Moving Target (Festival page)
Malthouse Theatre @ Odeon Theatre
7:30pm, Fri 7 Mar 2008
I guess that I’m stepping outside my comfort zone a bit lately, because I find myself wanting to write the words “I didn’t have the faintest idea what this was about… liked it, though.” A lot.
Now, I don’t mind being completely bewildered by a performance – as demonstrated by Conclusions: On Ice. It gives me something to think about, something to mull on during the walk home. Shows like that sit at the back of my subconscious for days, occasionally popping forth in an “aha!” moment… and sometimes not showing up at all, just remaining in a ruminative state, something for the neurons to fire on while I’m doing something else.
But Moving Target is a different kettle of fish.
Walking into the theatre, the stage is essentially a large, white room; six characters wait, apprehensive and edgy, for us to be seated. When the house lights drop, five gang up on one – it’s a clinical verbal battering, sinister glares, uncomfortable for all… but the audience doesn’t know why. Suddenly, a game of hide-and-seek breaks out – again, five-against-one – and the five are left to hide amongst the frugal props.
And here, Moving Target breaks with expectations – the hide-and-seek segments (and there are many of them) are impossibly funny, with characters hiding under carpets, under cushions, under tables, behind sofas, even in plain sight with a sleeping bag on their heads. These sequences are physical humour at its finest; the time where one character got tangled up in a chair, only to be helped out of his predicament by another character (who subsequently became entangled) had the audience in stitches.
In between these segments, though, there’s a much more sinister plot at play. It’s gradually revealed to us: in times of heightened terror responses, there’s a green parcel in a bin. It was placed there by a girl. Is the parcel a bomb? Is the girl a terrorist? Do any of these characters have anything to do with the story, or are they just narrators?
Essentially, we’re none the wiser until the last ten or fifteen minutes of the performance; until then, we’re happily bumbling around gleaning snippets of knowledge where we could. But in a visually intense sequence – flashing lights galore, including some jarring bright red / green transitions – the terror threat is directly addressed… and all trace of humour disappears. We’re clearly in Serious Mode now; and, rather than dodging around the issue, we’re taken on a linear explanation of the resolution. And then backtrack to see the other side of the story. This results in a few gasps of realisation from the audience as the performance slowly dissipates, fades to black, with a snapping of inexplicable masking tape.
Now, I don’t want it to sound like I disliked Moving Target, because that’d be far from the truth. I loved those first flabbergasting 75 minutes – I loved the repetitious, circuitous, twisty-turny double-back nature of them immensely. I loved the fact that I was essentially stumbling in the dark for most of the time, creating theories and counter-theories in my mind as to the meaning of every single artifact. But the conclusion – where the plot is laid bare, linearised, de-mystified – took all the rumination away from the performance. Which ended my engagement with Moving Target as soon as I started applauding the actors. Which, for some reason, makes me a little sad… I would’ve preferred to take a little of the performance home with me, in a little white-walled room in the back of my mind.