A tortured older gay artist, a cranky, pretty muse and a truly ugly break-up.
It’s a familiar tale to those steeped in gay theatre, film and even literature, and it took shape again this week with mixed results in Three Furies: Scenes From The Life Of Francis Bacon by Stephen Sewell.
Sewell’s concerns are not homosexual but aesthetic, and Three Furies takes the form of a Bacon painting: there are three doors forming a triptych; a cow’s carcass forms an occasional backdrop and his lover’s suicide visually echoes Bacon’s memento mori of the event, Triptych (May-June 1973).
Yet the work is painfully reminiscent of other excursions into dysfunctionalia such as Prick Up Your Ears. Director Jim Sharman too often steers the play towards dated, nasty hysterics. It’s difficult -“ they were surely an ugly couple -“ yet dramatically there is little on which to hang our empathy.
See it for the acting. Simon Burke (The Painter) gives a dazzling, tightrope performance, balancing amoral camp apathy with genuine horror, and Socratis Otto (The Model) and Paula Arundell (Tisiphone) are perfect satellites to his black sun.
Kate Champion’s company Force Majeure first performed at the Sydney Festival in 2002, with the beautiful Same, Same But Different. The work offered an ensemble-sized exploration of Champion’s performance as a solo artist -“ a brave blend of dance, text and video. It was not fully formed, yet so promising.
It’s a promise fulfilled in Champion’s latest work Already Elsewhere: a fantastically chilling essay on domestic life in an increasingly unstable and dangerous world.
The set is simple and unnerving. The roof of a suburban house is tilted on turf, as if the entire structure has sunk overnight. Under the shadow of naked trees two men search with German shepherds and torches. Gradually survivors emerge, some dragged from the wreckage, some wandering bewildered.
Suddenly we’re thrown back, to the barbecue Arcadia of the suburban past. The roof becomes playground, observatory and cubby house. A man on one crutch performs a painful tango with a determined partner, and a woman curls up to sleep, or maybe to die, under a blanket of emerald lawn.
There are lulls, and passages of movement clearly in need of further development, but they barely break the spell. Brendan Cowell’s text aspires to poetry and succeeds, supported by a cast of dancers who know how to speak.
Video projection in dance is too often employed as a drunk uses a lamppost -“ for support rather than illumination. Not so here -“ Champion’s choices are imaginative and restrained.
It’s a perfect end to the Sydney Festival: the confirmation of Brett Sheehy’s original programming of Champion in 2002 as an artist worthy of nurturing, a force majeure indeed.
Already Elsewhere plays at the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre and closes tonight (Thursday 27 January). Three Furies plays at the Sydney Opera House Playhouse until Saturday 29 January. Phone 9266 4890 for bookings.