Appropriation – Containment of power in narrative. (Theatre Review)


Fledgling Theatre Company

Studio Blueprint, 17-27 April. You can grab your tickets here.

For Paul Gilchrist, the revelation of an ego-doped Fortinbras (Nick O’Regan) chaotically crushing his way to claim the throne bequeathed by Hamlet lends itself to an examination of power as wielded by a white guy. Because this exists as a precursor to current times the implication is that Fortinbras is a repetition or an example of neo-power structures we see replicated today. For the folk of Norway, Poland and eventually Denmark, events are structured around responses to Fortinbras’ heavy handedness. Fortinbras (and therefore those like him throughout history) exists not in the collective memory to be summonsed by the willfulness of education, but as a kind of constant present that continues underneath the theatre of memory and innovation that occupies cultural time. Paul Gilchrists’ Fortinbras treats life as an error which one may, nay must refute by action. He demands that he should be followed. He enforces where he can, his valuation of existence. This reminds us of Nietzsche’s sick human for whom the earth is a den of discontented, arrogant and repulsive creatures who never get rid of a deep disgust of themselves, of the world, of all life and do themselves as much hurt as possible for the pure pleasure of hurting. In short, it is the religious view of the world.

Paul Gilchrist cites the origin and the containment of these actions in narrative. Stories when told according to cultural rules of authenticity become, as Nietzsche would say, ‘the broadest and longest facts that exist.’ Fortinbras world is divided between priestly varieties of aggressive folk steeped in action on one side and the disciplinary rules of intellectual workers, philosopher and artists and well as the exercise of warriors and athletes on the other side. In this way, Fortinbras rule occurs as an artful self-violation exclusive to a number of elite action-suffers empowering each other to lead other sufferers who in turn will empower the disciplined to become co-sick. Trajectories and the measurement of these is contained in narrative. Fortinbras pathological destruction, his infection of those around him carries with it a stamp of inevitability, however inside the character we see the precarious edge upon which his own sanity teeters. There is no refuting Fortinbras, but we see him reverse wielded in smaller actions by those around him. We are left with the niggling feeling that the main thing in life is to take the minor things seriously. It is in the growth of power in minor things that contain the danger posed by the main thing. Eventually climbing higher in the minor things means advancing in the main thing.

Aside all these political musings and the circular mirror they present in Appropriation, the play shines a light-hearted-light on theatres desire to ‘appropriate’ classic works under the misapprehension our stamp is being included in a cannon or one will be rewarded for obeisance to unwritten laws of theatrical success. Another form of narrative, the trajectory of success that includes the curtsey to higher gods (I am thinking here of London and New York stages I often see influencing the Sydney stage) finds its zenith in the sacrifice of artists that Paul Gilchrist manages to make real in a scene so beautifully wrought by director Chris Huntly-Turner and his cast, it received its own separate applause on opening night. Yet, problematic for Paul Gilchrists primary point, this play reveals a previously only hinted at enormity in his work that would be very comfortable on any London stage. Chris Huntly-Turner does call forth the grandeur of The Bard in his direction. The cast is on point and the collaboration a proper enormity beyond the sum of its parts. While the writers lamentation is for the missing or culturally subsumed original work, his own appropriation is a tremendous success.

Appropriation by Fledgling Theatre Company is a tremendous piece of work that fulfils on a promise made by its scope. Beautifully written, Paul Gilchrist uses poetry and humour in a physically byzantine play that every one of the twelve strong cast engage to maximum effect. Chris Huntly-Turner brings a wealth of Shakespearian knowledge and experience to a production made for the kind of expansion he is familiar with. Supported by assistant director Shelley Casey, the beautifully written prose becomes a connective experience that gives a sense of deep connection to Hamlet and the emblematic Shakespeare that we resonate with for so many reasons today. Shakespeare is both evoked and refused in this clever production, eventually being reduced to just another clever creative in the room.

Performances are strong and each actor gets their moment to shine. An inclusion of live music from artistic director Asalemo Tofete draws the production toward the back of the room past the audience and immerses us in an intense encompassing experience. Powerhouse performances from Nick O’Regan as Fortinbras and Sonya Kerr as his make-up wearing wife Gabrielle give the production its gravitas, while beauty and the sublime is to be found in performances from Shannon Ryan as Astrid and Asalemo Tofete as the player. A pair of foul-mouthed guards (delightfully named Lars and Niels) provide fear and fun in two terrific performances from Angus Mills and Alex Rowe and Damien Carr is hysterical as the never-quite-dead Horatio. A Greek (Scandi/Greek?) chorus is formed from the very beautiful and successful combination of William Bartolo, Tara Clark, Clay Crighton, Marcella Franco and Alex Daly who use movement, music, poetry and humour to draw us into larger and extending sense of countries at odds with each other.

Producers Natalie Lines and Penny Lemon create something very elegant of the found space at Studio Blueprint. As mentioned by Chris Huntley-Turner in the program notes, its gratifying to see a brand-new space being used to great effect when so many spaces are disappearing from Sydney.

Appropriation is a beautifully wrought production filled with the intellect, wit and enormity of scope we can only source inside independent theatre. Fledgling Theatre Company do a stellar job with this beautifully written play that experiments very modern themes. It’s a wonderful night in a beautiful space for the lucky people of Sydney. Make sure you are one who catches it.