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.

Boy Girl Wall Accordion

It has been the kind of month that invites adventure in and won’t let it leave till it’s properly sloshed—by which stage it’s difficult to ever get rid of. I’ve been to see some outrageously good shows, rambled around cemeteries, written lots, and re-manifested myself as the love child (imagine that) of Tank Girl and Delirium. Hullo, April—where did March go?! This is where:

Jason Webley @ The Zoo

Early last week, Jason Webley arrived in Queensland to finish the Down Under leg of 2011’s epic world tour. Finally seeing him perform, after four and a half years of waiting, was a singular joy. Webley’s Brisbane show at The Zoo on March 23 attracted around 200 punters, all very ready to stomp and sing and become his makeshift orchestra.

When he’s on stage, the slogan on promo posters, “post-apocalyptic fun,” makes perfect sense. I can imagine Webley—in his beloved, battered dancing hat—as the kind of musician that would get us through the apocalypse and still have us dancing even after the sky had long since crashed down.

Those who came along to Webley’s farewell house party (/hosts’ housewarming) were in for an extra treat. The night turned into one long, glorious jam session. (I even got out my trumpet! And toyed with an unsuspecting ukelele!) You’ll find a garage-full of people playing Eleven Saints floating around on YouTube, no doubt.

Jason Webley @ The Zoo—photo by Zen’s dodgy phone

Poetry & Graveyards

Earlier in the week, I was very pleased to be able to drag Mr Webley and a RagTag group of Brisbanites around my favourite of haunts, Toowong Cemetery—an adventure in itself. After several months of guilty neglect, I’ve been visiting the graveyard much more often. (I don’t know how I manage to forget the necropolis down the road–inside the gates it is always cooler and quieter than it could ever get in our sweltering house.)

More gravewalks means more grave poems—a good thing, since last year’s ramblings are beginning to see the light. Issue 35 of Cordite Poetry Review, Oz-Ko (Envoy) is online as of today, and I’m super excited to say that there you’ll find Warning. Consider it the introduction to that forthcoming cemetery collection I so often talk about (see! bits of it exist!).

And in extra shiny, super-duper rad breaking news, our own Jeremy Thompson is one of three poets commended by judge Peter Minter in 2010’s Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize, rising above over 1000 entries into the realm of Awesome. Whee!

boy girl wall @ La Boite

Bear with me, because my segues for this blog are about to get worse. In fact, non-existent. Run with it. You might remember me raving away last year about a wonderful little Brisbane show called boy girl wall. Well, it’s back on this year at La Boite, and last night’s opening performance proved its just as marvellous as we thought the first time around. Maybe a bit more marvellous.

Lucas Stibbard in boy girl wall—photo by Al Caeiro

In 2010, The Escapists’ one-man show, performed by Lucas Stibbard—with live music from Neridah Waters—relied on the walls of the Sue Benner Theatre at Metro Arts (the set was literally drawn on with chalk), so I was interested to see how they’d handle La Boite’s in-the-round set-up. Fortunately, The Escapists have made something gorgeous out of a potential problem: a chalk-board green stage hits the horizon line and becomes a collage of blackboards rising into the rafters. In the vast La Boite space, Keith Clark’s lighting really helps to hold everything together (I only wish he could use his lighting powers to rig up a more powerful OHT).

Beyond the venue, not too much has changed, and it was lovely to visit the 20-something characters again (especially dear Power Box and the lovely, but somewhat gothic library assistant). The script is clever, life-affirming, and above all, maddeningly funny. Seeing boy girl wall again, the influence of Under Milk Wood (which Stibbard and I chatted about recently in Rave Magazine) becomes delightfully clear. If you enjoy being happy, you should grab tickets before the rest of the season sells out.