Julie Anne and Julie are Bad in Bed, or So I Read (On A Toilet Stall Door) – (Sydney Fringe F Theatre Review)

When I walked out of Julie Anne and Julie are Bad in Bed, or so I read (On a Toilet Stall Door) – how’s that for a title – I commented to the good folk of the PACT theatre there that night, that the most experimental works I’d seen at The Sydney Fringe this year were written and directed by women.  Given the standard has been consistently high, It gives me a thrill to be so to close a fresh female voice, including structural and narrative changes that give the possibility of new directions in thinking about theatre and the theatrical experience. Julie Anne and Julie are Bad In Bed or So I Read (On a Toilet Stall Door) is a piece of writing for theatre that embraces the audience (Listener, reader, viewer) and their role in the realization of what we call art, or the artistic experience.

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Like the tree falling in the forest that doesn’t make a sound if no one is there to hear it, Emma White refuses the movement of action toward viewing as passively interpreting what has already taken place. Instead, White uses her writing and her actors to fuse the act and the witness, interrupting the established relationship between actor(director and intention) and viewer (passive recipient) so that the act and the witness to the act become one and same thing.  This is a direct assault on the subjectivity of the director and the objectivity of the audience and vice versa. Interpretation vanishes in the immediacy of the act.  For Emma White, this bestows “power” on the audience, but it is of course really just an acknowledging of a power that already exists. As Emma White acknowledges the power of the witness, then the witness is compelled to acknowledge the power of the act, rather than resort to interpretation as a way to transform their theater-going experience from passive object to solipsistic subject.

So how does Emma White do this?  How is the audience and the play, and the sums that make up these wholes, brought together to form a “now” that refuses a “post-now” transformation?  She includes the audience in the play as part of the play, but as actors of sorts, moving not from their subjectivity but their objectivity, so that they see themselves as part of the play.  And yet, within the “walls” of the stage, they are still witnesses, because our protagonists (Aubrey Godden and Alexandra Reynolds) are telling a story, which is a memory, within the play anyway. So, Emma White takes the audience out of their seat, and places them on the stage, complete with lines and stage directions, and gets them to act like an audience.

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The paradox here, is that an actor is an object.  Their feelings are not their own, even their face is not their own.  An audience member interprets a play, adjudicating its merit based on message successfully delivered, and in this way regains personal subjectivity away from the objectification of being a kind of blank canvass, a passive recipient that the play has imposed itself upon. To make the audience an actor, acting out the role of the audience, directly imposes objectivity on the audience member, that also relieves the unspoken tension created by the assumed passive role of the audience.  In other words, when Emma White has her actors hand an audience member a card with stage directions, telling them to move onto the stage, make themselves a cup of tea and listen to the actor, the audience member becomes a subject in their willingness to participate. The result:  audience and play become one.

This may all sound like a lot of convoluted mumbo-jumbo, but to a philosophy nerd like myself, it was an enormously thrilling theatre experience. This is such a tiny play, very little happens other than Lola stands alone and relates a story to us from her past as she moves around her stage in the present. Her “flat mate” or “psyche” Theodora moves around her in the present as well, all the time both interacting with her, and working in the future, by preparing the stage directions that will be handed out to the audience members, and moving objects from here to there filling the endless present with the objects of the now. In this way, the very clever Emma White, has a small one hour piece of theatre, that incorporates the past, present and future while also fusing story, story teller and story listener.

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Julie Anne and Julie Are Bad in Bed or So I Read (On A Toilet Stall Door) is particularly recommended if you like your art dripping with philosophical problems, but even outside of that inquiry, it is an exciting theatre experience that will have you chatting with your friends long into the night.

Julie Anne and Julie Are Bad in Bed or So I Read (On A Toilet Stall Door) is now showing at the PACT theatre as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival. You can grab your tickets here.

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