The Dead Ones | Margie Fischer and VitalstatistixMargie Fischer gets a cheer the moment she steps onto stage. One of the founders of Adelaide’s queer festival, Feast, and former artistic director of experimental theatre company Vitalstatistix, Fischer has some cachet with the Midsumma crowd. She hasn’t done a solo show since her hit of the nineties, The Gay Divorcee, and tonight Theatreworks is packed with a crowd eager for her latest, titled, a little ominously, The Dead Ones.

She wastes no time getting into it. While a screen behind her shows snapshots of her childhood home in Sydney and black and white family photos from pre-war Europe, she recounts the story of her parents’ escape from Nazi persecution in Austria, their life as refugees in China and their final journey to Australia. Reading from notes, she speaks fast, whirling through events as if she needs to punch them out to a tight deadline. This is background, the foundations of loss on which any refugee story is built. 

The losses that Fischer is primarily here to talk about are more immediate. The death of her brother at a tragically young age. The death of her parents. Tangentially too, she covers other losses: family pets, relationships, businesses, the sense of home and the sense of identity that circumstances can take away.

It is somewhat… relentless. Not that Fischer has set out to be sentimental or maudlin. Rather the show is a dispassionate account of the process of grieving and the little discussed time after grief, the empty period of cleaning up and packing away and throwing out by which the last vestiges of finished lives are accounted for. 

Fischer wrote the show when packing up her family home after her mother’s death and it frequently has the feel of a personal diary, read verbatim. It is highly introspective and self-analytical, the focus not so much on events, which are sometimes only sketchily described, but on picking apart the psychological reaction to them.

While packing, Fischer found a wealth of family photos and these provide a constant backdrop to her monologue, along with snapshots she took of the house that she was in the process of saying goodbye to. The beautiful black and whites of her young parents contrast with bare bones flash photography of half-packed rooms and heart wrenching portraits of her parents in their final days.

As a piece of performance, The Dead Ones is not perfectly realised. There is considerable repetition, both in the text and the images, and Fischer’s delivery can be uneven, rushing over things that deserve more attention, while dwelling overly long on others. I am loath to be critical of the performance aspects of the piece however. With The Dead Ones, Fischer has aimed for honesty over style. It is not so much a performance as it is a public airing of normally private thoughts and undisclosed feelings. As such it is a rare insight into how the mind processes loss and how people find meaning when the pillars of their world have fallen.

Margie Fischer in association with Vitalstatistix presents
by Margie Fischer

Director Catherine Fitzgerald

Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda
Dates: 29 Jan – 3 Feb, 2013
Tickets: $30 – $22
Bookings: | 03 95343388

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