This workshopped piece is a tribute to the English poet W.H. Auden and is presented as part of the Hobart Fringe Festival. The set-up is simple: an actor (Martin Blackwell) reads poems by Auden while black and white photographs of New York are shown on a screen behind him. A guitarist (Matt Collis), seated in his own spotlight off to the side, plays between each poem.   

Blackwell plays Auden in a formal, minimalist way, by adopting various poses - such as sitting at a desk or standing as though thinking - while his voice, reading the poems, plays over the sound system (with the exception of the final poem, which is performed). This is novel and certainly the idea of telling a story in these kind of mini-tableaux has potential. However such reliance on prerecorded readings goes against the concept of live theatre. This might not matter if there was a more complexity to the piece, multimedia is a valid form of presentation, but there would need to be a lot more. 

Director Dan Graham says he hopes to develop the concept into a dramatic production with original written material depicting scenes from Auden’s life. The poet moved to New York in 1939 and Eulogy deals with his early years in the United States. As it is, the original text consists of a poem called ‘The Old Introvert’, written by Adam Ousten; in the style of Auden, and apparently intended to pull together the show’s thematic threads. While this is a strong piece of writing, it doesn't clarify the theme beyond the fact that it’s a poem about the illusiveness of memory, and the show is about remembering long ago moments from a life.

The poems selected are from the late 1930s to early 1940s. Listening to them you get a sense of Auden’s isolation and pessimistic mood. He was living in a foreign culture, feeling displaced, while war raged in Europe. ‘Refugee Blues’ is the highlight for me, with its rich sense of detail and simple, unromantic exploration of despair. It doesn’t need to be read like a poem to work. Speaking of which, Blackwell could give more thought as to the best way of performing modern poetry. Too often he tends to put the emphasis on the rhyme, which can lead to a singsong quality, and his delivery is frequently rushed.

For future development of Eulogy the expressed hope of exploring some of the eclectic figures connected to the writer during this period - for example, Benjamin Britten and Gypsy Rose Lee - is promising. It might be an idea to replace ‘Funeral Blues’ with a different poem. It’s a wonderful poem of course, but Four Weddings and a Funeral has made it too familiar somehow. It’s almost as though it’s part of that film’s script: you can imagine Hugh Grant in the audience, all teary-eyed. 

Cavalier Productions presents
An Hommage to the Poetry of W.H. Auden (The New York Years)
By Dan Graham and Adam Ousten

Venue: Peacock Theatre, Salamanca
Dates: 16th - 17th April @ 8pm
Tickets: $7.00 Adult, $5.00 conc

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