Lynn Manning @ Higher Ground – Art Base
6:30pm, Tue 9 Mar 2010
After the excellent This Is A Play finished, there was a little bit of a drinky session at the Odeon; I’d like to say that it was in recognition of my birthday, but I suspect that theater simple‘s opening day at the venue might have had more to do with it. I had the best part of an hour to make it back into the city, to Higher Ground… what the hell, I thought, a quick glass of red can’t hurt.
A couple of glasses (and many handshakes and hugs) later, I was dashing down The Parade to the bus stop. It was one of those fancy electronic ones; “Minutes to next bus: 8” it proclaimed. I checked my watch; 6:02. This’ll work, I thought.
Shannon and Tess dawdled up, having also been at the post-show drinks, just as the sign changed its guesstimation from “2” to “12” – and I started panicking. We agreed to split the cab that I summoned; it arrived at 6:22, held up by the Clipsal-ified traffic snarls engulfing the inner-eastern suburbs. I attempt to goad the cabbie, offering him $25 if he got me to Higher Ground by 6:30; and I’ve no idea how he managed it, but the traffic parted like the Red Sea as he scooted into town. Then I discovered I only had a twenty; Tess provided an additional fiver (for which I feel eternally grateful and guilty), and the two girls yelled “Go!”
I dashed from the cab to Higher Ground, downstairs to the Art Base. Victoria was on the door with a big smile – “You just made it!”, she whispered in greeting – and the house lights were dropping as I stumbled for a chair; the moment my arse hit the vinyl of the seat, Lynn Manning strode onstage.
Now – I didn’t know that Lynn was blind. No idea. And, as this tall, strongly built, black man with dark glasses takes to the stage, he’s a powerful physical presence – which is immediately thrown into sharp relief as he delicately feels for the chair that he knows is stage-centre. And I’m left wondering… how did this man come to be here?
Luckily, that story is what Weights is all about.
Manning’s storytelling chops are superb, his script a combination of blunt fact and beautiful flourish. He tells us of his life leading up to the incident where he lost his sight; he doesn’t mince words, and he doesn’t try to paint himself as an angel. The daze of his hospitalisation, the realisation of his lost faculties, and the grieving associated with those grim times are utterly compelling. He breaks the story up with flashbacks to his childhood, and lightens the mood with the discoveries he makes as a blind man; Victoria later tells me she saw me grinning madly when Manning spoke of falling in love, and his first blind sexual encounter.
And I grinned with good cause: as well as the strong physical presence, Lynn has a powerful voice onstage… but there’s a deliberate delicacy and – occasionally – frustration there, as well. Direction is bare-bones; Manning only stands to use his body as an exclamation point, to ram the message home. The odd lighting cue accentuates things a little, with a flick to red when he recites an extract of his writing.
I loved Weights. I found it to be a deeply moving tale of a man’s life – a life that may have unravelled due to adversity, yet managed to be inspirational. The only downfall of the performance was that it ran long, which meant that I was walking backwards out of the room while applauding, as Victoria whisked me away and straight into my next show. I apologised to Lynn a few nights later for the early exit, as I love to hang around and give performers the applause they so richly deserve; he broke into a broad smile and chuckled, thanked me for the applause anyway, and admitted it had sounded a little odd on the night.