Sydney Festival: Seemannslieder by Cristoph Marthaler.† NTGent and ZT Hollandia at Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay. January 10-13, 2007, at 8pm (2 hours 30 minutes,no interval).†† www.sydneyfestival.org.au
I find it increasingly difficult to know if my criticisms of European theatre, brought here with outstanding recommendations, are justifiable.† This is the third Sydney Festival where I have felt a major European work based in movement, music and song has failed my theatrical test.† Seemannslieder (Dutch Flemish) is rather more successful than last yearís Chronicles Ė A Lamentation (Teatr Piesn Kozla from Poland) and streets ahead of Alibi (Damaged Goods from Belgium) in 2004, when about half the audience walked out long before its two hours came to a sudden stop.
Australian theatre likes to be taut, structured to take the audience on a journey, without discursive (or recursive) re-iteration of ideas, and with a theatrically definite ending, even if the theme is about, say, unresolvable loneliness.†
This is what Seemannslieder, Songs of Seamen, is about.† The women wait, their husbands and sons sometimes never returning.† Or when they do it is for a sudden sexual skirmish before they are off to sea again.† So the mood in the town represented here is tense with waiting, full of sexual tension which is cleverly expressed in the words of the sea songs, broken unpredictably by frantic activity or death.†
But despite Marthalerís massive 25 year reputation in European music, opera and play productions, I had got the point, and sensed the poignancy, by the end of the first hour.† I politely waited through the next hour and a half, as did the rest of the polite Australian audience (except for one gentleman who finally had to duck out to the toilet ten minutes before the end), but nothing theatrically new happened.† At least the ending, a woman cradling the mask of her seaman in a soft spotlight while singing, music and surrounding lights quietly faded, was a proper conclusion.†
The acting/singing/gymnasts, and the pianists, were wonderfully good at what they were asked to do, and received due applause.† But, I thought, if you canít make mood performance poetry create all that needs to be experienced in one hour, adding another hour and a half wonít help.†
I feel almost guilty for criticising such sincere and especially musically creative work, but perhaps thatís just my Australian cultural cringe. Youíll have to test out your own reaction (as well as test your bladder) rather than take my word as definitive.† †††††
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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