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A Frank celebration

Douglas Leonard

Frank Theatre’s Retrospective 1993-2001 was celebrated in Brisbane for 3 important reasons: first, and against the current grain, Frank has developed and sustained itself as an ensemble company; second, with a unique style and by creating its own international networks, it is forging a viable intercultural theatre that is regionally based; lastly, its base is Brisbane, where it both trains local talent and provides a visionary model of non-commodified sustainability.

Their venture has restored a sense of adventure to theatre, restored the body to its primacy in space, unmediated by media, and remains a folk theatre that reflects its audience and in turn serves it—perhaps like the original Pram Factory? This reciprocity was warmly evident on opening night. Partly this is a reflection of the Suzuki method that assimilated and returned the origins of Chinese and Japanese popular theatre, partly it is a measure of the very Australian bloody-mindedness and theatrical acuity of Frank’s progenitors, Jacqui Carroll and John Nobbs. These 2, in mid-career transformation from, respectively, choreographer and dancer to director and Suzuki Company of Toga guest actor, brought their rigorous background in dance to the Suzuki physical actor training method.

Suzuki Tadashi’s theatre writings note that the Japanese expression for a clumsy actor is a ‘daikon actor’, ie no matter how you eat it, a daikon radish absolutely can’t hurt you; or, in other words, such actors have no character, nothing to distinguish them. Suzuki would prefer that the term ‘radish actor’ became one of approbation—“These days we have all too many actors who have so much personality they can make you feel very ill indeed.” Instead his method produces almost pure ‘expressionistic’ acting, gestures and intonations taking the place of words in awakening the emotional responses of the audience, in a play of actions in which the movement is the body of the play, the story being only the frame. Costume and music are also important signifiers.

Frank aims to present “new, classic theatre” represented in its repertoire by The Romance of Orpheus (1993), The Tale of Macbeth: Crown of Blood and The Tragedy of Oedipus (1995), Romeo and Juliet…a gathering of ghosts (1996), Salome (1997), and Heavy Metal Hamlet (1998). Rashomon (2000) is based on the Kurosawa film classic. As the titles indicate, these are adaptations of received texts in the Western canon. In Suzuki’s terms, they have been ‘requoted’, a concept that has sometimes led to misunderstandings in the reception of Frank’s work. Nevertheless, the method has generated extraordinarily memorable performances from Brisbane dancers and actors: Lisa O’Neill as Salome, Caroline Dunphy as Ophelia, Lorne Gerlach and Emma Pursey in their interpretations of Lady Macbeth.

The result has been a theatre that registers colour, vigour, energy, excitement, violence, bawdiness, humour and satire, heroism, villainy, astuteness, loyalty, wisdom, stupidity, pride, arrogance, honesty, gentleness, robustness. A theatre sometimes achieving existential insights of an austere sublimity—a powerful world of feeling, experience and action not unlike Brecht’s where it is the social persona that is the dynamic force and centre of interest.

This retrospective fittingly rounded off a period of retracing Suzuki’s method of classical adaptation. The finale, Doll (a sketch for Frank’s upcoming adaptation of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll), prefigures fresh creative concerns (nearer to home), as does the invitation to perform one of Croatian playwright Kkrleza’s plays at the 7th International Youth Theatre Festival—MKFM Pula, Croatia 2002. For followers of Frank’s remarkable odyssey, it was back to the future.

Frank Theatre Expo: Retrospective 1993-2001, director/choreographer Jacqui Carroll, John Nobbs, company members Lisa O’Neill, Caroline Dunphy, Emma Pursey, Leah Shelton, Conan Dunning, Luc Mollinger, trainees Stephen Bradford, Ramsay Hatfield, Clayton Fry, Tracey Kay, Julie Marich, Yuu Matsuyama, Leah Mercer, Rachel Ross, Annette Schoenberg, Melissa Stichbury, Neridah Waters. Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse, Nov 30-Dec 8, 2001

RealTime issue #47 Feb-March 2002 pg. 36

© Douglas Leonard; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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