Wednesday, December 7, 2011

'Fractions' by QTC

Prior to Fractions, the only exposure I'd had with Hypatia had been through glancing over her Wikipedia article, and watching Agora (both were pretty distressing). Based on the life of a female mathematician who is ostracised and later executed by zealous Christians, Marcel Dorney's new dramatisation of the life of Hypatia is magical, drawing upon historical events and recounts as inspiration to create a new telling of her final years and the fate of the Library of Alexandria. Fractions is a stunning piece created by an incredible cast and wonderful technical elements which I really recommend you make the trip to see.

The cast were all magnificent so I'm going to go ahead and write a big ol' block of text to describe them all. Jolene Anderson is mesmerising as Hypatia. She performs with an incredible mix of grace, passion and ferocity, communicating Hypatia's strong values and ethics mixed with the stubbornness that is her undoing. Hugh Parker portrays Orestes in a similar manner, firm and trusting as a paragon of order and justice that tries to resist and maintain the fragile balance of the political and the religious. I tip my non-existent hat to Jason Klaren who played Kyril, the loathsome and detestable antagonist. People around me uttered painful moans and protests whenever he appeared on stage and while he spoke something negative (which was all the time). It was lovely to see Lucus Stibbard on stage again, his characters were performed sincerely and were extremely likeable (he always carries this vibe of youthfulness and energy about him). The audience adored Eugene Gilfedder as the old Rika, the battered and candid soldier who provided some comic relief through his commentary. I was thrown a little by his crazy accent but the tenderness and genuine concern he showed for Hypatia and her obsession was a wonderful touch of humanity. This was easily the best cast I've seen in a professional production this year.

My favourite moment was when Hypatia addresses the audience and snaps that if the crowd want to talk, they can go outside. I burst out laughing and she shot the most FEROCIOUS look at me. Loved it.

This text is pretty anti-Christianity, and it's pretty obvious that the action of forcing your belief on someone is still socially unacceptable today. But some people just insist doing it.... around every ten minutes there will be at least one statement from a character which incriminates the religion as an erratic organisation that will blindly put their faith before any logic and common sense (all the plays I've seen by QTC have done this... it's pretty delightful). I initially wondered if Dorney had been influenced at all by Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar's movie Agora, but upon inspection of the programme Dorney started this in late 2007. I was wondering since the political and religious discourses are pretty hard to miss in this play, although I'm not sure what the overall message of this play was unless it was just to point out Christians were in the wrong around 400CE. They are portrayed as being ignorant, incredulous and slanderous towards people with any other faith (so... pretty much not much has changed). The amount of crap they do and get away with in this play (such as harming those who don't share their faith, burning knowledge that doesn't) is sort of disgusting, but the grotesque factor is intensified since most of it did actually happen in real life. Not sure where I'm going with this paragraph, I just started writing it because it looked like I hadn't written enough for the rest of this blog.

Joleen Anderson plays 'Hypatia' in Fractions.
I did love the show but it's not without its problems - it has pacing issues during some of the lengthier speeches in Act One (I found myself wondering if you can buy sour cream that you can just pour onto food, like you see on TV with soup... like, you can get sour cream in a carton and spoon it onto food, but can you get it in a form that's similar to milk?) and I found the flow of dialogue really erratic with the fusion of random modern day words and colloquialisms. I guess I could super-analyse it and look into why the direction was picked but overall I think the choice of some words sounded a little sloppy and disrupted the flow of the piece, and also partially took away from the location of the work.

These are minor concerns though, especially seeing as most of the time I was enamoured with the set. Simone Romaniuk's and Ben Hughes' visions for their design was gorgeous. The stage is a simple set up with doors on each side and a table in the middle. Simple design, but above the actors were shelves that held hundreds of rolled scrolls of various sizes. Combined with the evocative lighting hues ranging from fragile blues to bright gold, the stage was nothing short of beautiful and the library resonated with grandeur. I was also really pleased with Brett Collery's work as sound designer and composer. The main tune of the show was played by a forlorn cello with a crap-load of reverb that evoked a bunch of different emotions at once.  The music was ample, but if anything I would have liked to have heard more of it since it added a lot. I didn't really hear a distinct motif or notice any significance in terms of the music commenting on the action, but it was paired really well and heightened emotion.

The melancholic Fractions is the best QTC piece I've seen (ever) and is definitely one of the better professional productions I've caught this year. The cast are wonderful, the music, set and lighting all compliment each other perfectly, and the text is definitely worth experiencing since we'll never know what really happened to Hypatia (except she was systematically and brutally murdered by irrational Christians).

Tickets for Queensland Theatre Company's Fractions range from $30 to $75, and is showing until December 10th. Book by visiting QPAC's website or by calling 136 246.

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