extension but in itself. From all these disgusts, may I add, it draws no conclusion, no pride, no benefit. It has even stopped combating anything, in the realization that it's no use, that all this doesn't matter. What interests a Dadaist is his own mode of life. But here we approach the great secret.

Dada is a state of mind. That is why it transforms itself according to races and events. Dada applies itself to everything, and yet it is nothing, it is the point where the yes and the no and all the opposites meet, not solemnly in the castles of human philosophies, but very simply at street corners, like dogs and grasshoppers.

Like everything in life, Dada is useless.

If anything is palpable in Glasoon, it is the solipsism of disgust. The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm's reliably uninformative press release for Glasoon quotes writer Thomas Henning, self-described as "a reasonably mediocre personality":

The great dramas of my life are enacted majorly within my mind. My experience of hardship, of politics, of social change is thin on the ground. My ideas are lofty but my world is small. I retreat habitually to my mind, where the world is an exciting place... The way I convince myself to sleep, is with violence. Dreams of violence and guns. I think it’s a focus for me. Death. Is this something key to a sense of mediocrity, or weakness, or failure? That I convince myself to go to sleep with war fantasies and dreams of slaughtering dozens of people? Is this a common male thing?

The focus of disgust here, as in so much of Black Lung's work, is maleness itself, projected out in a phantasmagoria of loathing. Glasoon is an adolescent nightmare, a solipsistic excursion through the dark edges of male desire, a murderous excorcism. It's pure, like acetylene is pure.

Does it mean anything? Does it matter?


Among others, Hennings' text also calls to mind the British writer Heathcote Williams, whose 1972 play The Immortalist was described at the time - and from this end of things, quite justly - as "the first play of the 21st century". Williams' anarchic radicality seems, like his American poetic contemporary Ed Dorn, a darkly prescient foreshadowing of the mediated, consumerist, corporatised war machine of the 21st century. Like Williams, who spiralled out of the Vietnam and Cold Wars, or Tzara, who was writing in Switzerland while Europe was razed in WW1, Hennings' Glasoon springs from a reality predicated on war, the matrix of the petro-chemical-military-industrial-Disney-Murdoch complex.

It's a woman-hating paradigm in which the leaky, penetrable feminine body is the site of deathly denial and loathing. In Glasoon the female love object is, in an obscene joke, dead. (It's perhaps worth commenting here that exploring the pathology of misogyny isn't the same as being misogynistic. If this work were misogynistic, the female body would be naked and abject, not the male.)

In this reality, utopia is as extinct as the thylacine and the broad-faced potoroo. The nowhere of utopia depends on there being a place to go to: if the planet is burning up and drowning in its own waste like a plague victim, then the only refuge is inside your own head. There is no utopia even hinted here. Glasoon is an assault on given wisdom, on history, religion and social authority, which are minced into nonsense and funnelled into the central character's head, like a goose being force-fed to make fois gras.

Translated into performance, it's like being in someone else's nasty dream. Its insistence on now is a hatred of mediation. Its characters, or phantoms, all speak a debased language of pre-formed mass media cliches. Like a dream, Glasoon generates its own inescapable logic. Its power depends on the extraordinary cast, who without exception take the text and run through the pain barrier: they are not characters so much as embodiments of extremity, caricatures who joylessly fuck, bleed and die like creatures in a mediaeval depiction of hell. Only I, played with what you can only say is startling courage and honesty by Vaczadenjo Warton-Thomas, contingently approaches the status of character: he is the subject to whom all this humiliation is happening, the passive eye in the storm.

There's a kind of hope, if it can be called hope: when his abjection is compete, when the ritual is over, I kills everybody and goes away, like the teenager in the story. Where does he go in his new suit? Into the sober disillusion of adulthood? A new, sane life? Who knows?

Like the poet said: True, the new era is nothing if not harsh...

Picture: top: Simoncee Page Jones, Vaczadenjo Warton-Thomas and masked guitarist in Glasoon. Photo: Max Milne. Below: Dead Christ by Gregorio Fern√°ndez

Glasoon, by Thomas Henning. Performed by Sacha Bryning, Rima Hadchiti, Simoncee Page Jones, Lily Paskas, Vaczadenjo Warton-Thomas and Thomas Wright, with Liam Barton, Angus Kenny, Joseph O’Farrell and Keith Oakden-Rayner. Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm, location undisclosed, season booked out.


richardwatts said...


I knew you would rise to the occasion. The sheer head-fuckery of this startling piece of theatre left me virtually speechless. Much as I wanted to blog about it, I didn't know what to say...

Zod bless the Black Lung!

Eva said...

Thank you Allison for expressing what I could not. Having worked intimately (yes, I have seen the balls...) with the boys during their season at the Malthouse last year, Glasoon was like coming home. What a disturbing joy it was to experience.

Unknown said...

actually it's wHarton-thomas

yeah it was pretty good....

Alison Croggon said...

And to think how carefully I checked your first name!

Many apologies - I'll correct it when I get back home next week.