REVIEW: Delicacy

Director Lucas Stibbard warns audiences that Delicacy is not a nice play — a wonderfully delicate phrase to use. This two-person, one-hour play, inspired by the life of German cannibal Armin Meiwes and his lover/meal, will make you squirm and cringe for what feels like hours. Although the show turns on the question of “will they or won’t they consummate their cannibalistic plan?” — a morbid twist on the old romantic trope — the characters’ domestic exchanges generate some of the most keenly felt discomfort.

Neil (Cameron Hurry), the character to be eaten, flits between psychotic bursts of aggression and agitated silence. Even when utterly still, as when he watches porn at the dining-room table, he vibrates with explosive unpredictability. Denny (Gregory Scurr) is a picture of passivity, absorbing Neil’s physical and verbal abuse to respond with praise and apologies, attending to Neil’s every whim. A review of an earlier production of Delicacy compares Denny to a manservant. In contrast, Stibbard and Scurr’s Denny, though servile, also achieves a fine layer of menace. If he feeds, praises and dotes on Neil, he does so in the manner of a attendant to a human sacrifice.

Costume designer Rachel Cherry transforms the mostly vegetarian Denny into a butcher figure with a simple transparent plastic apron. Their monochromatic clothes — Denny in pink, Neil in red — continually remind us of the blood, its flow and its release, that is at the heart of this play. Elongated silences punctuate Neil’s outbursts; in these silences Denny’s mask slips. Deep shadows in his eyes, created at these precise moments by Cameron Parish’s clever lighting, reveal a brooding and impenetrable core. These indirect touches sustain a brilliantly tense and uneasy mood in a play that is quite coy about the cannibalism that forms its gothic centre. Early on, our only clues are cryptic references in otherwise domestic dialogue.

Delicacy

Similarly, Bec Woods’ set is ever so slightly unnerving: recognisably domestic — a dining room and a kitchen — but exaggerated, distorted. The kitchen bench extends too far and ends up looking industrial. When Denny cooks, the kitchen dwarfs him. The dining room table seems huge with Denny and Neil crowded together in one corner. In stark contrast, a single, preposterously strong light above the dining table occasionally constricts the stage to illuminate just the table, creating a claustrophobic mood where before the space had seemed unmanageably large.

My one problem with the play involves its script. The story diverges quite significantly from the events that inspire it, which is not in itself a problem. The problem is that these divergences strip the original story of its interesting nuances. To recap the headlines, two otherwise likeable and normal-looking men, who shared affection, consensually agreed that one should eat the other. The men were well-regarded in their neighbourhoods — likable, relatable cannibals. It’s a true story that raises compelling questions.

On the other hand, Julian Hobba’s script turns both of these people into eminently unlikeable characters — selfish, childish, and violent — which immediately throws up a wall between them and the audience, letting viewers off the hook. There’s no chance that they will empathise with either Denny or Neil, short-circuiting the original story’s moral quandary.

Ultimately this play is not so much about cannibalism as it is a play that involves cannibalism. This story doesn’t plumb the depths of what it might mean to perform the act of eating another human, but it is a well-told gothic tale — tense, suspenseful, and shocking.

Delicacy runs at the Brisbane Arts Theatre until Jun 15. http://www.artstheatre.com.au

JEREMY THOMPSON was assistant arts editor at OffStreet Press. His work has been published in Small Packages, Rave Magazine, Voiceworks, and Notes From The Gean.

REVIEW: Frankenstein

Fractal Theatre reanimates the Gothic horror in a new adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, playing at Brisbane’s beloved Arts Theatre.

Inside the theatre, Chancie Jessop’s design is immediately striking, transformed by Geoff Squires’ lighting from arctic wilderness to velvet-draped living room, from graveyard to dense forest. The repeated motif of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man is a fitting tip of the hat to Frankenstein as an early — if not the first — science fiction novel.

Brenna Lee-Cooney directs a strong cast in a production that perfectly captures the atmosphere of the English Gothic novel, in all its ruined finery. Coached in movement by Brian Lucas, the cast at once embodies the grotesque and the burlesque. Characters tiptoe, jerk and twitch across the stage as if we are really inside a life-size puppet theatre. The result is a mood as funny as it is unsettling. (It occurs to me that BAT would make a wonderful variety cabaret venue.)

Frankenstein

Andrew Lowe takes the lead as Victor Frankenstein, a man troubled by his conscience — and its literal manifestation in his monster (Cameron Hurry). Hurry is superb as the reanimated creature — vulnerable, frightening, alluring, and very human. Thomas Yaxley makes a wonderful comic sidekick of Victor’s friend Clerval. Likewise, Zoe de Plevitz stands out as Victor’s betrothed, the long-suffering Elizabeth. It’s interesting to see Eugene Gilfedder take a back seat, supporting this cast of up-and-coming young things as various paternal archetypes.

Frankenstein skids along at a fast pace, but Lee-Cooney’s adaptation is too loyal to the source text. At two and a half hours, Fractal’s Frankenstein gets bogged down in the dense language of the novel (published in 1818). With the exception of our time with the creature, there are few moments of reflection; to pack the story in, every spare second is crammed with dialogue or narration. One can’t help but feel that a freer approach might have allowed more breathing space, and more time for design and movement to resonate with the audience.

I rather like seeing professional productions play in the low-tech, cosy Arts Theatre. Minor technical issues — such as Eugene Gilfedder’s atmospheric compositions competing with the actors’ un-miked voices — soon even out as we settle into the play. While overlong, Frankenstein delights with its interpretation of the Gothic as spooky melodrama.

 

Frankenstein plays at Brisbane Arts Theatre until 18 May, 2013, with two midnight performances on 4 and 11 May.

P.S. In the first half, my biro rolled away, never to return. However, broggling about under the seat in front in the interval, we did find two different pens in working order. The Theatre is a generous mistress.