Left - Gertraud Ingeborg & Dana Miltins. Cover - Jayne Tuttle. Photos - Heidrun Lohr
Surely, surely, the decision to allow an actor to ‘have a go’ at writing for the first time by staging their very first piece of work at the premier theatre venue in Sydney, is both artistically unwise and incredibly unfair to other independent artists.
The poor quality of the writing in Manna reflects the baffling decision to allow actor Dan Spielman, who has performed as a member of the STC Actor’s Company, to debut his work at the Sydney Theatre Company through the Wharf2Loud program rather than developing his skills through staging work at some of the smaller-scale fringe venues around Sydney. These smaller venues provide a creative hothouse for many theatre makers just starting out in their field, and allow more inexperienced artists to build their experience and hone their craft.
Rather than allowing Spielman’s abilities to develop sufficiently before staging his written work, a large budget and a wealth of resources seems to have been thrown at the production in an effort to lift it to a higher level. But at the end of the day, the script is at the heart of a work of theatre, and if there is only dull, irritating material for the cast and crew to work with, no production can rise above that. Regardless of the talent you throw at a terrible script - professional lighting and set design, composition, experienced actors – if the script is a turkey, hain’t nothin’ gonna save ya.
The work is described as an “ear-play” that focuses on how “language is transmitted from the mouth, and heard by the ears”. Profound indeed. But the initial concept in Manna does in fact hold great promise. The idea of creating a dramatised sound-scape combining spoken word, sound effects and music onstage could inspire imaginative and poetic storytelling that works in new and surprising ways. Sadly, Manna is instead made up of clichéd, unadventurous dialogue, sound effects and staging, which is cobbled together in no particular order, seemingly to no particular end. It is pretentious, self-satisfied, self-indulgent, and bears an apparent lack of any desire to entertain or engage with the audience that is utterly repellent.
It’s difficult to describe what Manna is about, and it’s unlikely that those involved in the production quite know what it’s about either. One way to convey a sense of the work would be to mumble something about the trials of war, possibly in Eastern Europe, mutter about the use of whispering, out of tune string instruments and such innovative ideas as crunching vegetables into microphones, and shrug helplessly after describing countless repetitions of the motif of food throughout the performance. Jamal Rekabi, an Iranian Kurdish musician and composer, performed his music onstage at various points throughout the performance. His music was beautiful, but seemed completely unconnected to the action onstage.
Praise must go to Lighting Designer Emma Valente and Visual Artists Kate Davis and Marisa Purcell for their work in creating an effective stage aesthetic, achieving alternate environments, at times sparse and glaring, at times soft and ethereal. Gertrude Ingeborg and Boris Brkic were the stronger actors onstage, the soft-voiced Ingeborg especially achieving a more subtle and graceful performance .
Forgetting that theatre is there for the audience, and is not about serving the ego or self-indulgence of the artist creating the work has got to be a cardinal sin, and if it isn’t, it should be. Theatre is there to entertain, to intrigue, to challenge and move the audience, none of which is achieved in this production.
by Max Lyandvert and Dan Spielman
Venue: Wharf 2, Sydney Theatre Company | Pier 4, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Dates: Friday 27 June To Saturday 12 July (Opens 1 July At 8.15pm)
Times: Evenings 8.15pm. Matinees Sat 5 And Sat 12 July At 2.15pm. No Shows Sundays
Tickets: $35 / Concession $22 / Under 30s Or Student $20
Bookings: (02) 9250 1777 OR sydneytheatre.com.au