An Anthology of Optimism
Left - Pieter De Buysser and Jacob Wren. Cover - (l-r) Jacob Wren and Pieter De Buysser. Photos - Phile Deprez
An Anthology of Optimism is an intriguing premise for a theatre piece: a Canadian performance artist and a Belgian playwright and philosopher coming together onstage to debate what they call ‘critical optimism’. Yes, the concept is a little academic, although very relevant for our times, and dramatised in a way that brings the issue alive, with overhead projector, hand-written flash cards and vox pop.
Pieter de Buysser, who takes the role of the optimist with a bouncy and affable demeanour and Jacob Wren, who is a rather confused pessimist, are engaging and loveable characters. They conduct the debate in a friendly and amusing manner, even resorting to a clownish stunt with teapots, which adds nothing to the debate, but is a pleasant diversion from the concept-driven play.
The two characters make their positions clear at the outset. De Buysser tells the story of Voltaire’s Candide (subtitled Optimism) and puts his own modern spin on it. A large part of the performance is taken up with responses from people, most of them artists, to a letter that the duo sent out, inviting responses about critical optimism. These include Phillip Adams’ familiar take on optimism and an extended video of Barack Obama propounding his philosophy of hope. They are certainly pertinent examples and sit well beside some more bizarre responses from the artists. But, even with the visual examples, the emphasis is still on words, and theatrical possibilities are missed. When the players invoke the imagination and sit in silence for the audience to imagine, we are left bereft of imagery to inspire us, only the aftermath of debate.
Although there is plenty of food for thought here, An Anthology of Optimism is still an academic exercise rather than a fully developed theatre piece. I would have liked to see these performers take more risks. Input from the audience is invited, but the performers only acknowledge their remarks without building on them. Conceived, according to De Buysser in a ‘performance lecture format’, it would make a wonderful opportunity for university students to debate how optimism can take us forward into the twenty-first century, but as a performance for the general public it is too raw and academic to make a dramatic impact.
CAMPO and 2010 Melbourne International Arts Festival present
An Anthology of Optimism
Created by Pieter De Buysser & Jacob Wren
Venue: the Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio
Dates: Wed 20 – Sat 23 Oct at 7.45pm, Sat 23 Oct at 5pm
Duration: 1hr 10min no interval
Tickets: Full $45 / Groups (8+) $40.50 / Concession $33.75 / Student $25
Bookings: the Arts Centre 1300 182 183 | www.theartscentre.com.au | Ticketmaster 1300 723 038 | www.melbournefestival.com.au