This Kind of Ruckus [FringeTIX]
version 1.0 inc. @ Norwood Concert Hall
8:00pm, Tue 23 Feb 2010
I arrive a fair bit early, and there’s only a few souls milling about – unsurprisingly, they’re all APAM folk. Many more arrive, seeking the artist discount available with the light-blue lanyard of the arts market. I chat with a couple of people prior to the show; comparing show notes, one chap was staggered at my current show count; it was a little like Jeremy Piven’s part in Grosse Pointe Blank – “forty-two shows, man! FORTY-TWO!”
So the arranged seating in the Concert Hall is maybe two-thirds full, the stage curtains are drawn, six (I could’ve sword there were six, though the programme only mentions five performers) seats in a row along the front of the stage. A man wanders onstage, settles in front of one of the chairs, presents some cheerleader’s pom-poms, and strikes a pose, rustling with a forced grin. Another figure comes out and does likewise, then another, and again… eventually all six chairs are fronted, and the figures collapse in them. A slackening of form, and suddenly they’re a group of friends in conversation.
One woman leads with a dangerous tale of a night out in the city, encountering the worst elements of man’s violence agains man. Assaults and chases and terror, identifying with a woman in danger and assisting her escape – before discovering that the woman is, herself, carrying a load of ice and is of considerable interest to the police… the victim is, indeed, a “bad guy”. The idea that a “bad guy” could be the focus of so much intended violence is the first conundrum that we are forced to consider; but, with the story over, the stage curtains open up.
I feel like we’re in a nightclub – but it’s more than that. There’s a woman dancing around, a guy checking her out, sizing her up, formulating a battle plan. He makes his move, dancing into her. You can feel the physical power play taking place in front of you, and it’s uncomfortable – it’s something that we’ve all probably seen before, but presented in such a stark manner (with video screens displaying the action – and responses – from many different angles) it’s deeply unnerving. More disturbing still is the woman lying on the floor at the front of the stage; there’s a man just sitting a short distance away, elbows on knees, staring at her. There’s no real menace on his face, but it’s certainly there in his presence; the forward lilt of his body makes him appear as if he’s looming over her still and slumped form. It’s ominous, and utterly creepy.
Then we’re thrust into a couples therapy situation. A guy – seemingly honest, friendly – attempting to communicate with a woman – shirking, skittish. An offstage therapist (and he’s literally offstage, sitting with us in the audience) chastises the man for his language, his physical projection… the scary thing is, I didn’t see anything wrong… at first. He corrects the language, following the directions given to him… but she still flinches at his approach.
And then we’re back in the nightclub, back into conversation, and it’s over – with Matthew Johns’ “apology” on The Footy Show playing in the background. I leave for another show, and as I strolled back into the City I remember thinking “that was all very interesting.” I make a few notes about the ominous nature of some of the pieces – that’s my key word, my memory jogger, “ominous” – and let it sit at the back of my mind.
And it’s only now, typing this up in the Norwood Library on my birthday, that I realise the latent power in the work. Because right now I’m feeling like it was a violent performance; but I don’t actually remember anything overtly violent about it. And therein lies the point, the crux of the matter; maybe there was some physical violence displayed, but I’m so blasé about it that it didn’t register as “important” to my memory. Or maybe the inference of verbalised violence has taken a fortnight to sink in?
Either way, that’s a pretty sad indictment on me – but I don’t really know whether it’s an indictment on society per se, because who can say what’s shaped me this way? And it’s only now, after feeling like I’ve been kicked in the guts by this realisation, that I remember the single most overtly vicious conversation in Ruckus – a woman tells the throng about her “bad breakup” which resulted in her… rape?
And the fact that I threw the ellipsis & question mark in that sentence indicates what kind of a performance Ruckus is. Even the other characters onstage seemed to be debating whether to use ellipsi and question marks. It’s confronting, but politely so. It’s like those Jagermeister shots that don’t taste too bad going down, but kick you in the head later.
And so here I sit, thinking about my own response to these issues, second-guessing whether I am in any way sensitive or aware of how my actions may affect others. Because I can recognise some of those “innocent” behaviours as my own – but without thinking that they could be seen as “sexually violent”. Hell, it even seems ludicrous now typing those words out in the context of the words before it, but the reality of those actions seen through the different lens that Ruckus provides leaves me head-spun and pondering.
Director David Williams’ notes in the programme make for delicious reading, in light of the above: “We hope that you enjoy the show tonight, although enjoy may not be the right word…” Christ. I actually thought I had enjoyed it, and now I find myself questioning my own behaviour, comparing myself to an offensive testosterone-inflated sexist twat… two weeks later. Two weeks: it’s the show that doesn’t stop… it’s still going on in my head.
And, a few hours after I realised and felt and wrote the above, I walked in to see Bully. Talk about an emotional double-whammy.