And us [by Matt Baker]
Tuesday 16th September 2014: a day like no other. For one, it was the only opportunity to see that evening’s performance by Barnie Duncan. While this is always true of the transient pleasure of all theatre, it is reinforced in …him, as that day’s newspaper held the cryptic key to this ingenious, ever-evolving theatrical experience. I was once told to always use props twice – once for their intended use, and once for something unexpected. Duncan takes this guideline to the extreme in his one-man show that will never be the same twice – all thanks to that day’s media coverage. It is a show that Duncan declares to be very dear to him, and this is unquestionably apparent. The irony, however, is that even with the amount of meticulous craft and consideration that must be invested for each audience, Duncan is very much in his own world as he performs. The problem that arises from this is the confusion between whether this is the result of a self-conscious (possibly even self-indulgent) performance, or the choice to purposely alienate his audience, as the latter seems incongruent with the social footprint Duncan is setting in our country’s theatre history.
In the past, Duncan’s talent as a performer has come through his incredibly gifted clowning skills, with well-balanced moments of catharsis. In …him, the balance tips the other way, which, while an excellent opportunity for both Duncan and his audience to explore the other extreme, results in clearly unfamiliar territory.
That’s not to say that Duncan does not produce some truly poignant moments. The script, which is nearly entirely verbatim print, is a brilliant dissection of not only an available text, but also a strong commentary on the social impact said print has. From the performance ritual those of us who read the newspaper have, to the most simple and heart-breaking of words contained within it, Duncan exposes some of the key components to the human condition with little more than the text in front of him. Additional dialogue is concise, but can afford less repetition, as its affect is always immediate.
Though not long, Geoff Pinfield’s direction does begin to wane between (what is essentially) the second, and third and final act, with the monotony of the show’s rhythm. This is, however, remedied with Duncan’s paper craft coup de grâce. It is in these moments that a real sense of play develops, as we, the audience, try to work out what he’s making, a sense of surprise or satisfaction accompanying the result.
While the stage design affords a greater playing space than the Basement studio’s seating blocks usually allow, there are some sightline issues – especially during crucial developments in the plot. Likewise, the sound design, by Melbourne based electronic musician Beatrice, while hauntingly and overbearingly appropriate at times, is occasionally distracting from the action due its reverberation in the space.
…him is an easily recommendable show. Originally devised by Duncan and Melbourne director Kat Henry, it’s easy to see as an annual production for theatres and festivals around the world. That’s not an excuse not to see it now, however. With only four more nights, I wouldn’t hesitate to see it four more times.
…him plays at The Basement until September 20. For details see The Basement