Bicycle – Freedom to choose your suffering. (Theatre review)



Lies, Lies and Propoganda Theatre Company with Red Line Productions

Late stage, Old Fitz Theatre June 21 – July 2 You can grab your tickets here

Photo by Matt Ralph. Set (from Inner Voices) by Anna Gardiner.

At the end of the great novel “The Piano Teacher” by Elfrie Jelinek immortalised in a film by Michael Haneke, the novel’s heroine, Erica walks down the street, an image of determination and resolve, after taking a knife from her bag and stabbing a superficial wound into her upper chest, causing her blood to ooze onto her perfect cream blouse. She has separated herself from a relationship with her lover in which she begged him to be sadist to her masochist, all under the watchful eye of her oppressive mother. Her lover performs this outrageous request, imposing his masculinity on his sadism, culminating in ignoring her in public. A traditional masculine reading of this scene is that Erica is so distraught by the departure of her lover that she inflicts a wound on herself. However, the wound is not deep nor is it dangerous. In fact, Jelinek’s point is that Erica has finally freed herself from misogynistic oppression and can now perform what she needs on herself. Is not the woman at the centre of Bicycle the same? In the physical liberation of her bloomers and her mobility on the bicycle, she will equally experience ejection from patriarchy. But she is free to find her own darkness, and surprise surprise, it comes to her as a vampire.

Please don’t imagine that I here mean something as base and crass as to encourage women to hurt themselves. Elfride Jelinek’s point, as with Danielle Baynes’ point, is not that the pain of women is essential, but rather that in literature, is a right of being essentially free. As Nietzsche would argue, we should not steal the pain from each other any more than we should steal the pleasure, for the pain forces us to be who we are and to become something more. It is when it is inflicted by another that our freedom is appropriated, stolen. The message of Erica Khout, as with the Baynes’ heroine who rushes directly to Dracula’s house as soon as she is free, is that we cease to be object and become subject. Salt n’ Peppa also personify this message with their remarkably astute song, “None of your business.”

In the remarkable play Bicycle, showing at The Old Fitz, it is only when she has given herself over to her own demise – exercised her own freedom –  that she can write. To write, the ultimate symbol of positive freedom is to choose a formation of words that create a resonating consensus for your opinion. Writer Danielle Baynes takes this point to its natural conclusion to show the woman, jailed for her unnatural desires, attempting to publish her work under a pseudonym. It is here the horrible relationship between female oppression and legislation comes to the fore, as to publish anonymously is to forgo the power of the words, reduce them to the personal, and remove the threat of any freedoms spreading. To allow women to ride a bicycle, states Baynes, was to unleash far more that an increase in speed from point A to point B. The question confounding eighteenth century commentators amazed by female interest in the bicycle was not why is she doing this, but where is she going?

All this and more is in the beautifully prepared Bicycle showing at The Old Fitz. Lies Lies and Propaganda have brought a production to the late night stage that is the highest quality, with Michael Dean’s nuanced direction calling forth a superb performance from Danielle Baynes and Pip Dracakis, whose mighty violin resonates into the theatre confounding us with its ability to provide a promise of hope. The story, if compellingly depressing, still throbs with hope and joy as Michael Dean’s team step out of any form of peachiness or modern day moralising to cast a light on a mystery exemplified by the words of Virginia Wolf printed at the fore of the programme. Just how many of those beautiful works of literature in history attributed to anonymous were written by women? Movement coach Amanda Laing and Michael Dean bring a new slant to the production using the set of Inner Voices to include a dark vibrancy to the show.

But in the end, this is Danielle Baynes’ night as she speaks her beautiful words with a power house performance that completely convinces. As usual Lies Lies and Propaganda have brought a first class production to our Sydney stages, and it is one you will not want to miss.

Highly recommended.