The Lost Babylon
Shifting Point, T-Factory @ Hartley Playhouse (UniSA – Magill)
8:00pm, Mon 6 Mar 2006
The Harley Playhouse in the Magill campus of the Uni of SA isn’t the easiest venue to get to; luckily, the Department of Trade & Economic Development, as well as the Australia/Japan Year of Exchange have seen fit to sponsor a charter bus from outside the Unearthly Garden of Delights to the venue. Along the way, I engage in a bit of chit-chat with our “tour guides”; “Why did you decide to come to this show?” they ask. “Well,” I respond, “I’m a bit of a Fringe geek, and a gaming geek as well. This just seemed like a good fit.”
“What games do you like?”
“Ah, I’m an old guy, so my gaming history starts back with Namco arcade games and the Commodore 64.”
I discover that they’re 17. What the hell am I doing talking about Namco to a seventeen year old? Commodore had all but dissolved as a hardware company before they were born!
Anyhoo… this turns out to be yet another opening night, with yet another collection of friends, family, and sponsors. Oddly different vibe to that of Black Crow Lullabies, though that could be because of the large contingent of non-english-speaking Japanese present (Lost Babylon is an co-production between Adelaide’s Shifting Point Theatre Company and Tokyo’s T-Factory). Champagne all ’round, then. And then, to the production:
Man meets ex-lover both are trapped in an amusement park destined to allow patrons the joy of running around killing each other except something goes wrong there’s bloodlust in the air and the safe bullets get replaced with nasty bullets and there’s lots of death whilst we sit by and decry mankind’s tendencies oh and there’s a love scene wodged in there for no apparent reason I mean it’s not like there’s any clever multi-level linking between sub-plots and isn’t violence awful.
The Hartley Playhouse has rough concrete walls; the back of the stage has a large screen (used as a projection surface for pre-recorded sections of the performance). After a slow, loose and sloppy start, the above plot lurches along at a sedate pace: there’s a couple of nice scenes (like the slow-motion death… cue Matrix bullet-time references), but when the most memorable moment is an imagined character (the gorgeous Kaori Endo) uttering “I am cheap”, you can pretty much guess how gripping the first act really was.
The second act opens with a nice bit of boy/girl biffo; but the highlight of the evening involves the rear projection screen. Buggered if I know how to explain this, but here goes: enacting part of the amusement park scenario, we had two groups of people (chaser and chasee) skating through a virtual world projected onto the rear screen. The mimed skating technique was pretty neat; synched up with the projection, it created a fabulous feeling of movement. The chasees, though, zoomed up to a brick wall – their shuffling drawing them closer to the screen all the time – until they collided with the wall/screen. Fantastic effect, merging the virtual to the real… until you notice that one of the actors has put their knee through the screen. The foot-square black hole remains in the middle of the screen for the rest of the performance. Tech staff I talked to post-performance were mortified; I laughed my arse off.
Rob MacPherson is clearly the most accomplished of the English-speaking actors here, but his character is annoying in the extreme; the same goes for Cheryl Bradley Thomas’ “Woman” – it’s a blessing when they both suffer the “big” protracted deaths afforded to the principal characters. Lesser characters, by comparison, appear to suffer little. The most endearing character, though, is Seiji Aitoh’s Soldier – it’s just a shame that his pronunciation made him all but unintelligible most of the time.
In summary: this is a mess. There’s gun/sex and violence/media links a-plenty, despite glorifying violence (“you guys kill people in a cool way”); inferring that reading novels is deemed lifeless; plenty of digs at pop culture (“people don’t remember”); and the audio was all over the place (at one stage the pre-recorded sound was so overpowering it encouraged our beloved Samela Harris to turn and gesticulate madly at the tech staff. Cos, like, she knows better). There were some good ideas with the direction: having performance spaces off-stage that were projected onto the video-screen was a great effect, creating a sense of sober voyeurism. But such touches were few and far between.
I shudder to think what any visiting investors may have thought of the performance.
Reading my program before the performance, it struck me that it reads a lot like the plot from the (great) movie Battle Royale (or The Lord of the Flies for all you book-types). Upon reflection, it’s not quite the same – well, the abovementioned are a squillion times better, for starters – but the same sort of apocalyptic structure is used.