Photo Joe Murray
"Do you feel ready to begin?" asks the small Italian woman with large eyes and a plait half as long as her body. My partner-in-crime (and theatre) and I have been waiting in the designated area, wondering what the hell is about to happen to us. This question only adds to our anticipation.
We follow her through the space into a walled-off area looking like any one of Melbourne's dirty alleys, with an upside-down TV showing 'news' and some ominous looking technology to our right. She seats us in the two seats waiting in the corner, promising to be with us soon.
We sit. We look. We ponder in quiet voices how much we're really meant to take part in this "immersive" and "instruction-based theatre," where we, the audience of two, are cast as "member and informer." Well, that's what the program tells us. We soon learn what it means.
Our hostess returns with a British male associate (my deduction skills suggest that these are Simon Wilkinson and Silvia Mercuriali, co-writers, directors, actors and producers of the show) and directs us to two crosses on the floor. They then fit us with goggles and earphones, and the world begins.
Sorry, but I'm not going to tell you what happens. You'll have to find out for yourself – it only takes 16 minutes.
While this show is a brilliant experience and something to inspire anyone who wants to create fresh theatre, it is also a reviewer's nightmare. Try as I might to connect all the hints, I believe I would need to experience this show at least six more times to feel I 'get it' – and even then, I probably won't have. My two experiences of the show only develop my wonder and confusion. The creators have paid incredible attention to detail, right down to the "Parish Newsletters" that are strewn around the antechamber, where participants are first taken. The merging of Simon and Silvia's minds has created something completely unlike anything I've seen or experienced in theatre before – and on a rainy afternoon in Melbourne, that is a seriously delightful thing.
The story is told – and enacted – through an instructive film, through which we, the viewers/participants/audience, receive instructions of where to look and what to do. Sometimes these instructions are emphasised by physical experiences, like smells, touches, and movement from one place to another.
You realise that the video will be the same regardless of whether you "turn you head" like you're told to, however the key to this style of theatre is to ignore that knowledge and let go of everything you know about reality so you can fall into the experience. I recommend practising this beforehand!
Unfortunately, due to the current nature of technology, things can go wrong. My goggles work, but my friend's don't – her video cuts out half way through. She makes the signal for assistance, and is told to sit it out, as the show's almost finished. We mention this to the directors, who are smoking out the front as we pass, they insist that she do it again, because she missed a fair portion – "Come on, we'll take you through now, no worries." We are lucky enough to be out of peak-hour viewing (ahh the student's life) so I ask if I can go along again. Thank goodness I do, because I hardly remember anything from the first time around, just a lot of images, the feeling of tension, and the conflict between my perception of reality and my desire to embrace the story.
In these 16 minutes, there are more ideas and theatricality than most people experience in a year. No really, I'm serious. In this tiny snippet, Il Pixel Rosso presents an obscure theatrical style called auto teatro (thanks Silvia) as well as tackling ideas of how film can represent life, along with, but not exclusively, things like: the brevity of life, apocalypse, the senselessness of violence, terrorism, intimidation, dehumanisation and alienation. Oh, and birds. This is then couched in an alternate universe where 10,000 years ago the Faruk (a race of evil clowns) have diverged from the rest of humankind, and now terrorise us all.
Where do the birds come into it? I really have no idea. They could be symbolic of any number of things... That's really up to the individual.
And this is the crux of the production. Every individual who experiences it will find different interpretations and a whole score of related questions. No one, however, will forget it.
Il Pixel Rosso presents
And the Birds Fell from the Sky
Venue: Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
Dates: 29 February – 18 March, 2012
Times: Every fifteen minutes between: Wed – Fri, 2.30–4.30pm & 6–9pm Sat, 1–4pm & 5.30–8.30pm Sun, 1– 4pm & 5.30–7.30pm | No performances Mondays or Tuesdays.
Tickets: Full $15 / Concession $10
Bookings: 03 9322 3713