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The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe’

The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe’ : Trailer 2015 from MKA – Theatre of New Writing on Vimeo.

MKA: Theatre of New Writing and Griffin Independent present, THE UNSPOKEN WORD IS ‘JOE’, by Zoey Dawson, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross, 21 Jan – 7 Feb.

Climate Change: True or False. The secrets surrounding our Manus Island Refugees. ICAC and the ‘bottomless’ pits of local and state government corruption. Confidence in the Australian Prime Minister and his Government, plummets. Cuts to Australian pensioners welfare. The pressures to free-market our Australian Universities and Education. Are Corporations really our Governmental law makers? Fracking our farm land and water resources for Gas product/profit for overseas market place. Islamic State Militant demand $244 million for hostages, or they will be beheaded. Rebels of the Houthi movement seize the palace of the Yemen president. Russian ruble collapses. The Ukraine and Vladimir Putin’s Russia at odds. Palestinians and Israelis murdering each other daily. Indigenous incarceration still at a disproportionately high number in Australian prisons. Our banks are bastions of best practice, have you heard otherwise? Lessons not learnt from Global Financial Crisis causes economist to invoke the black plague when discussing today’s global financial markets. President Obama and the Republican party play out tit for tat politics while their babies accidentally shoot each other. China looks for world gardens to feed their population. Ebola deaths keep rising. Massacres and the kidnapping, rape and torture of women, men and children in Nigeria continues to occur under the auspices of Boko Haram. Young woman has breakdown, melt down, when her man and she break-up.

One guess as to which one of these stories we find told on the Griffin stage, tonight?

Woman has breakdown after her man and she break-up.

Who, really, I mean, really, could give a flying f..k?

Once again (check out MASTERCLASS; THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR), an Australian writer, and two Australian theatre companies bring to one of the few professional stages in this city, another group of theatre navel gazers to once again piss-take the mechanisms of theatre practice, their own profession, (I ask, do the general public care, or get it?) and feel the pressing need to tell the story of an obviously ill young woman having a self-indulgent and self-aware breakdown, for a comic fest, feast.

This production is all, well done. The team from Melbourne: MKA: Theatre of New Writing, have packaged this well. The Design elements by Eugyeene Teh, the Costume and Set; the Lighting by Romanie Harper; the Composition and Sound Design by Martin Kay are all, really good. The Directing of the project by Declan Greene, is really, really good. There is real talent there. And the acting by Natasha Herbert, Matt Hickey, Annie Last, Aaron Orzech and Nikki Shiels is not bad, actually, fairly brave. Good. Ms Shiels should score a ‘gong’ for endurance and ‘out-thereness’ -she is kind of amazing!

The writing from this new playwright is, relatively, good – for a newish writer. The content, not an unexpected exploration from a new writer: a relationship break-down – using the art-craft form as a kind of therapy, I guess – always have to get it out of the way, and best to start with it as a career launcher, for, at least you are probably writing from what you know, give or take a few ‘poetic’ licenses, (in this case, I sincerely hope there were ‘poetic’ licenses, otherwise Ms Dawson may need …!). There were no new things said, no surprises, other than the extremity of venom coming from this young unhinged young woman, at the play’s climax – of course, many thought the language ‘vomit’ (as they did the later [spoiler alert], the ‘real’ vomit), hilarious! This play has the usual arc of journey for this kind of material. The form, too, is not new, either – no surprises there: “let’s pretend we are having a play reading in a theatre, and it goes HORRIBLY wrong. In public.”

I thought, frankly, THE UNSPOKEN WORD IS ‘JOE’, to be just a lot of first time indulgences from a  couple of relaxed and comfortable theatre organisations for a relaxed and comfortable Australian audience: “Take this laugh pill about trivia and float in a haze of tears from laughter – all is well in the world.”

There is no substance to the content of this play – a young woman behaves badly, increasingly, extremely, badly. We never know much of her past to help us understand her, other than she has written a play, that an ‘artistic team’ of a theatre company believes is worth exploring, and that we are really content, at its ‘performative’ end, to leave her ‘stewing’ onstage, in the resultants of her self-indulgence, as we depart, just as the other actors/characters do. I, certainly, had more fear of her than compassion. I was bemused as to the point of the writing, except that of an offer, of a kind of cruel, indulgent laughter.

The energy of this production, the time given to it, from the Director, Mr Greene, with the writer, Ms Dawson, seems to have been spent on style. THE UNSPOKEN WORD IS ‘JOE’ was, for me, an hysterical triumph of entertaining style over any substance of content of contemporary interest. A lot of people laughed, a lot. I did not. But, I did not get angry, as I sat through an interminable hour and a bit. I just got bored. Bored, bored, bored. My internalised voice was calling out : “Let me out of here! Let me get back to my novel reading.” It occurred to me, is this why the Sydney Writer’s Festival is so popular, it concerns itself, usually challengingly, with real and contemporary dilemmas and ideas. IDEAS. Its audience has an appetite for the mutual provocation and discussion about important issues. Something our theatre used to do (didn’t it?), but not any longer. Perhaps, it was just the hot, hot, humid night? or, was it the consequence of the noisy, hot, hot squashed and late opening foyer downstairs, that made me ill disposed to the experience?

Here is the blurb from the publicity machine of both the presenting companies:

THE UNSPOKEN WORD IS ‘JOE’ is a biting meta-satire of Australian theatre, with its author (kind of) starring as a young woman desperate for the approval of her peers. Zoey describes it as “dramatic and beautiful”. And tender. And also really clever. She wrote it as a way of dealing with a really bad break-up – but it’s not just a break-up play. It’s about love, and loss [AWWWW]. It’s about life, [OH, WOW!]. It’s a really, really good play.
Helmed by Zoey Dawson (IF YOU LIVED HERE YOU’D BE HOME NOW) and Declan Greene (EIGHT GIGABYTES OF HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHY***), and following critically acclaimed, sold-out seasons at Melbourne Fringe and Brisbane Festival, MKA: Theatre of New Writing and Griffin Independent present the Sydney debut of one of the worst plays ever written.” 

Note: those last words are not my error.

From The Age:

Wild, unorthodox, and often hilarious theatre. Dawson doesn’t break the rules so much as bludgeon it to death and take liberties with the corpse. **** (Four Stars!)

It is not the worst play ever written, but one does, indeed, feel almost bludgeoned to near death, and that antic liberties were taken with our complicity to elect to sit and watch a culture in a kind of desperate need to distract itself from the world around itself with the obsessions of a personal dilemma, ridiculed, trivialised.  You can judge for yourself. I guess.

I have.

P.S. I wonder what the ‘wash-up’ was at the Australian Theatre Forum (AFT), at the Seymour Centre, that concluded co-incidently on this very day,  (Friday, 23rd January, 2015) about the state of writing for the Australian theatre? A number of attendees at the conference were in this audience with me. Hmmmm?

By the way, I receive bulletins from the Royal Court Theatre in London, a theatre organisation, that like the Griffin, is a champion of new writing, and just even a cursory comparison concerning subject matter etc presented to their audience, is an interesting (and distressing) thing to do.