What a pleasure it is to see a Peter Brook production come to Brisbane. The crisp and stark monologue that is Brook’s The Grand Inquisitor features as part of Brisbane Festival 08. Yet it’s potential to be a prominent moment of Brisbane’s theatre memory is marred by the very location in which it is held. The production is certainly intriguing, however the Cremorne is just disappointing.
The Grand Inquisitor takes place in Spain, at the height of the Inquisition. Set in an environment rife with heretic burnings and fanatic Catholicism, this story monologue captures the moment when Christ returns to the world of man. As he begins to do his Holy work, the cardinal Grand Inquisitor stops him in the town square, arresting him and placing him in a gaol cell. What follows is a mighty debate, critiquing the choices of Christ and the implications on the world of man and the Church.
The physical set is bare, and the action minimal. A small, white square platform in the centre of the playing area, along with two stools and a silent actor, are all that litter the stage. Most of the time, the two actors are seated on their stools, while occasionally the Inquisitor will stand, seeking the audience’s attentive gaze to deliver his speech. In an obvious artistic choice to place the actors on the same level as the audience, so as to heighten the feeling of the village square, the traditional raised stage in QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre is removed. Therein lies the greatest flaw of the production. It is not the players, nor the text, nor the themes that make watching The Grand Inquisitor difficult. It is the theatre itself. The Cremorne is poorly conceived for ground level theatre. The lower level of the audience barely inclines more than 1 foot. This means that for all the people sitting in these 11 rows, they can barely see the performance. Much craning of the necks and disgruntled resignation of not being able to see the action meant the full attention was not given to the actors’ astute performances. Further, in moments when Inquisitor actor Bruce Myers could have fed off his audience to add further impetus to his delivery, he was denied the chance – having been only given the option of seeing one or two blank rows of faces ahead of him, before all the heads simply lined up behind the rest. As I heard one audience member comment, ‘It was like going to the theatre to watch a piece of radio’. It should have been much more than that.
Credit must be given to the incredible deliveries of Bruce Myers and the silent Christ figure, Joachim Zuber. Zuber’s perfectly and serene and silent performance may look easy, but his obvious control of his emotions and the consequential difficulties he would present to his playing partner are truly intriguing. Bruce Myers gentle but striking voice, both lulls and petrifies the audience at different times. Myers’ delivery has the ability to make the audience genuinely ask questions of themselves, of their own beliefs and own reactions. This type of religiously sensitive monologue could easily fall into a one-sided rant, or a falsely ironic tirade, neither of which could show the intelligence and acute sensitivity that Myers’ monologue displays. Indeed, Brisbane never touches religious theatre, probably for that very reason. The Grand Inquisitor monologue applies reason to religion, not to offend, but to create a dialogue.
I was disappointed that this potentially great performance was essentially denied the chance. Surely there were other, small, intimate venues all over Brisbane that would have been better suited to this type of performance. Perhaps then, we would truly be grateful for having seen a Peter Brook performance at its best. As it was, we were left wanting.
The Grand Inquisitor
Adapted by Marie-Hélène Estienne from The Brothers Karamazov‚ by Fiodor Dostoyevsky
Venue: Cremorne Theatre
Dates: 19 July – 26 July
Time: Monday - Saturday - 7.30pm
Matinee: Saturday 26 July 1.30pm
Duration: 50 minutes (no interval)
Tickets: Adult $40, Concession $30, Groups $25, Schools $20
Bookings: Qtix on 136 246 or visit www.qtix.com.au. Booking fees apply
Please Note: Latecomers will not be accepted into the auditorium