The Black Lung @ The Black Lung Theatre
8:00pm, Sat 10 Mar 2007
A preface: I reckon that Fringe theatre tends to (broadly) fall into two categories: there's the mainstream camp, with plays that could be performed by any secular theatre company, and there's the true fringe, the stuff that's right out there on the edge, that really challenges - for better or worse - the audience's perception of theatre. RUBEVILLE falls soundly into the latter category.
I rolled up at the Black Lung Theatre a touch early - I had no idea where it was, so wanted a poke around. Walking inside, it's wonderfully broken and disheveled and has a genuine sense of "shattered art" about it. I talk to a girl behind the bar while she gets me a Guinness; so far, so excellent. She points me in the direction of Thomas - one of two Thomases, actually - both are directors within The Black Lung.
Thomas is great, really friendly… we start chatting. The Black Lung apparently won a Best Performance prize in the Melbourne Fringe, got a grant to spread their artistic goodies far and wide, and gathered a bunch of like-minded friends to fill the Black Lung Theatre with goodness. This is firing off good vibes in me; it feels like I'm going to enjoy this stuff.
As I talk to Thomas and, later, sup my Guinness from a plastic cup, I notice a strange chap stomping up and down Hindley Street, just outside the door to the Theatre. Tight footy shorts, grimy knee-high ugg boots, grimy singlet… grimy everything. Strange peeps on Hindley Street? Who'd have thunk that? But this guy just looked… eerie.
As we're led into the performance space (or rather, spaces) we're reminded that, until very recently, the building was condemned. The space has a collection of cushions and lounges for the audience; amongst them wanders a muttering man, behind him a five-piece band (including a saw - ace) with broody black-and-white facepaint.
The audience settles, the piece starts - and the eerie grimy-guy from Hindley Street comes running in and attempts to panhandle the crowd. No-one responds in the positive, so he starts offering his body. The muttering man - introduced as George Clooney - takes him aside and explains The Hustle. And there's the core of the play right there; The Hustle. The two men are joined by Trixie, the French whore but-wait-not-really, and quickly the piece turns on itself… who really is being hustled, here?
And the answer finally dawns - it's us, the audience. We're being duped into thinking this is a straightforward theatrical presentation; it twists and turns and ends with, as the Guide quite rightly points out, and "embarrassing anticlimax". But is the end we saw - a mis-fired forgotten line, stage directions gone awry - really the end we think we've the good fortune to be privy to, or the intended conclusion? How much of what felt improvised was improvised?
And - more to the point - does it really matter? With acting this good, great asides to the excellent band, and a generally edgy atmosphere that feels ripe for abstract exploration and interpretation, RUBEVILLE delivers fantastic Fringe theatre.