Oh dear. Princess Dramas, by Austrian writer Elfiede Jelinek, is hard work from beginning to end; and although you know there are fantastic intellectual forays involved, the whole thing is such an endurance test that audiences are warned before going into the theatre that they can’t leave once the play has begun.
Jelinek is a much lauded writer of plays and novels, known to westerners for the script of the remarkable film The Piano Teacher. Princess Dramas deals with the deconstruction of the female role in fairy tales; it is a linguistic exploration of philosophical and feminist analyses where the words are doing the ‘physical’ work of what, elsewhere, would be done by characters, a plot, a story. The director (André Bastion) has done as much as possible to put things in place and give the actors something to do besides recite. There are some amusing uses of props and settings, projections of photographs, and Dion Mills’ physical grace brings a charm to whatever he’s doing but it still isn’t enough to engage or make one care in any way.
Princess Dramas consists of layers upon layers of text, leaving one exhausted and deeply impressed by the effort required by the actors to learn it all. A piece consisting of dense, heavy language working on a purely intellectual level and where dramatic tension resides solely in language and the interplay of words meant that a number of people left at interval. The second half could have been mightily interesting as it deals with a recent fairy tale, Camelot and the Kennedys and Marilyn Monroe; there is some extraordinary writing in Jackie’s monologue but again, so very, very much of it.
Possibly Princess Dramas loses something in the translation from German. You know that on an academic level some wonderful things must be happening but it was all woefully beyond the grasp of this reviewer. It seems unfair to put a sensational actor like Dion Mills through something like this; from the point of view of an audience member it’s a waste of his talent. The night Australian Stage was there he appeared to be carrying the whole dreadful shebang. Andrea Swifte was lacking in energy, she was possibly even unwell with a winter lurgy. Melodie Reynolds was going through the motions by the end of play. She started her Jackie monologue with a version of a North American accent which she gave up on about a third of the way through. The actors seemed as relieved as the audience when the play finally came to an end. At the risk of sounding like a philistine I find it pointless that Red Stitch’s considerable resources are engaged in a production so alienating to experience.
Red Stitch Actors Theatre presents
by Elfriede Jelinek
Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre | Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda
Dates: Friday 10 June – Saturday 2 July (not Monday or Tuesday)
Times: Wednesday – Saturday 8pm, Sunday 6.30pm
Matinees: Saturday June 18, 25 and July 2 at 4pm
Tickets: $20.00 – $34.00 ($15.00 student rush)
Bookings: www.redstitch.net (discounted tix) or on 03 9533 8083