Left – Josh Mu and Alan Flower. Photo – Lisa Tomasetti
The one-hour show, Never Did Me Any Harm, is about the challenges of parenting in modern Western society, and was prompted by the book The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas. Neither Tsiolkas nor the director of Force Majeur, Kate Champion, actually are parents. This could prompt cries of 'what do they know about it?' from parents caught in the vortices of self-doubt, loss of self-esteem, dismay at how their own children have 'turned out' and other forms of egotistic blindness; but in fact it gives both of them a position of distance which enables them to see the range of absurdities that characterise modern parenting, and to bring to the surface certain very powerful taboos involved.
To prepare for this play (what does one call, it?), Kate Champion had conducted countless interviews with parents, and some with non-parents, on the subject of having and bringing up children. The play was put together in a rehearsal process, by Champion and Andrew Upton, where each actor played in an improvisatory manner with fragments of texts taken from these interviews. As usual with such processes, an enormous amount of material was generated, from which the play was distilled. The result was an immensely powerful, condensed sequence of short scenes which gave a bewilderingly kaleidoscopic view of the challenges of parenting.
The text is powerful enough, but for me the theatrical side of the performance was staggeringly effective, and increased that power immensely. The seven actors played multiple roles during the evening. No two scenes used the same technique. The opening was mimed over the text read through the sound system, a technique which made it possible for the actors to transmit the emotion behind the words in a way impossible when one is actually speaking. The training of the actors in physical theatre enabled them, in other scenes, to fold into and out of each other's emotional states, and they did this with a timing that was on another level from that usually seen in theatre – well, I would call it musical timing, that is to say, on the level of micro-seconds. Astonishing.
The result was that Force Majeur could present those impossible sequences of emotions that happen bewilderingly fast as parents – where parental love tinged with pity changes in a split second (and that's not an exaggeration) into resentment and spite, and even hate. The short sequence involving the discovery that their son was autistic was devastating.
Most profoundly of all, these scenes brought out an aspect of parenting that has hardly been aired at all yet – the particular quality, or kind, of egotism that causes parents to harm their children. I could see that the terrible violence (verbal and physical) was because the parents treated their children as parts, or projections, of themselves, and could not work out when those parts were ones they loved or one they hated in themselves. After all, most of us have parts of ourselves we hate – often, crucially, including those transmitted unfiltered by our parents. This explains why it is accurate to speak of hate between parents and children (in both directions).
This was a brilliant, brave, and deeply stirring show. It did not answer many practical questions, but I think our society isn't able to do this yet. A preliminary stage to this is to bring the problems, passionately yet mercilessly, to light. This Kate Champion and Force Majeur achieved, using all the powers of the theatrical techniques fostered and developed in the last few decades.
2012 Adelaide Festival
Never Did Me Any Harm
Force Majeure & Sydney Theatre Company
Director Kate Champion
Venue: Space Theatre | Adelaide Festival Centre
Dates: Wed 14 Mar – Sat 17 Mar, 2012
Tickets: $49 – $30
Bookings: BASS Online | 131 246