Friday, August 22, 2014

Stories about Love, Death, and a Rabbit

I've been interested lately in British politeness, especially within the context of Europe, as it seems to me the defining trait of the people on that group of islands. And it also seems to function a particular way, and with a particular (political) outcome. I'll confess that, at least for now, I'm not at all sure what that outcome is. A certain type of power, gained through excuse?

The irony is that within performance, this is something that's seldom examined. Much more popular in UK drama are the kinds of hard-hitting, abrupt violence, site-specific live art or experimental hybrid performance, or design-driven spectacle. 'Manners' is a term distinctly left for comedy.

I don't read Stories about Love, Death and a Rabbit as a comedy. It's funny, yes, if nothing else because of its familiarity, but there's certainly something else motivating the creation of this character. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why the Dame Edna-esque Ms Samantha Mann, alter-ego of performer Charles Adrian Gillott, was created. Was she a mockery of British politeness? A satire on a kind of upper-class cliche that now surely exists only in the imagination? Or was it, as I read it, working towards something darker and more biting, like a terrible, violent underbelly. After all, not every old woman throws in lines like 'I'd better lighten the mood or you'll all go and throw yourselves in front of a bus'.

For now, I will remain in the dark, because Gillott, no doubt aware of his Fringe-of-the-Fringe surroundings, largely trades opportunities to delve into more serious objectives in favour of some relatively easy territory. The show takes the form of a continuous apology, with Samantha drifting into stories that prevent her from beginning (could there be anything more British) before finally, at the half-way mark - launching into some unexpected poetry readings. These mark the highlight of the show and are the best place to look for a broader dramatic intent. Lines like 'Worse than mourning is feeling that all this might so easily have been avoided' denote a kind of emotional fragility that reveal both a pathetic disappointment and a kind of irritating dormancy. The result is a celebration of the dark side of the British character, and contains a more than slight critique on the kind of automatic wind-up dolls one sees prowling the laneways of the Mother Country.

The opportunities passed up are mostly forgivable under the circumstances - the expectation is unfortunately more attuned perhaps to kicking the ball around than it is to a genuine theatrical creation, and so anything approaching that should be a surprise. But it's the future of Ms Samantha Lane which is of real interest, whether or not she can flower, in other circumstances perhaps, into something with real impact on the social fabric which she so clearly addresses.

Stories about Love, Death and a Rabbit
by Charles Adrian Gillott

At Dragonfly, until August 23.

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