Monday, March 18, 2013

MURDER


By Gai Anderson

Erth Visual & Physical Inc.
Hobarts Playhouse Theatre
As part of Ten Days on the Island 2013

Puppetry can be so powerful in so many ways on stage; can potentially go so much further visually and psychologically than the real human body on stage. And of course puppets offer so much potential for exploring human darkness, as they can actually be injured, tortured, and murdered right there in front of us in graphic detail.

MURDER begins with a slightly haunted domestic scene in cold, night light, with the words – How shall I kill thee? Let me count the ways.

Its meaty premise is the exploration of our relationship to murder. Is our modern fascination with murder via pornographic-real-crime TV, for example, any different to the impulse that drove the crowds to witness mass murder at the coliseum?

With the Murder Ballads of the Nick Cave as a backdrop to this investigation, MURDER begins strongly. The visuals and songs sit well together, as the chilling domestic scene of the live male-protagonist is filled with a cast of puppet ghouls and characters; a table of insipid-skinned dolls momentarily come to life; a gaggle of sinister nasty teethed caricatures appear from suitcases to laugh and cavort and faceless human sized bunraku puppets are brought to life by a chorus of black masked puppeteers who are chilling in their own not-hereness. The spinning bed, the shadow forest scenes, all beautifully realized, come together as inhabitants of the disturbing and fearful inner reality of the protagonist.

This is the stuff of all our horror movie and murder show imaginings, but the direct story telling of the actor is also strong and powerful here, his emotional landscape clear and chilling, as we begin to watch his slow slip into the land of murder.

There are some exceptionally provocative visual moments, which I found electrifying, such as the actor's huge, sinister sausage fingers, disembodied via video, placing story cuts-outs in the clay. In my mind this became both a clinical murder reenactment and a murderer late at night burying a dead body in the earth. Another was the unexpected appearance of his faceless puppet lover appearing from the fridge…and there were many more .

Where the narrative is strong it worked well – the beginnings of the chat room sequences with its video and typing, and the story of the broken down car and narrow escape is powerful stuff.

But at some point MURDER lost its way, and no matter how many clever visual ideas or glimpses of incredible puppets and puppetry are seen, they inevitably become a distraction as the thrust of story lost its focus and power. Even the Murder ballads disappeared mysteriously until a quick reprise at the very end.


MURDER promised so much.Our human relationship to death in all its forms is really important and rich and I felt really cheated by the dribbling away of the great momentum and profound investigation it had developed.

But complex story telling with puppetry is not easy and it is not the first time I have been disappointed in such a way. Sometimes it seems as if the enthralment of the makers with their endless wonderful visuals is hard to resist.
I would have liked less with a greater depth of engagement .
I do hope all the wonderful puppets get to have a larger life somewhere in the future.

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