Left – Erica Field. Cover – Liesel Zink. Photos – Fen Lan Chuang
Often, creative developments seem to simply be productions artists lack sufficient confidence to support. Actual differences between so-called work-in-progress showings and fully-fledged productions are too often related to matters of marketing than content. Not so, Motherboard Productions' La Voix Humaine.
Previously showcased through both Metro Arts' Freerange and Brisbane Festival's Under The Radar in 2011, La Voix Humaine has varied wildly with each incarnation – director Dave Sleswick throwing all manner of ideas at the wall as he nutted out his own idiosyncratic take on Jean Cocteau's classic script. Freerange featured a bizarre blast of Beatles-scored choreography. Under The Radar boasted a sprawling projected cityscape.
The production's season with La Boite's Indie program is La Voix Humaine's inaugural showing as an officially completed work – and it does a wonderful job of justifying such lengthy, exploratory processes. If absolutely nothing else, La Voix Humaine feels complete. A fully rounded, carefully crafted work of ambition, intellect and pathos – as clever as it is compassionate.
Those unfamiliar with the production's previous experiments needn't concern themselves. It's very much its own product. There is a peculiar joy to be gleaned, however, from seeing such an ambitious work come to fruition through such circumstances. Sleswick's vision for La Voix Humaine – three performers, one character, two languages, elaborate multimedia set, experimental score – could have gone wrong in so many ways. Yet, it truly glows.
The director has refrained from creating a work defined through novelty or didactics. At the heart of La Voix Humaine's sprawling ambition remains Cocteau's brutal, heart-aching premise – a woman desperately reaching out to a former lover on the night before his marriage to another woman via telephone. There's a lot of spectacular visuals, effects and performative tricks to take in throughout the work – but character is queen.
Fittingly, performance is La Voix's most commendable attribute. Erica Field, Liesel Zink and Noa Rotem, charged with delivering three renditions of the same character (or sharing one rendition, if you prefer), work exceptionally well as an ensemble (Brian Lucas' choreography creating some spectacular free-for-alls) and frequently quite brilliantly as individuals. Rotem, in particular, delivers a performance that will leave you shattered.
It's difficult to understand Sleswick's reasoning behind having three women tackle a single role. Quite frankly, this reviewer doesn't care. The effect of his decision is mesmerising. The three performances layering over another creates a strangely blurry illustration. It's an impressionistic, smeared portrayal of an individual that lends surprising depth where one would expect it to do the exact opposite.
The physical design of the work operates similarly. La Voix Humaine's design – a titanic, multi-modal hydra of multimedia, set design, sound design and lighting – is a mechanical marvel. Yet, again, where one would expect layers of projection and twisted voice processing to abstract our protagonist's humanity, it actually amplifies it. It's a strange trick and Sleswick's team should be commended for pulling it off.
There is something missing. It's hard to say what exactly. There is simply something about the work that leaves one colder than expected. An over-intellectual distance or a surfeit of precision. Ironically, it all feels a little too dependable. In all aspects, La Voix Humaine is a triumph of mechanics and craftsmanship – even emotion is micromanaged. You just find yourself longing for a little bit of mess among the ballet.
Still, that's a minor critique. Taken in its entirety, La Voix Humaine is a tremendous piece of work and highly recommended.
Motherboard Productions & La Boite Indie present
La Voix Humaine
by Jean Cocteau
Director Dave Sleswick
Venue: Roundhouse Theatre | Level 5, The Works, 6-8 Musk Avenue, Kelvin Grove
Dates: 27 June - 14 July, 2012
Tickets: from $20