Mr Kolpert – Pantsguys, Rope and the Albee in us all. (Theatre Review)
ATYP from 30 July to 16 August. You can grab your tickets here.
Photography: Kate Williams
Surely the thrill in the underlying current of misbehavior (tween smoking at its least, calculated murder at its best) lies in the aftermath. Rules and their consequences are made for three reasons: to prevent bad behavior, to protect society from those who commit bad behavior, and to civilize us. All one has to do is remove consequences, and an entirely different discussion ensues. Ask yourself, what if the act of misbehaving is separate from its consequence? The rules are essential to define the act, but if you were sure to escape capture, who do you become? It was these themes Alfred Hitchcock explored in Rope, the primary source of inspiration for David Gieselmann’s Mr Kolpert, a stage play out of vibrant Berlin in its hay-day (can we say that now? Is Berlin-esque over yet?) that stretches Hitchcock’s themes to a place too impolitic for Hitchcock to go. However, what makes Mr Kolpert so interesting, and clever, is not so much the violent and extreme motifs extended out of Rope, but Gieselmann’s marrying this with the stylistic themes and syntax of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? to terrify us into realising the answers to the moral questions Hitchcock posed in Rope are before our very eyes. If you want to know if your crime committing propensity is singularly dependent upon a threat of capture, you only have to look at your own morality and the way you treat your loved ones for the answer. It is this implication that allows for the disarming nudity at the end of Mr Kolpert. I am blissfully naked because I am free from the horrors of a faux morality.
We know George and Martha want to kill each other. We all know we want to be in on the joke when David is buried in the trunk and the unsuspecting eat off his grave. We know love leads to hate and back again, and we know morality is probably the least effective (or perhaps it is the most effective?) barrier between us and ourselves. However, living under the burden of moral obligation dulls and destroys the passions or worse, as Nietzsche claimed, it makes us stupid. (see note 1. below) It is ugly enough to be good out of belief, but to be good out of habit is surely the sign of a living death? It is only when we are challenged in our ideas that we grow and moral law can encounter its self properly. Once an idea has been recognised, codified, institutionalised, and normalised, surely it is time for it to be examined? When director James Dalton brings Gieselmann’s ideas to the stage, he shrouds them in a vibrant hysteria that acts as both surreal comfort (distance) and accessible gateway (immediacy) to these strange places inside ourselves. Seeing the current Pantsguys manifestation of Mr Kolpert is a little like a therapy session on acid.
Speaking of examining ideas, this is a contextual leap, but Dalton’s style aided by Benjamin Brockman’s adroit lighting design gives a delightful voice to those of us a little put off by the recent Vivid Festival on our Sydney foreshores. An identical location, although appropriately “boxed into the trunk” of the ATYP stage, vibrant, swirling colour is the subtext for immoral secrets and a burdensome pedestrianism brought to life through exposing that which it tires to hide. I couldn’t help being reminded of all the “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” surrounding Vivid, as we witnessed technology dumbed down for an excuse to get the god-damned children out of the bloody house for the night. If only I’d had this version of Mr Kolpert playing in my mind as I stumbled my way through those crowds, wondering why my stomach was churning and why it all seemed so creepy.
But, to the production itself! This version of Mr Kolpert, directed by James Dalton, is as fine a version of the play as you’re likely to see. As I mentioned above, a key to its “entertainment value” (if you’re not tired of that nonsensical theatrical demand) lies in a great set and fantastic lighting by Antoinette Barboutis and Benjamin Brockman respectively and inspired fight choreography by Scott Witt who, together with Dalton (who has a rather peculiar talent for this) manage to bring comedy to violence in a way that has you laugh out loud at what really should make you cringe. All the creatives behind the scenes are at their best in this production, including thrilling sound design by Marty Jamieson and Alistair Wallace around music composed by Jamieson himself. Sydney has come up with some great sound in theatre this year, and Mr Kolpert is a production that uses its space well, to create an intense surround sound experience that adds to the eerie haze work of the other creatives. This is a production where, despite the high quality of the disparate creative voices, the parts make up a whole greater than their sum.
Inside all of this is the fine performance work by the cast, particularly Paige Gardiner as Edith Mole who has nestled herself into a role here that she’s familiar with and creatively attached to, so that she is able to mine it properly for all its complexity and comic absurdity. She and Tim Ruben as Ralf Droht have an easy familiarity that they use to their advantage, particularly in a very funny moment involving “rope” which hearkens back to the Hitchcock and the Albee influences. One gets a sense of the pair knowing the material very well, giving the audience access to all that is available underneath the absurd comedy. These two are well supported by Claire Lovering as Sarah Kenner and Garth Holcombe as Bastian Mole who round out the all important couple dynamic that is at the moral heart of Mr Kolpert. The comic tension is transformed with the arrival of Edan Lacey as the Pizza Man, our own voice finally arriving on stage to ask WTF, only to find he is forced to take his place as stooge for our darker selves. All the performances are well able to deliver the important dialogue and ensure it isn’t drowned in an ocean of fluorescents and haze.
Mr Kolpert is on at the ATYP from 30 July to 16 August. You can grab tickets here.
1. Morality makes stupid.— Custom represents the experiences of men of earlier times as to what they supposed useful and harmful – but the sense for custom (morality) applies, not to these experiences as such, but to the age, the sanctity, the indiscussability of the custom. And so this feeling is a hindrance to the acquisition of new experiences and the correction of customs: that is to say, morality is a hindrance to the development of new and better customs: it makes stupid.
from Nietzsche’s Daybreak,s. 19, R.J. Hollingdale transl.