I’m back from holidays. No, I didn’t tell you I was going away. No, I didn’t take a copious number of photographs and post them on Facebook. I didn’t tweet whinily about my airport frustrations, or gloat publicly about what a great time I had. Plus my smartphone was off the whole time. It was bliss. Like any high functioning theatre addict, I did suffer withdrawals, but Festival season is almost upon us and I’m ready for a serious bender. Here are a few reviews I forgot to post before leaving, including the rather extraordinary direction Black Lung Theatre has taken with its latest work, Doku Rai.
Black Lung, Galaxy and Liurai Fo’er, Arts House Meat Market, until September 2.
DOKU Rai (you, dead man, I don’t believe you) is the product of an extraordinary collaboration between our own young theatre turks, Black Lung, and a group of like-minded artists from East Timor.
Rehearsed in an abandoned colonial hotel north of Dili, it unites myth and meta-theatrical playfulness, ritual and improvisation, music and multimedia to create a vivid communion of cultures ancient and modern.
Visually, Doku Rai looks amazing: with a central canoe that acts as a kind of baptismal fount, thin timber walls splashed with bare light bulbs, and exquisite video montages.
It opens with a rousing set of contemporary Timorese popular music. The garage rock band transcends cultural differences, and is returned to throughout the production. This is no run-of-the-mill band: the musicians in Galaxy are among Timor’s leading lights and their performance is infectious.
The piece slowly builds around a mythic structure. The boys at Black Lung have an affinity for Cain and Abel motifs (cheekily lampooned in Avast, exquisitely cruelled in Thyestes) and here it emerges as the tale of two brothers locked in violent estrangement.
One afflicts the other with a killing curse (doku). The curse takes effect, but the dead brother rises from the grave. Other assassination attempts are made, but every time, the brother, Rasputin-like, miraculously survives.
The murderous brother goes slowly insane; the cycle of violence continues unabated.
Grafted on to the story is a self-reflexive strand that comically portrays the pleasures and tensions of collaborating across cultures. Black Lung makes a point of skewering artistic pretensions, and the ineffectual director figure will make industry veterans cringe.
Not all of it works. Occasionally, the theatrical mayhem loses focus or rides to the verge of forgotten lines or other tense onstage disaster. Some of the Timorese performers were also difficult to understand in English. Still, the achievement, in terms of spectacle, cultural vibrancy, and rambunctious charm exceeds anything Black Lung has thrown at us yet. Melbourne’s theatre makers should queue to see this ambitious project: it expands the realm of theatrical possibility.