The Black Sequin Dress, written and directed by Jenny Kemp.A Playbox co-production with Adelaide Festival. Canberra Theatre, April 10 – 13, 1996. Professional.
"Undine thought reassuringly to herself, A follows C which follows B which follows A ... Everything follows ... But there was a moment in the story ..." Undine, after seven years confined by the brick walls of suburbia "with its logical A.B.C.D.", escapes for one possibly exciting, almost frightening evening to a nightclub. On an ice-like floor, embarrassment overwhelms her as her new dance shoes slip away. With no support, emotionally naked, all her worst fears and fantasies come to life as she lies exposed. A minor event in the real world triggers all the chaos of her imagination. Here is a drama of moment about a moment, constructed in all the elements of theatre: sound, light, movement; silence, darkness, stillness.
T.S.Eliot wrote in Burnt Norton "Except for the point, the still point, / there would be no dance. / I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where." The Black Sequin Dress expresses the same idea in a theatrical form which Jenny Kemp has created from her response to surrealism in visual art, particularly the work of the Belgian artist Paul Delvaux. Here we see glimpses of Russel Drysdale's outback isolated woman; we hear snatches of the broken everlasting continuity of the music of Phillip Glass; we understand Undine's suburban terror. At the still moment when she would dance, everything falls away. A significant experience suddenly becomes nothing.
We are viewers and auditors of Undine's inner and outer experiences, though we cannot always be sure which is which. We find humour in sympathy with her at times in recognition of our own foibles and strengths. This is a play in the proper sense: a play on words in words, music and visual effects which plays with our imaginations. It is an intellectual and emotional mystery which can be unravelled only into further tangles, just as in real life. This is not ordinary entertainment, but rather an extra-ordinary twist in modern, recognisably Australian drama which you should not miss. It is a work-in-progress as drama in this country struggles out of the suburbia of naturalism and plot into the less predictable, more dangerous and more exciting world of new theatrical forms.
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