BU121 – But, I believe this with certainty. (Theatre Review)
Outhouse theatre Company
Old 505 Theatre, 8 Feb to 25 Feb
Images: Rupert Reid
It was Wittgenstein who considered a mistake and certain evidence to be the same thing. It intrigued him that someone could make a mistake. His argument lay in the proposition that the statement “true or false” has something misleading about it, as if you are saying “it tallies with the facts or it doesn’t” when the very thing that is in question here is “tallying.” What is it for a nation to have an experience of “terrorism” that results in a great source of national pride? Does it matter that the horrific act of terrorism was not actually performed on them, but rather someone like them, or someone who could easily have been them? It might as well have been them. And yet, it is not them who have undergone the experience. Rather those who do, turn to the sort of placebic self-preservation that implies weakness – rushing to marry the wrong person in place of a deceased mother, making a pretence at selfishness when you’re really too scared to be vulnerable, forcing relationships emblematic of circumstance with no other substance to support them or contemplating suicide in order to relive the plight of those forced to deal with you. This is Stuart Slade’s point. That the vitriolic, the enraged citizen is usually affected by association. After all, a person whose life is genuinely diminished by an act of unprecedented violence is often too busy surviving to be self-indulgent about patriotism.
When Stuart Slade (and through his words, director Erin Taylor) asks us to consider the possibility that a person involved in a terrorist attack might be undergoing an issue of false identity, is he not directly speaking to those of us who make decisions as if we have been a part of a terrorist attack? In certain circumstances, we regard a calculation or an experience as being sufficiently checked. What gives us the right to do so? Experience? May that not have deceived us? Somewhere we must be finished with justification, and there remains the proposition that this is how we calculate. (Wittgenstein on Certainty) Is this not the very proposition Donald Trump forces us to face today? What is the difference between becoming indignant about a terrorist attack we did not actually suffer through, and a fake terrorist attack we are free to suffer through? Why does it matter that 9/11 happened, or that it be replaced with the Bowling Green Massacre? Donald Trump’s point is the ensuing nationalism, regardless of the events that led to its achievement. Yet about this, we remain indignant. Why? What right do we have that we colonise such events and react or respond? What right to our leaders have in calling our responses forth?
We see this problem expressed through trauma time and time again. The death penalty insists on separating a judiciary from those affected by horrific crime – not because the judiciary is impartial as we claim, but because nine times out of ten, the grieving family will not care about the punishment of the accused, as they know nothing will bring their loved one back. Punishment is a matter reserved for the outraged, not the victim. To not doubt facts is to be free to judge, and not judging makes us free to act. Therefore, we say that we will be angry over 9/11 but not over the Bowling Green Massacre, because a line must be drawn for us to act. Herein lies the purpose of facts; they demand action and action must be regulated. What offends us about Donald Trump’s claim is not that he tells falsehoods like facts, it is that he demands a call to arms based on a falsehood as well as a truism. But without upholding his end of the social contract. His call must be based in a certain criterion we demand before we are willing to act. It is for this reason so many will be convinced of his falsehoods; the will to act compels them to make a claim on reason.
It is all this and so much more that Stuart Slade interrogates in his beautiful play BU21. This is an excellent production at the 505 theatre, complete with complex characters and a beautifully executed choreographic relationship to the synchronicity of nationalism and the easy flow of taking refuge in the aggressive stance of the other. Erin Taylor does a wonderful job with a highly talented cast, who are all engaged and connected to character and any broader emblem that character may be burdened to carry. Of note is the wonderful work of Jessica-Belle Keogh, Emily Havea and Whitney Richards who bring depth and imagination to underwritten female characters. It’s a too common problem for me to rabbit on about, especially with a production as fine as this is (and it is an excellent production) but it’s a shame to see such potential lost into a void. Still, the three women and their director do a great job of breathing life into these characters, with a particular standout being Jessica-belle Keogh as Ana who fills the stage with a lustrous vibration.
However, this is the men’s night, with three fascinating male characters brought to flawless vivacious life by Skyler Ellis, Bardiya McKinnon and Jeremy Waters. A stand out is the work of Jeremy Waters and Skyler Ellis who bring a strange and beautiful depth to a tragedy we can’t begin to imagine, and yet react to as though we know. The weight of the play falls on Waters’ capable shoulders, as we are forced to see ourselves in the most opportunistic of heroes. But equally we are fascinated and horrified by the ugliness grief and shock can call forth as it has in Skyler Elis’ character Alex, a person we do not want to know and yet fear may exist in our mirror. These two men hold the keys to the productions power and each performer executes their role with great precision.
Yet, the cast works well in coetaneousness, a tribute to a great director in full command of her subject matter. This is enhanced by the evocative lighting of Christopher Page, Tom Bannerman’s set and Nate Edmonson’s exquisite sound that forces the audience to imagine it has experienced a terror attack at one point.
BU21 as a whole is a beautifully nuanced experience that explores what is happening to us when we react to a terrorist attack, whether we were on site or not. In the end, I might interrogate someone who said that the Bowling Green Massacre happened in order to find out which of my convictions he might be at odds with. In the end it might be that he is simply contradicting my fundamental attitudes that this is how it was, and wondering if I will put up with it. It is the same as if this person had said he was once on the moon. I claim he was not, not because I can prove it, but because he does not get the best from me without adhering to the social contract by which we all abide. It is not facts we defend today, but the barrier we declare to be truth, for without it, no true action is possible.
BU21 comes highly recommended. Don’t miss this.