Monday, February 27, 2012

Review - The Lady from the Sea [*]

Abhinaya often provides lovely visuals, but the true beauty of this piece comes from the music.
I'm torn on if I'd recommend 'The Lady From the Sea', presented by Abhinaya Theatre Company with an original music score from Topology. There were a lot of aspects I really didn't like in the show but the music was stunningly evocative, so I quite enjoyed myself,

It's slightly misleading to entitle this as 'The Lady From the Sea' . Although it's billed as an adaptation, if anything this performance should clearly identify that it's loosely inspired from the original text. Ellida and Dr Wangel aren't even named in this performance, and none of the other characters feature other than the sailor. There is no mention of her deceased son or Wangel's other children, and text focuses exclusively on this love triangle between the three primary characters. As a result, the content of the play seems disappointingly repetitive, and we are very much forced to pay attention to the characters.

The characters were one dimensional. The principal woman (the character name was never spoken) had only two modes of delivering her lines, one in irritating and callous self-absorbed riddles that mainly insulted her husband (also not named) and the integrity of their marriage, and the other being these agonizing, grating wails. While both deliveries are tolerable initially, since the structure of the piece exclusively focuses on the love triangle, it’s pretty much all your hear for over an hour, and it’s really trying – other patrons commented on exactly the same thing.

Brisbane group Topology provide a gorgeous score
I recommended you divulge into the music and just blissfully tune any dialogue out. The principal man was a lot more tolerable, but the way the text is written forces him to primarily be one key, mostly speaking desensitized and defeated pleas for his wife not to leave him. The two were supported by a trio of artists who donned these bizarre masks of one large eye, and moved in synchronisation to form this otherworldly surrealistic imagery. There was a cool factor in the dancers but overall since there was no plot, the characters were not accessible or engaging to the audience.

I liked the set, but the projections were totally inappropriate and tacky. Their abrasive look really didn't gel with the elaborate stage movement of the dancers nor did it compliment the elegance of the music. Their movement of the actors was good, but the principals occasionally were confined to some plexiglass containers. That was probably the ultimate WTF moment of World Theatre Festival 2012.

The sound design was impeccable. The live voice over artist was menacing, but it sounded as if he spoke directly into the audience's ears and it was unnerving but simultaneously smooth and lulling. Gentle noises of the sea including the waves and bird cries also sporadically wafted into the soundscape. It worked perfectly with the action and was extremely effective with the music.

The music was the coruscating aspect of the production. The original score, composed by Robert Davidson, was performed live by the supremely talented Topology above the stage. Designed to resemble the ineffable textures of the sea, the incidental music is beautifully emotive, painting moods of yearning and lamentation through a distinct fusion influenced by the Mediterranean, the Caucasus and airy Scottish rifts. Totally gorgeous and it's worth the price of the ticket alone.

I'm torn on this production. While there is disappointment from the text and the characterization, the visual design including the choreography was excellent, and the music is utterly enchanting. While I'd recommend avoiding the piece due to the screeching from the actors and obscene design, I would recommend it for the music. The audience seemed pretty torn too - people around us were shifting (loudly) in their chairs, about half a dozen walked out, and others were asleep.

If there was a soundtrack available for purchase I'd recommend getting that and passing up the show. But there's not, so at the end of the day it depends how much you value music.

‘The Lady from the Sea’ presented by Ahbinaya Theatre Company and Topology is showing on 24-26 February at Brisbane Powerhouse’s World Theatre Festival. Duration of 70 minutes and presented in Malayalam with English subtitles. Visit the World Theatre Festival Official Website for more information on session times and to buy tickets and festival passes.

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