Left - (l-r) Ella Watson-Russell, Allen Laverty & Amy Dwight. Cover - (l-r) Amy Dwight, Allen Laverty & Ella Watson-Russell
Shhhh! A Love Affair of Quietly Catastrophic Proportions is a highly entertaining and provocative satire on conformity. The work uses the physical language of movement-based theatre to deconstruct the conflict of basic unconscious tendencies in human behaviour; in this case, the conflict between desire for freedom and authenticity, and safety and security of routine. The director Xanthe Beesley has appropriately chosen the narrative to take place in one of the most rigid institutions, The Library, and capitalises on the many peculiar idiosyncrasies of the old-fashioned librarian stereotype.
The set by Yunuen Perez Martinez is simple and clever. Suspended lines of books create the inevitable library bays. Books are further shelved along the staircase and window sills. In this minimalistic mise-en-scène the narrative advances and is supported by the main props – the books. Sounds of rustling pages, forceful bangs of book trolleys, covers hitting a surface, stamping of books, a typewriter’s rattling and pen clicks interact with body pulses and breathing and climax in the swoosh of flying pages. Romance is born amongst the books in the simplicity of a gesture, that of passing a book. Books are sensual objects, their pages - best culinary delights. The form, texture and smell of paper, ink and glue evoke sexual desire.
The story begins with power play between an authoritarian chief librarian and a somewhat intellectually challenged junior librarian, who in her own comical way tries to follow all directions and work flows. Repetitive blocks of stylised habitual behaviour create simultaneously the main thematic motifs, unity and the narrative’s circular format. Affirmation of librarian identity is made through the trademark combination - glasses, cardigans and stern faces. Alternation between processing of books and eagerly anticipated breaks shape the rhythm of the piece. The catalyst of major change is the arrival of a male librarian. The cool yuppie undergoes an identity change, which is enforced by the dominant chief librarian, but manages to tilt the library’s order to catastrophic proportions. He and the junior librarian fall in love and frolic amongst the library aisles. The couple finds freedom outside the walls of the library. The chief librarian is left sulking over their cardigans and what could have been if only they had been disciplined enough!
One cannot ignore the work’s reference to the clash of old and new in modern libraries. The still lingering presence of the old stereotype in both library operations and peoples’ perceptions of libraries and librarians is a stark contrast to the modern expert information manager and the concept of the hi-tech information hub where you can talk, write on the tables and even order pizza.
More importantly, the work’s symbolism goes beyond the library. The apparent orderliness, classified precision and rigid protocol of the old-fashioned library denote the very essence of institutionalisation and its overpowering effect on human freedom of expression. Here the old rule of silence demarcates incapacity and lack of communication on one side and primary unconscious behavioural tendencies on the other. They are powerfully depicted in this work by the choice of movement-based theatre which, purposefully and ironically, leaves out the advanced human ability to verbalise.
The intimate space of La Mama Theatre allows the miniature audience to participate in the spectacle by breathing in the microscopic detail of the actors’ mime and gesture and by observing closely their impeccable body and prop control. The performers Ella Watson-Russell, Amy Dwight and Allen Laverty are totally committed to their characters and are so attuned to each other and the space that the audience knows that improvisation is an important part of their performance and enjoys it. Shhhh! A Love Affair of Quietly Catastrophic Proportions is a masterful thought-provoking avant-garde work which exemplifies brilliant dramaturgy and inspired acting that make up the best of theatre.
La Mama presents
Shhh! A Love Affair of Quietly Catastrophic Proportions
Director Xanthe Beesley
Venue: La Mama | 205 Faraday St, Carlton
Dates: May 20 – 31
Tickets: $25 / $12