Stone/Castro @ AC Arts Main Theatre
5:00pm, Sat 8 Mar 2014
I’ve never really gotten on with Paulo Castro’s productions… and I’ve certainly never been as convinced by his work as popular opinion suggests I should be. He’s lauded by people I respect, but… I just don’t Get It. But Blackout was commissioned by the Adelaide Festival, my faith in David Sefton was swelling… and a friendly timeslot beckoned. Larissa McGowan and Steve Sheehan in the cast. Deep breath… and commit. Tickets bought.
But warning lights (and klaxons, and a flight response) should have gone off when a hand-scrawled note to the side of the Main Theatre’s entrance indicated that the performance would be much longer than the seventy-five minutes suggested by the Festival Guide… a sure sign that Blackout was still a work in progress. But, upon entering the space, I was actually sucked in by the stage: wide open and deep, it was an exercise in refinement, with a curious clear canopy overhead and a ring surrounding the stage centre.
But then the performance itself starts… and, well, it’s a bit of a mess.
Blackout is ostensibly a mixed media performance, mixing a theatrical narrative with dance-based movement, which follows a cluster of people celebrating a wedding on a boat; later in the piece, a storm hits the party, and a sense of doom pervades proceedings as the characters fight amongst themselves. And that all sounds interesting enough, but…
The Good Bits first: the direction of the cast is wonderful, making full use of the stage and (on the few occasions that they’re allowed enough space to be noticed) the dance-inspired movements are really quite lovely to behold. The stage itself was cleverly done, with a semi-circular buffer allowed to fill with water and create a gorgeous shimmering effect underfoot; the canopy served multiple purposes, catching the light in an almost ethereal way, and creating a lovely aural texture when rain started falling upon it.
As for the textual content of the piece… well, I didn’t get along with it at all. Whilst there were some interesting characters – and Stephen Sheehan brought some comic gravitas to his role – none of them were overly likeable, and the bulk of the (poor) dialogue took a back seat in my memory in favour of one ranting soliloquy by an angst-ridden guitar-wielding emotional wreck. The fish falling from the roof? Yawn, bore, seen it all before (in Brink’s 2008 production When The Rain Stops Falling, when it actually meant something), and – just to tick all the boxes on this year’s bingo card – there was a bit of penis performance art.
But it’s the caring that I missed most in this piece, especially for something set at a wedding; surely I should give a shit about someone? Surely someone should tug at my heartstrings, or make me laugh (in a non-ironic manner)? Surely I should find some reason to empathise with someone? But no – instead, I dispassionately watched a bunch of people wander around a clever set, and wondered where the story was going… and when it was going to end.
I didn’t leave Blackout angry at the performance that I’d witnessed… annoyed, maybe. Disappointed, definitely. But, even as I tried to focus on the positives as I scurried to my next event, I chastised myself for not following my initial instincts. A mistake that I hope I won’t make again.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 8, 2014