Dot Dot Dot – Fresh Sydney writing tells a tale that’s old and new. (Theatre review)
Dot dot dot
The Old 505 Theatre in its new digs at 5 Eliza st Newtown
Until 28 November. You can grab your tickets here.
Pop culture may be venerated today, acknowledged by writers such as David Foster Wallace and given credence via cult status, but it is worth remembering the tabloid newspapers birth coincides with wide-spread literacy. It is no accident that as soon as the average person in the street gained an education (around the mid 1800’s) that material was provided that focused on gossip, fortune-telling, recipes, the private lives of sports stars and of course sensational crime stories. It is for the same reason that, up until very recently, females were kept out of main stream publishing and relegated to magazines that focused on gossip and the royal family. Keep feeding the mind rubbish and you won’t be able to use it for anything else. The importance and power of this tool can’t be underestimated. Not quite the same as propaganda, tabloid journalism is a tool to keep the masses satiated – an opiate, to paraphrase Marx. As soon as the everywoman and everyman gain access to a deeper level of information, the tabloid machine meets them there. The modern-day baron of this practice, is of course our very own Rupert Murdoch, a man so closely associated with the tabloid, he taints everything he touches, including Fox news and Foxtel. Control is the intention of the tabloid and because its power is tenuous in a democracy, because at any time we could reach for another newspaper, or a book, attend theatre or a film, the tabloid talons are relentless in their outreach, constantly seeking to tantalize us with the latest sportsman’s drug scandal or a celebrities naked ass.
Sometimes, as we have seen, a newspaper will be forced to create a story to keep up with this relentless funnel to those with a right to vote. This is exemplified in the terrible story of Princess Diana, chased by a paparazzi who, ironically, were successful in gleaning a greater story than they could hope for out of her tragic death. Princess Diana’s death was more newsworthy than her life. When someones death makes such good copy, it should be a sign we’ve lost our way. Instead the opposite is true. How responsible are we for what we read? How much does our unconsciousness cost us? What is omitted when we read sensational news? It is these questions and others that Drew Fairley examines in his excellent play Dot Dot Dot. The ellipses has always represented an omission, the unsaid. The thing missing that is presumed to be known. But how much do we know in the dot dot dot?
Wrapped in a fictional Gothic tale of the rampage of a serial killer in the early days of the Sydney colony, Dot dot dot examines the growing importance of the tabloid as women were finding a voice and trying to make inroads into the halls of male privilege. Fairly weaves a circular narrative that is structurally complex, leaning heavily on the tropes of Gothic story telling to locate his very modern point in a timeless vortex. We have had the tabloid for as long as we have had main stream education, and its popularity is directly proportionate to its target audience. Fairly’s two female protagonists are an astrology practicing tarot reader and a drug addicted whore, both easy targets now that they read. Their defense is to learn what not to read, but how do you stop those around you? If the plot is challenging to follow, we are assisted by the competent and subdued direction of Gareth Boylan, who moves Fairly’s characters around an almost bare stage, according to the rise and fall of the suspense of the piece. This is subtle direction supporting strong, declarative writing whose greatest achievement is in keeping the audience glued to long and winding narrative flow. All the characters are immediately interesting, and all beautifully complex.
Boylan and Fairly are supported in this endeavor by a strong cast, headed by the always formidable Lucy Miller who above all brings a consistently high standard to every production. As a drug addled mistress she is sensual and strong, commanding a stage she comfortably owns. Dot dot dot’s esoteric structure and devotion to avant guard writing needs performances that comfortably own the material, and Lucy Miller brings the text to spirited life, giving the play the emotional depth that might be lacking if a lesser performer took the helm. Equally, the cast around her tackle the material with that same ardent passion that goes hand in hand with the Gothic but equally carries mosaic writing to its own ardent depths. Matt Abell-King and Natalie Venettacci traverse a variety of scenarios with ease, keeping the story tight, but light so that its ephemeral touches (Dot dot dot feels like the ghost of its characters at times) is never lost. Gerrard Carroll brings a weighty masculine voice to round out the productions four characters and multiple layers. Boylan has the characters move around each other, paying homage to the text, but also to the transient nature of human connection that can still have such devastating consequences.
Dot dot dot is not an easy piece of Australian writing, but it is an exhilarating one. It is grounded in a European traditional Gothic, but equally draws on the avant guard to give additional weight to its warnings about the perils of easy or main stream writing. It’s a beautifully written play, particularly exciting because the writer is not only an Australian but a local Sydney bloke. This is a great show and well worth a trip to the charming new digs at 5 Eliza, new home to 505 theatre.