While an award for most obscure venue of the Fringe would be hotly contested, Donkey Wheel House, where Company White Wolf’s festival debut The Long Divide is showing, is a likely contender. A one time tram company HQ, and strangely elaborate for such functional sounding origins, it’s down the overlooked end of Bourke Street near Southern Cross.
Once you find your way there, finding anything inside it is another challenge, so White Wolf have perhaps wisely decided to start their show in the foyer and direct the audience where they need to go. This turns out to be a basement split down the middle by thick arches – a seemingly impractical performance space but one that has been artfully incorporated into this tale of division and inner conflict.
The Long Divide is set in a semi-apocalyptic future of walled off cities and desert warzones, where debris falls from airbourne battles against an unstated, possibly alien, foe. The outlandish setting is sketchily described – the details don’t matter, only the stark contrast of civilisation and wilderness.
One side of the basement is the desert, on the other an urban interior. On the desert side is Arman (Charles Mercovich, who also scripted), a warrior from a crash-landed plane, powerful but desperate, in search of assistance or maybe just booze. On the other, Patrick (Scott Middleton): a gentle city boy who makes art from sky debris. The two interract across the divide and their opposing natures – Arman’s powerful but unstable independence, Patrick’s life of comfort constrained by fear – come into conflict.
The division is starkly rendered on stage and emphasised by two highly physical performances from the leads. It even extends into the audience, with plusher seating (and resultingly a greater density of patrons) on the civilised side.
Director Damian Bernardo is a member of Brisbane-based movement theatre troupe Zen Zen Zo and he has incorporated dynamic physical theatre techniques to bring Mercovich’s text to life. The men’s emotional states are represented in physical action, their verbal fencing becoming mirrored in muscular struggle. The language is by turns poetic and vulgar in a script steeped in ambivalence where your sympathies shift from one side to another. It is serious, symbolic and sexual, simmering with fierce homo-erotic tension. Clothes come off and secrets are wrenched free on both sides of the wall.
The show has several elements that may be abstruse for audiences – the sci fi setting, the ornate language, the abstracted performance style – and reactions to it may be as divided as the stark future it portrays. I can’t say it was always easy to follow, but it was arresting viewing throughout. The Long Divide is an intriguing show from a committed young company and there is enough depth to its ambivalent take on masculinity, freedom and power dynamics to make it worth seeking out.
Company White Wolf presents
The Long Divide
Created and performed by Damian Alexander Bernardo, Charles Mercovich and Scott Middleton
Venue: Donkey Wheel – Boardroom | 673 Bourke St, Melbourne
Dates: Sep 27 – Oct 7, 2011
Tickets: $15 –$12
Part of the 2011 Melbourne Fringe Festival