AVAST (A Musical Without Music) (FringeTIX)
The Black Lung @ The Black Lung Theatre
9:30pm, Sat 31 Mar 2007
How could you ignore a show with this title? A musical without music, shouting out at you in bold type from The Guide… and the last of the Black Lung curated projects. And, in choosing AVAST as the last show of the Fringe, I was unwittingly setting myself up for a complete belter, a mindfuck of epic proportions.
A healthy throng file into the performance space, decorated with cast-off whitegoods galore, a deflated sex doll, televisions, drapes and carpets and… rubbish. One character appears out of a washing machine; another from beneath a pile of crap onstage. A third, bedraggled in a loin-cloth and covered in mud – or is that shit? – enters through the massive rolladoor at the back of the theatre. Their dialog feels as if it carries weight, but is nonsensical; rambling collections of words, scrambled snippets of scripts. Faces drifting in and out of light as apparitions. It feels like a drunken pantomime with three wide-eyed Bad Santas.
At this stage, I was still happily entertained: AVAST is a collage of images rather than a painting, a jumble of words rather than a script, but it still feels good to me, and most of the other audience members seem happy enough with their lot so far; not reveling in the experience, maybe, but coasting along.
There’s a few murmurs of discontent within the audience; a couple stand and start shuffling past other patrons in an attempt to leave. The actors onstage spot them, ask them not to leave – “Please, sit back down”. The two people stop, balanced prone between the knees of the people they’re standing in front of & the next row of seats. He looks at Her; she shakes Her head, and they continue their shuffle to the exit.
There’s an edge to the voice. They keep shuffling.
“Sit the fuck down or I’ll punch your fucking girlfriend in the head.”
I really can’t explain what that moment was like. The hackneyed “you could’ve heard a pin drop” would be utterly appropriate, but I distinctly remember the gasps of probably half the audience.
The longest moment passed…
…and then the laughter started.
Nervous at first, but then it became a release. Big, bold bouts of laughter that swept the rest of the show along. It may have been a complete shamozzle of a performance thereafter – certainly, Thomas the Shit-Stained stormed off in his loin-cloth, with his hissy fit explained away as “we just won an award, and he’s a bit emotional.” There’s a faux ending due to his departure, before a ring-in is conjured up to fill in the missing role – but you’re never really certain whether you’re seeing scripted events or not. Thomas returns, and there’s a big audience sing-and-stomp-along finish to “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude”.
…god, I’ve teared up just remembering this. It was, despite all the laughter, an immensely emotional show. There seemed to be a huge sense of camaraderie between the cast, and it felt like it extended to the audience. The fact that I’m a sucker for that “Hey Jude” chant might have something to do with it, too; but it felt like the perfect end to another Fringe.
After the applause dies down and the backslaps and hearty congratulations die out, I leave the space. Genevieve still sparkles front-of-house, so I take the opportunity to check some facts with her; yes, the “offended” audience members were plants, and my guess that 30% of the show was scripted was almost entirely wrong – it’s more like 70%.
I leave The Black Lung for the last time and walk home. I’m absolutely ecstatic – I feel convinced that I have just seen something truly special. In all its anarchic glory, contorting the relationship between audience and actor, AVAST is either turning theatre on its head, or killing the medium off. I wandered home thinking that, surely, anything is possible now.