Left - Brian Lipson. Photo - Lisa Tomasetti
Not often do we find ourselves in the presence of a genius. I can however, safely say that after Brian Lipson’s A Large Attendance in the Antechamber, my good fortune landed me in the company of two of them.
This one man show confounds the boundaries between character and actor, with both personalities in a consistent struggle for control of the same body. They are of course, the polar opposites of writer Brian Lipson and the deceased Sir Francis Galton. With Galton’s words, yet controlled overall by Lipson, he effortlessly entices the audience into ever transient states of reality. We become delightfully confused when distinguishing where one man begins and the other finishes and the blurred line only thickens as Lipson, by continually challenging the normative framework of performance, perplexes the relationships between an actor, character and audience.
Cousin to Charles Darwin, the subject Sir Francis Galton is a renowned scientist – to some the messiah of the modern world, to others a pure monster. As the founder of eugenics, he was constantly advocating for the improvement of human hereditary. Partly through his research and mainly through own values, he found the answer lay in selective breeding and has consequently been linked to some of the worst crimes of genocide and racial hatred in the 20th Century.
And that is the mind that Brian Lipson has chosen to inhabit.
Cleverly crafted by Lipson, this is much to the dismay of Sir Francis Galton, who repeatedly implies that he is altogether not too thrilled with the idea of being impersonated. At first it is a mere fact for Galton. Lipson is in control, however Galton’s ideals and scientific methods are still heard, whilst his true genius is also displayed. Holding the record for the highest ever IQ, the audience gets a glimpse into the preciseness of Galton’s research, exemplified by one of his experiments - his examination and execution of the ‘perfect cup of tea.’ His quantitative approach to everyday tasks reminds us that eugenics is not all Galton offered the world and cleverly executed once again, Lipson ensures that Galton is glorified by some of his other discoveries– in particular his scientific research of establishing fingerprinting as forensic evidence.
Lipson, however only lets this glorification continue for so long and soon the audience begin to question the morals behind Galton’s theories. While Galton rationalises where ‘Pretty Girls’ are found or explains his method of unifying three ‘plain’ or ‘ugly’ women to create his ideal image, the rest of us shudder at his apparent lack of thought into the female realm. Yes true, the day of the domineering white, upper-class male still exists however it is now coupled with the day of the obsessed, image-driven woman. With the knowledge that one in five women suffer from anorexia, it becomes shockingly obvious to all that Galton is out of touch.
It is these startling realisations that confirm the true geniuses of Lipson. By never confirming which era Galton’s Knightsbridge study is set, (Has he come to our time or are we in his?) he cunningly questions Galton’s theories on the human race, even managing to fracture Galton in the process. Throughout his rampaging on the lesser value of the Jew, Galton stripping away his clothes is abruptly halted and can only gape in horror when discovering what he finds in Lipson’s underpants.
And that is the magic of Lipson. Throughout the piece, he has exquisite control of Galton and during the battle between the two; the victory to Lipson is inevitable. Despite never uttering a word, the presence of the writer is apparent throughout the entire piece. He tattoos his name on his forehead, advocates signs and pictures denouncing Galton’s ability and all the while Galton is failing in attempt to prove his name credible. Galton, as a result of this continual sabotage, becomes absurdly out of control and Lipson thrives on the opportunity to present his witty, comedic ability – by skilfully holding the show at the temperament of a comedy act that’s accurately going wrong.
As Lipson strips away Galton’s layers, (literally by stripping away his clothes) he leaves the decision to the audience whether this is a celebration of the genius or a derogatory examination of him. And rightly so, while paving the way in a polymath of scientific fields, the father of notorious eugenics has also provoked justifiable anger in many.
What he does deliver is a wonderful collaboration between one man. Superbly acted with extraordinary physical use of his body, Lipson embodies Galton to the point of possession. Set in a tiny (and I mean tiny!), decked out study designed by Lipson himself, he becomes his subject through this half lecture, half conversation all the while performing scientific experiments which clarify Galton’s theories. It’s no wonder that this show has been performed by Lipson on numerous occasions in locations such as the UK, USA, acclaimed arts festivals and private homes.
This is – without a doubt - a masterpiece of creativity and talent.
Malthouse Theatre presents an Antechamber production
A LARGE ATTENDANCE IN THE ANTECHAMBER
by Brian Lipson
Venue: Tower Theatre | CUB Malthouse, 113 Sturt St Southbank
Dates: Nov 20 - Dec 9
Bookings: Telephone: 03 9685 5111 | www.malthousetheatre.com.au