Pearls Before Swine – An Evening with Orson Welles. (Sydney Fringe Festival)

I started at the top and worked my way down.

Blake Erickson must be an enormous Orson Welles fan. Either that or he looks so much like him and was obviously mistaken for the ghost of Orson Welles so many times, he decided to just run with it and be him for and hour or so and a couple of nights. With a little help from his friends (Sarah Blackstone as Director, Neil Gooding as producer and Scott Dias on the lights) he has written and performs the one man show, Pearls Before Swine. I saw it this year at the closing night of the Sydney Fringe Festival, but it is my understanding Erickson performed this very play in the past at other similar festivals.

My suspicion is he was asked back. This is a stunning evening in the theatre, with a performance that is such  perfect mimicry it rivals Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. However, unlike Margaret Thatcher, Orson Welles is a fascinating creature with a beautiful face, voice and such an animation of character that to watch him is mesmerizing.  I had no idea while I was watching Erickson that he was so very like Orson Welles.  I knew little about Orson Welles outside of War of the Worlds, Citizen Kane and Julius Caesar  Of course  after the show I was fascinated and wanted more and it was through my subsequent internet surfing that the realisation of the splendour of Erickson’s performance descended.

We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.

By cutting and pasting Welles own words, Erickson has put together a defence of sorts against the accusations of his falling from intellectual greatness.  Famous accusations claimed Welles later work was nothing to his earlier work – although he had received a great deal of criticism over those at the time of their happening also. On a sparse stage, with an arm chair, a whisky, a microphone and a small table with an old radio taking pride of place, Erickson manifests a Welles that makes no apologies for his actions and seeks to explain himself only by way of clarification. This is an unapologetic Welles, filled with charisma, cynical at the loss of support and friendship he endured with that biting casual wit that slices like a hot knife through butter.

Everybody denies I am a genius – but nobody ever called me one!

According to wikipedia and following on from part of the performance last night, Wells’ experienced more than his fair share of interference as a film maker. His first film was Citizen Kane (1941), which he co-wrote, produced, directed, and starred in as Charles Foster Kane. Welles was always an outsider to the studio system and directed only 13 full-length films in his career. While he struggled for creative control in the face of studios, many of his films were heavily edited and others were left unreleased. His distinctive directorial style featured layered and nonlinear narrative forms, innovative uses of lighting such as chiaroscuro, unusual camera angles, sound techniques borrowed from radio, deep focus shots, and long takes. He has been praised as a major creative force and as “the ultimate auteur.” Welles followed up Citizen Kane with other critically acclaimed films, including The Magnificent Ambersons in 1942, and Touch of Evil in 1958.

If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.

When you are down and out something always turns up – and it is usually the noses of your friends.

The October 30, 1938 radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells brought Welles instant fame. The combination of the news bulletin form of the performance with the between-breaks dial spinning habits of listeners from the rival and far more popular Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy program was later reported in the media to have created widespread confusion among listeners who failed to hear the introduction, although the extent of this confusion has recently come into question. Panic was reported to have spread (after citation from rumors) among many listeners who believed the news reports of a Martian invasion. The myth of the result created by the combination was reported as fact around the world and disparagingly mentioned by Adolf Hitler in a public speech a few months later. The 1975 docudrama The Night That Panicked America was based on events centring around the production of, and events that resulted from, the program. Interestingly, according to the play, Hitler used the broadcast and American confusion to denounce Western decadence – a cry that is all too familiar and quickly attached to all sorts of acts of oddity performed by Western nations. Orson Welles simply said he met Hitler once and found him remarkably devoid of any personality. (One of many fascinating tid-bits)

A good artist should be isolated. If he isn’t isolated, something is wrong.

I passionately hate the idea of being with it; I think an artist has always to be out of step with his time.

There are some wonderful moments in the play – in fact an hour full of them. Its a gripping hour that doesn’t lose its thrill for a moment. The script is made of Welles’ own words, so fabulously lush lines like: Citizen Kane is a story of loss.  A man who started at the top and worked his way down; So why does the picture loom so large; The only way to work in the arts is as a totalitarian dictator; Citizen Kane is not about Hearst; The left is not losing to Mc Carthyism, it is losing to nihilism; One of those people whom old age glorifies; The radio is always available if you promise not to use the radio to say anything; Silence from you is what we need most of all; Shakespeare said everything; so that’s it, straight from the horse’s ass.

I’m not the only person to have raved about this wonderful show. I was a little late getting there, and my kind usher whispered  “You will have a wonderful time. Everyone does.” as I was shown my seat. I hear the show might be travelling around.  Well lets at least hope it does the rounds at another Fringe Festival. I’d certainly love to see it again.

The Sydney Fringe Festival is now over, and this show won’t be seen there again this year. However keep your eyes peeled, and clutch a ticket with both hands if you see it come your way.