Erth @ Queen’s Theatre
9:00pm, Wed 6 Mar 2013
I’m not a massive Nick Cave fan, though that’s not because I dislike his work; I just haven’t been exposed to much of his music (and none of his writings). But what I have heard – stuff like The Mercy Seat and Red Right Hand – has left me with the impression that the man is capable of dark, brooding creations like no other. So when Murder was announced, insisting that it was dark-themed puppetry inspired by Cave’s Murder Ballads, I was sold; as with clowns, I’ve always imagined puppets to have a twisted existence hiding behind their public personae.
Led by a human narrator who was seeking human intimacy – but prone to violent outbursts – scenes from his imagination (or memory?) were played out with puppets. Erth’s puppets are dirty, seedy, almost grotesque characters who engage in dirty, seedy, and violent acts… because Murder is very much about Death. And Sex. And, curiously, Sex And Death, with one scene in particular turning from a vivid piece of puppet pornography into something far more vicious.
The puppetry itself was excellent, with the characters given real emotion and weight by their black-clad handlers – sometimes a simple, considered turn-of-the-head can speak volumes, and the arching of backs during the sex scene was delicious. And the selection of Cave’s music to propel the piece proved to be superb, with only occasional use of song lyrics as literal narrative devices.
The only mis-step in the production was (what felt like) a protracted video game sequence, where the sole (human) actor Graeme Rhodes engaged in cold, violent shooting with a series of projected enemies. As a gamer, this felt like a horribly hackneyed reference to the violence that can be found within the medium… the intent was good, but the implementation heavy-handed.
But the rest of the performance is spot-on, from the contrast between human and puppet actors (including a nice moment when Rhodes himself is controlled by the puppeteers), to the twist in the tale of the hitch-hiker, to the more subtly handled observances of society’s acceptance of (and obsession with) violence and murder. It was an incredibly imaginative and beautifully realised production that, whilst still a little clunky in places, was immensely satisfying to watch.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 6, 2013