Technicolor Life – Theatre as an enormity. (Theatre Review)

Technicolor Life

The Depot Theatre

26 July – 12 August. You can grab tickets through Tickets Tonight here. 

Images by Katy green Loughrey

It was Theorodre Adorno who stated “ The coming extinction of art is pre-figured in the increasing impossibility of representing historical events.” The lamentation of intellectual discourse that everything has already been said, has become both true and untrue. We now understand, we see so much of Shakespeare in our modern language because we have placed him there, not because his genius demanded it. And yet, the unravelling of genius is supposed to be consistent with the end of art itself. As a regular theatre goer, I can bear witness to the (flexible) truth that truly great plays are being written today, but just because their greatness will not be enshrined by willing subjects, does not mean they do not have the impact of a Chekov or Shakespeare. The departing ego of the white superior male has demanded a rusting of the tools he created, but does it not follow that the rust should taint that which came before the demise? Derrida anticipated this demise and countered it with deconstruction – a presumption that everything is tainted and beautiful if the taint is included in the seeing. Perhaps genius lies these days, not with the creator, but with the spectator? Just a thought.

Jamie Brandli’s Technicolor Life is precisely the work of art that gives substantial rise to the core of this problem. Technicolor Life throbs with the multiple narrative voices of any Shakespeare, and the significant layering of any Chekov play. As with any great play that manipulates (against the perverse wishes of a Nietzschean) Technicolor Life twists and turns inside the psyche to deliver a complexity that can’t be accounted for. The connection of alienated history to the human heart is something we are already trained to see as a pretext for justifying the inhumanity of history, so the manipulations of Technicolor Life play to these with the assumed intelligence of any great playwright working in this modern age. Yet, this production is saved from any attempts to conserve humanism by a refusal of aesthetic re-privatisation. Through the omnipresent inclusion of cinema and through director Julie Baz’s refusal of a too- well constructed play as an impotent auxiliary (a disease currently inflicting Sydney’s mainstages, and mainstages around the world) the straddling of passions of the characters are balanced against the political reality already incommensurable with them, and theatre that relates to us all is magically spared the labouring intensity of, for example, trashy biographical literature. IN this way, despite its adherence to plot, Technicolor life remains true to the great novels upon which it (perhaps Parasitically and historically) feeds.

And so, Technicolor Life can appeal to a simplicity of communication that reveals the abstractness of political life without the laboured pandering of the aesthete. When it’s conclusions are “brought home” the check points in comprehension give way to both the expressions of capacity, but also to a modern mix of emotional responses that surprise the witness with unforseen intensity. Simply put, Technicolor Life was the first time I cried in theatre for a long time. This is not because I liked the characters (though that is true) but because it allowed the monstrosity of a modern society to emerge in full clarity from the phenomena of making it. Technicolor Life is an example of modern theatre at its best; a refusal of a sanitising aesthetic; complex narrative strands stumbling their way through a comparative structure; repurposing history for the right to create a definition of the present. It refuses the moral imposition of “meaning” and allows for a bawdy truth to encroach upon a mannered real. It is, in short, the theatre we have to have.

Much of this is the credit of writer Jami Brandli, but she is well served by Julie Baz and her cast. Tasha O’Brien is excellent as Billie, the war hero with a very specifically female brand of PTS, as is Cherilyn Price who plays Billie’s grandmother as a woman living a very unusual version of a parallel life. Nyssa Hamilton carefully and joyfully carries the bulk of the play on her shoulders, playing Maxine with a slightly over the top homage to the cinema the play adores as she is framed by Amy Victoria Brooks as Jane Russel’s Dorothy Shaw and Emily Sulzberger as Marilyn Monroe’s Lorelei Lee who give shining performances as the iconic stars that moves beyond mere caricature. Cherrie Whelan- David brings it home in the most powerful way as Billie and Maxine’s mum, particularly considering her character is arguably the least developed of the group on the stage. Men are many things in Technicolor Life, from an absent crying weak father to love interests and villains. James Martin is strong as a very modern version of masculinity even as Michael Harrs represents an old, no longer useful version of manhood. All the performances are strong and properly give full weight to the beautifully written play.

Of particular delight is David Jeffrey’s set, combining the rubble of war with the breakdown of a family unit, with a bed held aloft as a place where innocence is preserved rather than lost. Technicolor Life throbs with the very essence of paradox and allows for the crushing enormity of theatre to weigh in heavily on the sensory experience of the viewer. It’s a marvellous work, filled with creative passion, uncompromising in scope. It is big, bold, messy and highly intelligent. A night at the theatre I will not soon forget.

Highly recommended.