Festen | QUTIt’s not that I don’t love people trying, I just feel like the QUT student shows are let down because they’re not taught to act for the stage. So many students that I’ve spoken to have dreams of going to Melbourne, Sydney and LA to work in film and TV. And good for them! Many of you are going to be amazing! There’s a part on Home and Away with your name on it! I just ask that you understand that I and the other audience members are sitting there in the room with you and it is actually live – there are no close ups, your pauses aren’t always filled with incidental music and I don’t want to have to wait for you to find your emotions before you deliver your line.

But I won’t take all my personal feelings about the past five QUT shows I’ve seen all out on Festen. As with most things in life, there were significantly good moments, as well as a few bad.

Festen falls under the dark-secrets-revealed-in-the-wealthy-family-who-try-to-pretend-everything’s-perfect genre. Yes, you know the type… The events of this particular family drama unfold at the patriarch Helge’s 60th birthday celebration at the family home. During speech time, the eldest son Christian allows his father to decide which of two planned speeches he should deliver. Having chosen ‘the truth speech’, Christian makes a startling accusation towards his father and as the guests react and choose sides, the play slowly unwraps the truth. 

The Loft at QUT is a wonderful space, and was transformed in to a theatre-in-the-round style with audience members seated at tables surrounding the main action as well as the back seating bank. This lent itself to the party mode with the audience at the tables being encouraged to stand, clap and sig with the cast in celebration. Unfortunately, I and about 25 other people were in the back seating bank and had the fourth wall selectively built in front of us. The constant walking up and down and around the two main set pieces (the bed and the table) in an attempt to utilize the in-the-round structure gave a sense of motion sickness. 

There was a key moment where I appreciated the creative use of the minimalistic set. The three siblings prepare for the party in their own room, with each couple using the one bed as the centre of their bedroom. The scenes overlap, the characters pass each other without notice, and there is a lovely moment with each character on the bed, strongly feeling the absence of their recently deceased older sister. 

I’m admittedly not a huge fan of cinematics within theatre. I want to appreciate them, but I’ve been waiting for the production that gives me reason to. This is not that production. The top half of the walls were make-shift screens, and various images and videos were played throughout the entire production. Some of these included pictures of a house with an eye looking through the windows, dolls being moved and played with and videos of just a torso with hands aggressively clapping. The cinematics seemed cheap, obtrusive, added very little to the play in either story or mood. The transitions between each image were a screen-saver type shattering of pieces, and every time that happened my thoughts would wander trying to remember if I had actually turned my computer off when I left home… I did, by the way, so my power bill is fine.

Another great unforgettable moment is just a little after Christian makes his shocking speech, and he and his father are left alone in the dining room. Christian is seated at the table, and Helge stands behind him rubbing his back in a loaded gesture. Helge begins to whisper to his son, and the seven or eight audience members opposite to the seating bank are told by a projection on their table to put in their headphones. While those audience members cannot see Christian or his father, they can hear everything that is being whispered. I could not hear, but I could see, and as Christian falls closer and closer to the table under the weight of his father’s hand, I was truly intrigued and holding my breath. For the first minute, any-way.

The entire play just dragged along, with every performer needing to take a moment to gather their thoughts before delivering their lines, and then gather them some more. Heavy and emotional or not, there is only so long an audience can wait between lines – and the more moments of silence there were, the less meaning was loaded in them. The first act was slow but the second act was dead. The climax of the play took a painfully long time to reach, and like a bad movie the audience had already worked out what was going to happen. As I said earlier, this seems to me that the actors are performing for film rather than a live stage show.

I do encourage every-one to go out, see this production, make up your own mind and tell others what you thought.  

QUT Precincts for the Creative Industries Faculty
In association with Maria Rubin Productions Ltd. present
by David Eldridge

Director Sean Mee

Venue: The Loft, Kelvin Grove
Dates/Times: 7.30pm, 9 – 18 June, 2011
Tickets: $8 – $12
Bookings: 07 3138 4455 | www.ciprecinct.qut.edu.au

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