Here Lies Henry: Jason Langley and Matthew Hyde do Daniel MacIvor (Sydney Fringe Festival)
Metatheatre is usually loosely described as comedy and tragedy at the same time, where the audience laughs while experiencing empathy. The technique allows for a unique experience where audience and actor are almost blurred into a different sort of creature so that the traditional experience of “watching a play” is completely turned upon its head.
This is part of the bases for Daniel MacIvor’s wonderful play Here Lies Henry.
Henry Tom Gallery is thrust on to a dark stage, told only that he has to tell the audience something they don’t already know. And so Henry does this. Or at least he tries to do it. He starts with the line “Preparation is the mortal enemy of spontaneity” and then proceeds to give us a monologue where his humanity is disturbingly on display. Lights and staging help him sometimes; sometimes they do not. He recognizes some members of the audience; others he does not. However, Henry suspects he has figured out those he doesn’t know, just as we repeatedly suspect we have figured Henry out.
And this is the problem you see. How does a man under the blaze of lights, twitching and writhing in his humanity, tell us something that we don’t know? For all we see is ourselves. The question soon becomes then, how well do we know ourselves?
Nietzsche argued in the first chapter of On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, that there is a connection between knowledge and the desire to lie, and MacIvor plays with these concepts in Here Lies Henry. Almost certainly the wonderful script is based in the short Nietzschean text. MacIvor connects (as does Nietzsche) lies with the original lie that led to knowledge; that of the acts of lieing and then knowing in the garden of Eden. And what did they know when they knew, Henry asks us. They knew they were naked. And so, this is how we see Henry. A man who has to tell us something we do not know. A naked man, who is also a liar.
There are eight lies that lead to a kind of knowledge, Henry tells us:
1. The Just kidding lie
2. The White lie
3. The Lie lie (or the excuse)
4. The Pathological lie
5. The Professional lie
6. The Survival lie
7. The Universal lie
8. The lie known as time.
The monologue then pours out of Henry as he works through the general awkwardness of being on a stage in front of a bunch of people and keep them entertained. The writing is tight, poetic and at times very beautiful. There are charming acts of Freud; coughs at the mention of Father, giggles at the mention of Mother. There are references to Nietzsche and the nature of time. Time itself becomes a fellow occupier of the space between birth and death, along with beauty, reality, terror and reason. Trees are green with envy, the moon is blue with sadness. All of this occurs, says Henry, surrounded by a boundless limitless sea of the most profound inertia.
Henry promises us that psychology says that people are supposed to be understood. But in the end, our love is reduced to being the body in the next room.
Here Lies Henry is a grueling seventy minute one man performance. At the Sydney Fringe Festival, Henry is wonderfully performed by Matthew Hyde and brilliantly directed by Jason Langley. It is a thrilling performance that I would only describe as gripping. Controversial in scope, it is the kind of play that will leave you challenged and you will find yourself talking it over with your fellow attendees for hours after. I am a little late with my review, but I urge everyone to get to tomorrow nights performance. This is one that must not be missed.