NIDA: Sex Wars has billed itself as a three short plays about sex, which is the first confusing thing about this production. Yes, there are three short plays, and yes, sex is mentioned in all of them, but I wouldn’t say any of them are actually about sex. The themes of all three were so much larger than sex, or otherwise completely incomprehensible, that calling them plays about sex seems to ignore the larger ideas of the plays.
The first of the three plays was Heiner Müller’s Medea Material (translated by Carl Webber) directed by Kat Henry. While the piece may be fine to follow for those familiar with Greek mythology, the overly flowery and convoluted script is not made any easier to understand with heavy-handed direction and design (by Jamie Cranney) which has the audience standing on stage, surrounded by the action, leading to further problems when sightlines become an issue. While I took away some plot points, overall the play was impenetrable, and could not be saved by a strong performance by David Berry as Jason and well-constructed video media. When the audience was demanded to leave partway through by Jason, I was very tempted to take him up on the offer.
The second play is the more comprehensible Motel by Angela Betzien, directed by Paige Rattray. While it remains ambiguous how many time-lines are intersecting, and how much is real and imagined, Rattray directed five strong actors (with Julia Billington as a particular stand-out) in an intriguing script in which people in two motel rooms play out their lives. The set is a simply furnished motel room, in which four or five scenes play out simultaneously. Rattray’s direction was the most effective when it had a simple touch rather than some more stylized moments, but overall came together for a fine production.
The most successful production of the three is Through The Leaves by Franz Xaver Kroetz (translated by Anthony Vivis), directed by Netta Yashchin and stunningly designed by Charlotte Lane: cuts of meat hanging from the ceiling are only revealed as being material after close inspection and fear that they might actually be real. Through The Leaves tells of lonely butcher Martha (Ashley Ricardo), who lives with dog Rolfi (Benedict Samuel) and longs for human company with Otto (Laurence Brewer). Otto, in a position of power and abuse, forces Martha to make a choice: him or the dog.
While the play starts off following a rather traditional theatrical route, with the device of a trumpet and nonsense ramblings from Brewer to represent Rolfi’s bark, the play then begins to take a very sharp turn into the absurd. Among other things: Rolfi sings to us in French, a microphone is brought out and used in a stylized dance and song to represent oral sex, a member of the audience was asked “Do you understand what’s going on?” (her answer: “I’m getting there"), all before Martha and Otto have a shooting competition, and predictably both die. It all ended up somewhere where I certainly didn’t understand what was going on, but it was presented so well and with such humour and amusement that that almost didn’t matter. Yashchin exploited the theatricality of the play by using sponges soaked with fake blood slapped against the bodies when shot, to great effect. The use of accents, however, is questionable, particularly as Brewer seemed to have an accent that jumped quite a bit around the European continent, often returning to Australian.
Overall, a series of performances with mixed success. The distinct nature of the three plays means that surely each will be a favourite of someone. As a showcase for young directors, I take away that Rattray and Yashchin are the ones to watch.
NIDA: Sex Wars
Venue: Bakehouse Theatre | 255 Angas Street, Adelaide
Dates: 3 - 6 Mar, 2010
Tickets: Adults $19.50, Concession $15
Duration: Each play runs for 40 to 50 mins with a 15 minute interval between them
Bookings: 1300 FRINGE | www.adelaidefringe.com.au