Thursday, June 27, 2013

Alzheimer Symphony by Justus Neumann

By Lucy Wilson

It was exciting to attend the packed preview of Justus Neumann’s latest production, Alzheimer’s Symphony, which he performed at his home on Bruny Island (Tasmania) in his handmade painted tent, on the eve of the tent and set being disassembled and shipped to Vienna for the 2013 Austrian tour.

Alzheimer’s Symphony is the latest in a string of productions created by this long term and ongoing collaborative team, which periodically gathers on Bruny Island from Switzerland, Austria and Hobart to create their shows. With the authenticity and experience of this ensemble, they’ve come up with a compelling formula for whimsical machine theatre, which invariably involves a Shakespeare play.

This time King Lear is performed by a famous elderly actor, but he now suffers from Alzheimer’s and forgets his lines. Nor can he remember the names of his sons, or that he’d left his specs in the toaster.

As the audience witnesses his passion; his fumbling and delightful forgetfulness; his angry confusion and despair; we were taken on a ride of edgy hilarity, awe and compassion.

The character is set in an intentionally neutral world – is it an old people’s home? A hospital? Or his house? This is left open to interpretation. Wherever he is, his brain function and physical world has shrunk around him. He is now constrained to a wheel chair, with everything he needs ingeniously tacked onto it. The set created by Greg Methe is delightful. It’s the stuff of dreams. It transforms from a magical kitchen to a bathroom to the grand stage, even a solo game of ping-pong, to serve the daily rituals.

The construction of the show is deeply layered and rich with metaphor, which allows the audience to float attentively through. It was refreshing to see Shakespeare portrayed in a comical flow of crude props, which is only possible through a deep and playful understanding of the text.

There was a natural affinity and integrity of performer Justus Neumann, a man in his senior years, doing a show about Alzheimer’s. The show gave an intimate window into a condition that affects so many Australians. It was totally believable and had strong intimations of immortality.

Written and performed in German, the show is set for its Austrian tour. For the preview there were English subtitles projected onto a wall, which combined with the visual were easy to follow and very satisfying in understanding the story and the drama. For a possible Australian tour though, it would be enlightening to have the script transcribed into English.

I won’t forget this performance. I hope!

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