First there were the horrible electronic screeches coming from inside the theatre as the audience was kept waiting outside. When they finally let us in, we were led down the side aisle and onto the curtained-off stage. We were issued with earplugs and the signs warned of extremely loud music and smoke machines. As a friend said whom I bumped into as we were all milling around the low-visibility smoky stage: This is just like a dance party and there are even guys with their shirts off over there.
Are you getting the picture? Are you reading the early warning signs that shout ever so loudly: annoying, pretentious crap. Well, I was. The guys with their shirts off were actually the last straw. They were the members of the Bl!NDMAN saxophone quartet putting on tribal body paint before they went and took up their places around the stage. What a clich?Their saxes were electronically rigged and they used them more as percussion instruments than wind instruments. Kind of interesting except when they used them to produce deafening electronic feedback.
Men In Tribulation was all about the final hour in the head of Antonin Artaud, famous French modernist dramatist and theorist. Artaud once took peyote with the Mexican Indians and was a proponent of a ritualised theatre of cruelty. The theory sounds all very interesting but in this instance it was just annoying. It was when one of the actors started to intone: The wind sings the cruelty of my body in a voice that sounded like Golum from the Lord of The Rings that I decided to make a discreet exit stage left.
I went from the self-consciously avant-garde to the simplicity of a traditional theatrical monologue.
David Hare (pictured) is one of Britain’s most successful playwrights (recently famous for The Blue Room). What is unusual about Via Dolorosa is that he not only researched and wrote it, he also performs it as a one-man show. Hare is not an actor but he has a quirky, simple stage presence. There is virtually no set and the lighting design is subtle. So it’s a tribute to Hare’s masterful script that this is such a riveting hour and a half of theatre.
In 1997, Hare was invited to Israel to talk with Israeli and Palestinian artists, politicians and activists. The experience affected him profoundly. He writes in the program notes that he took to the stage because he felt there was no other way to convey the vividness of my reactions except by direct address.
The vividness of Hare’s reactions are certainly presented in the piece but what makes it a brilliant piece of theatre is that Hare allows the many people that he met to speak in their own voices through him. It is a polyphonous tone poem. Of course the intensity of the life-and-death Israeli/Palestinian experience contributes to the force of the narrative. As he relates at one point:
In a single day, says an Israeli friend, he experiences events and emotions that would keep a Swede going for a year.
Although it is clear where his sympathies lie, Hare is no straight partisan. This is a story of an occupation but he can’t ignore the desperate humanity of the many Israelis he talks with.
The Melbourne Festival continues until 23 October. David Hare’s Via Dolorosa comes to Sydney Theatre at Walsh Bay 21-26 October. Bookings on 9250 1999.