Thursday, December 20, 2012

Some Thoughts on Children of War [*]

(Source: Facebook)
I found this in my drafts so I thought I might as well post it.

My thoughts on The Danger Ensemble's Children of War are about as messy as the piece itself. Performed by an impressive team of young actors, the piece is packed with potential and has moments of brilliance, but on a whole it's too ambitious. It tries to explore too many issues and agendas, the script doesn't allow focus on characters enough to develop a connection with them, and the design just isn't cohesive enough to cater for the entire production.

The actors are uniformly good, but none of them are really featured prominently since the cast is so big, and it feels like everyone is being given time in the spotlight but don't get enough to create a connection. Eva Rae Smith is magnificent as the tactical and graceful Iphigenia - she's also probably the only actor who can project properly - and Elle Mickel's performance of Polyxena was my favourite, as a cynical and ridiculously impractical character who has some of the best sassy lines. Hats off to Sam Barnett and Taryn Allen, who have a little bit of stage time, but then spend about an hour of stage time just looking blankly at projection screens.

Who are the characters talking to? It seems as though they're telling us a story, but there's no consistency in who we are in relation to them.

The issue with the show is that it tries to explore WAY too many things, and despite the show clocking in at a devestating 130 minutes, its exploration and comments are too basic to have any real impact. The piece is replete with xenophobic, self image and homosexual connotations (to name a few), but they're only lightly explored in one or two character, and since it cuts between eight different stories, focus is very quickly lost and facts are forgotten almost as quickly as they're thrown at you. The text demands the audience to have a lot of prior knowledge, and if you don't have it, you feel really stupid. There is such a barrage of information delivered in the first acts including who is who, but it wasn't until a second viewing that I could really follow who was who and what their agenda was. There's also so much contradiction, mostly found in Iphigenia. I like the smell of gasoline - maybe this is a dream and we're still on the airoplane (I don't know!). She wallows on about how she hates war and is against violence and hates being used as a device of her father. But then she turns out to be a suicide bomber, killing many of her peers. What exactly does that achieve? Where did that come from!?

The timeline is frustratingly hard to follow. The characters act like children in the first half and then act like adults, although they are still in school and are concerned about the formal. When did the War start? They don't appear to have changed appearance or age since Agamemmnon announced the beginning.

Visuals are the director's forte, but there are so many bizarre symbolic portrayals in the piece and its quite esoteric. It seems like there's initially symbolism to be found in the colour of hair. The cast half have either blonde or brown hair; Helen has a mixture of both shades. There's apparently no significance. I didn't know what 'It Get's Better' was - and thought it was an integral part to understand Patroclus - but it turns out it's just a minor detail. I feel like the only reason Briseis walks around mouthing opera lyrics was so she could have some more stage time, because it felt unnecessary and if you took it out, not much would change. One example is there is a small amount of grass 'beyond the wall', which one actor enters into by running backstage and then emerging on to it through a specific entrance. Okay, it's established that characters, who haven't entered this space previously, can't enter this area of grass unless they take the route back stage. Then, irritatingly, a bunch of characters just step directly into it. It's little things like this that drive the audience crazy, because it's irritating to see the characters make rules in this universe and then break them almost immediately.

The media is okay, occasionally brilliant (the opening, the burning reveal of Iphigenia), occasionally looking like it was shot for ABC kids (Ascanius destroying Helen). I didn't understand the video footage of The Sims and custard being poured onto naked women. The music is big and powerful, industrial and gothic themed movements pop up all over the place, but its tie to the emotion and action of the piece is pretty shallow. The set design is frustratingly bare and not used very well throughout the piece. Initially, it's presented as if it's a playground - there is a slide that does very little, except obstruct part of the projections, and is used a grand total of twice in the first act before it disappears completely. There's also a swing which characters sit on, but it's unidentified where it actually sits in the world and what the significance of it is. It feels like there is a lot of potential and significance to be found in the playground theme, but it's not explored or utilised deeply enough.

Yes, there a moments of brilliance. The opening montage is propels your interest with the perfect mixture of video, sound and dialogue, there are some awesome lines ("History may not remember me, but I was fucking fabulous", or something similar), and a dress literally evaporates in front of your eyes. But it's not enough to save interest or provide anything compelling or engaging overall. A really ambitious project that is stretched too thin.

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