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Photo by Heidrun Lohr


Sydney Theatre Company presents through WHARF 2LOUD: MANNA Lyrics and text by Dan Spielman. Director, Composer & Sound Designer: Max Lyandvert.

I am a fan of Max Lyandvert’s interests. Fully enthused by his work on the puzzling but intriguing Richard Foreman’s works MY HEAD WAS A SLEDGEHAMMER and NOW THAT COMMUNISM IS DEAD MY LIFE FEELS EMPTY and his sound work on so much of my theatre going in Sydney. Dan Spielman I know as an actor with indelible memories of some of his luminous story telling skills in Barrie Kosky’s recent production of THE LOST ECHO adapted mostly from Ovid’s METAMORPHOSES. It seems that these two artists met and have mutually inspired each other and developed a project that attempts to investigate a form of theatre expression where language, sound and image will be explored anew. The curators of WHARF 2LOUD have given them a place in the 2008 program. This is work that one sees explored and presented usually at THE PERFORMANCE SPACE. It is exciting to see this “out there” work at the mainstream company building. It is probably no coincidence that it happened during Sydney’s Art Biennale. The possible frontiers of art forms under the theme of “Revolution”(Chekov’s Konstantin longing for new forms!!!) being explored.

Intentions were to present “a poignant visual and aural installation… MANNA is a theatre work for five voices. Part poem, part song cycle, part radio play… This is an X-ray process. The transmission of language is the medium of sound. And sound is music, speech, song, sound effects or soundscapes all at once. MANNA can be at once a song cycle and an ear-play.”

One assumes that the Lyrics and Text of Dan Spielman were the point of inspiration and the spring board for the investigation. There was evidence of form exploration in the use of voices, sound, lighting and physical images which were alternatively interesting, beautiful, clichéd, boring, distracting etc. The full gamut of response was elicited from me. A success as far as the theorist and innovative practitioner Vsevolod Meyerhold would be concerned. A divided self that both loved and hated the experience. An experience that certainly did not leave you in a state of sedation. You left the theatre agitated, elated and argumentative. What irritated me with Manna was the obfuscation of the lyrics and text. The language became only disconnected sounds . The soundscape although interesting in itself was often undermining the clarity of the communicating language: the poetry.

Problems were compounded by performing artists that did not seem able to deliver the goods as Communicators of poetic speech ie. “the expression of or the ability to express thoughts and feelings of articulate sounds” with “a quality of beauty and intensity of emotion.” The only truly authentic communicator was Jamal Rekabi who played several instruments and sang in a voice of such beauty and feeling that one could have opted for an evening of him alone. Although sung in a foreign language it had a great sense “of grieving and the existential consciousness of loss” that the work seemed to be striving for. There was a sense of authenticity in the work of Gertraud Ingeborg and Boris Brkic merely at the presence of their well experienced lives, but only Ms Ingeborg had any real skill of delivering her text with connecting thoughts. Mr Brkic merely gave us disconnected sounds in the shape of sound bites. Noise not communication. Worse still were the two younger performers who did not seem to have a vocal instrument of any sound flexibility or beauty and certainly no real skill in supplying the spoken text with any imagined thought to illuminate the sounds of the words. The result was a relatively ugly noise divested of any meaning. The poetry was present neither in the sound or the language/words of Mr Spielman. A long section regarding the recurring word of a “soldier” was rendered to a meandering, longwinded tedium.

The visual offers were mostly distractions and not useful to the exercise. For instance during the last long “Poem” delivered by Mr Brkic the rest of the cast busily organised the staging of a last image of trays of different items eg cutlery, leaves etc flanking the movement of a long white topped table with a prone body on it, being slowly rolled forward toward the audience. What it meant, was to me, by this time elusive and unimportant and just part of the confusion of the intention of the project. I was not surprised on later reading the program notes that several of The Rabble Company who also presented this year SALOME to Sydney were involved. Similarly here as there, the work seemed to be improvised and imposed on the finished work and not schematically relevant.

This is important work. The theatre need artists actively engaged in the exploration of new form desperately. Like Kostia’s play in THE SEAGULL this was for me a failure or simply, depending on your point of reference, not understood. I felt it was not communicated. If I could read on the page Mr Spielman’s lyrics and text I may have had a better understanding of the original inspiration for this collaboration. But the page to stage process here has not being a useful form of theatrical collaboration to give to an audience to appreciate the writing.

2 replies to “Manna”

  1. Kevin, what a wonderful surprise!
    Thankyou for this blog. An actor’s reviewer…. about time. Someone with an eye for detail and an understanding of technique and an appreciation of exactly how the cogs in a production fit together. How sick I am of pimply young ‘intellectual’ university students calling themselves reviewers with no concept of theatre making- one would be lucky to get constructive criticism that goes beyond comments like “i like” or “this person was good”. Rigorous, yes. Please keep blogging, yours is an opinion I value.

  2. Kevin,
    Thanks for your analysis of this show. It left me pretty mystified and I am glad to have had your response to look at it anew and appreciate some of the subtleties I missed in my mounting frustration.

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