Multi-layered, exquisitely detailed and pleasantly surprising, this one-man show will leave audiences awestruck. Whether or not you can absorb yourself in the academic nature or simply appreciate the visual spectacular and eccentric performance, the show is accessible on a number of wonderful levels.
Based on the highly intelligent half-cousin of Charles Darwin - they shared a grandparent - and founder of eugenics, Sir Francis Galton, A Large Attendance in the Antechamber sounded like anything but a humorous piece of entertainment. Indeed, mixing the word ‘slapstick’ with 19th century philosophies that arguably led to Hitler’s dream of an ‘Aryan Race’ was a proposition I found nothing short of captivating. If it weren’t for the widespread praise, I may well have expected a complete disaster or, at the very least, a complete bore.
Following a three week engagement at the Sydney Opera House, the intense one-man show is currently showing at the Brisbane Powerhouse and was reportedly written, designed and performed by Brian Lipson and Galton himself. Of course, since the latter has been dead for the best part of a century, the highly self-referential, 90 minute monologue centres upon Lipson spiritually channelling Galton - who seems less than impressed with the intrusion, yet curious about the fate of his life’s work. Herein lies the unexpected though extremely clever comedy. As Galton attempts to lecture the audience on his scientific theories - from selective breeding of the human race to the formula for brewing a perfect cup of tea - he becomes increasingly frustrated with the physical vessel he sees as a cheap imitation of his true self.
Of course, behind the slapstick self-abuse there’s a far more serious and thought provoking tone. With Galton known for his high IQ during his time, there is an inherent juxtaposition between his historical theories and our modern day knowledge. As he provides blatant commentary over ‘plain’ or ‘ugly’ girls and the potential for ‘perfection’, we sit with knowledge of eating disorders and dangers of plastic surgery. As he expresses a naïve enthusiasm over evidence of a so-called ‘Jewish look’, we sit aghast with memories of the holocaust. Yet, throughout it all, there remains an awkward truth to his dream. Putting aside superficial and subjective ideals of ‘perfection’, what if we could do away with certain deformities or hereditary diseases through selective breeding? Do we now hold the human race back in place of a passive acceptance - or aggressive endorsement - of ‘difference’? An understated reference to dogs serves as a reminder that eugenics is not an alien concept in our long history.
Controversial ideas and comparisons aside, the most stimulating facet of the show from a purely artistic standpoint was the intricately designed set. A mere box, barely large enough to fit Lipson - or Galton, depending on your point of view - the set was a miniature recreation of the scientist’s study, complete with bookshelf, coat rack, desk, lamp and teapot. Awkwardly compressed into the tiny space, the actor appeared to have a never-ending supply of gadgets with which he would conduct experiments and make his points with a wild audacity. Far from stand-alone acts, however, the real satisfaction came from the fact that almost every move made within this small space had a pay-off later in the show. From the construction of a boot and umbrella ‘leg’ to the calculated positioning of a spilt cup of tea and pieces of Lipson’s costume, the payoffs were truly uncanny in their deliberate detail.
A rare performance that would surely reward multiple
viewings, A Large Audience in the Antechamber is pure genius.
Brisbane Powerhouse Presents
A Large Attendance In The Antechamber
By Mr Brian Lipson and Sir Francis Galton
Venue: Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse
Preview: Tue 28 August
Season: Wed 29 August – Sun 9 September
Times: Tue – Sat 8pm + Sun 6pm
Tickets: Preview $20, Season $34/$28 | Groups 10+ $28
Bookings: brisbanepowerhouse.org | 07 3358 8600. Booking fees may apply