I got intimate with the unique performance style of Berlin ensemble GOB SQUAD via a pre-show chat with a beige pantyhose-clad performer. He obtained my particulars: age, origins, profession, and reason for attending. The next thing I knew I was waiting in the wings for my official ‘presentation’ to the attending crowd, just as are the characters in the opening soiree scene in Tolstoy’s famed book — and now Melbourne Festival show — War and Peace.
I started my night in the theatre space centre stage, lit up with a spotlight and with my name and other personal details publicly declared. I remained ‘on stage’ throughout, for where are the boundaries which denote ‘performer’ or ‘audience’ these days? Three of us, as live actors, contribute to the construction of the ‘story’ of storytelling. You ain’t here just to see literature’s famous blockbuster told in parts — that’s all taken care of in the first hour.
What you will see is theatre-in-pieces: people in underpants, hairy face-wigs, collapsible ramparts, and famous historical moments told as virtual Instagram posts. This is a postmodern cross-genre mashup built to tear your walls down.
Be entertained in a way you never thought you’d see acted on stage. For you, the people, are the subject. The show’s themes concern power, nationalism, biography, and memory. The costumes are pure schlock, and the crude episodes the cast engage in resemble the clowning interludes of classical theatre, with offence both entertainment and political device.
Cat videos? Intimate confessions to a camera? Voting for the most convincing leader, a ‘character catwalk’, and listing individual ‘dynasties’, are some of the tricks and tropes this group of players offer as game. Is vanity the best the Western world has achieved? It would seem so. We’ve had so much peace, we’ve forgotten to spot the wars!
The nimble cast improvise around a structure that is both hilarious and terrifying. It builds to a crescendo then crumbles, like civilisations. Don’t stay on stage if you are afraid of being projected onto a screen. This show is a one-off interactive cultural experience that you can boast about for the year. Or the century. Theatre-as-spectacle at its best! Will you fiddle while Rome burns? Book to know.
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold, and non-traditional performance platforms. On-the-street or in the box seat, she is always looking for quality works that push the envelope.
‘War and Peace’ runs 18-23 October, Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, 5pm/6.30/7.30 pm (105 minutes). Post-Show artist’s talk: 25 October. Book tickets now.
The venue is wheelchair accessible.