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Sweet Carnage

Keith Gallasch

Not all those attending The opera Project’s The Audience and Other Psychopaths get to realise the promise of the production’s title, but one of their number does get to play murderer. This act is perpetrated in an upside down world where the theatre becomes frantic film set, the audience transformed into extras, Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train is invoked in drag and some murky sub-romantic business transpires between a manic Italian female film director and an off-stage diva. It all ends badly with only the audience member (cast as the film’s lead) surviving the climactic off-stage mayhem.

This aesthetic mix and moral carnage is further complicated by a beautiful score from composer Stephen Adams, setting Amanda Stewart’s wild grab-the-world-by-the-throat text for the diva, and instant cinema-scale images of the live performance from video-maker Peter Oldham. The work’s furious dynamic means that on occasion the score is drowned by stage action, the soprano’s delivery of the sung text sometimes less than intelligible (surtitles, please) and some apparently key moments make little sense. As well, Nigel Kellaway’s chainsmoking, tottering blonde is out to have Kellaway the performer (seen on screen) murdered. For those who know the artist’s ouevre, this doubling took them back to his acclaimed durational work, This Most Wicked Body (1994). For everyone else there was little time to reflect on reflexivity as the show fairly belted along and moments of opacity were tolerated and soon forgotten as hysteria mounted.

The Audience and Other Psychopaths is primarily and wildly comic. Kellaway is at his funniest in the recorded scene in which, looming against the Sydney Opera House, he catches the ferry and then clumsily pedals a bicycle to the Lane Cove murder site. Elsewhere he has the right kind of droll obtuseness that echoes Robert Walker’s villain in the Hitchcock film, both funny and frightening. The moment when he cracks with a shriek is chilling, pushing past melodrama. Katia Molina is the whirlwind director, issuing orders in a flood of Italian and English, performing mourning, outrage and death in her own film in an endless rush of hilarious and inexplicable costume changes, and quarrelling via mobile phone with the diva—Kellaway muttering derisive asides about “lesbos-ism.”

The Audience and Other Psychopaths is a wild ride, a little uneven (the off-stage diva device never quite gels despite fine singing, hauntingly layered and textured in the recording) but endearingly lunatic, a fantasia of inversions, reversals and, as always with The opera Project, assaults on the artforms and genres we love but must not let rest. The play of light (designer Simon Wise) and projected image is particularly potent here, cutting across forms to yield a convincing cinematic theatricality with some eerie, memorable images conjured with the flick of a cigarette lighter or the alternation of screen and scrim. And it is striking how an audience member projected onto a huge screen is given unexpected presence, when the slightest movement of lip or eye is magnified to suggest meaning.

The opera Project, The Audience and Other Psychopaths, performers Nigel Kellaway, Katia Molino, soprano Karen Cummings, director Nigel Kellaway, composer Stephen Adams, co-writer Amanda Stewart, video artist Peter Oldham, lighting Simon Wise; Performance Space, Feb 10-21

RealTime issue #60 April-May 2004 pg. 45

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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