Genevieve Trace’s Aurelian has been developed over a matter of years. It’s previously been showcased in developmental form at Metro Arts and as part of La Boite’s Scratch program. In a Q&A after today’s performance, Trace claims that the work’s Brisbane Festival incarnation will probably be its last. Which is a pity.
As it stands, Aurelian is a compendium of fantastic showcases of skill, blindingly affecting moments of catharsis and colossal dollops of ambition – but it’s not quite a finished work. If anything, Trace and her collaborators seem to have just scratched the surface of the show’s potential with their latest production. Indeed, after a couple of years, they seem to have actually begun to really figure their work out.
A deeply personal meditation on grief and memory in relation to Queensland’s regional areas, Aurelian has always juggled a complicated array of styles. Drawing on interviews from Northern Queensland residents, it’s got one foot firmly planted in verbatim theatre. Conversely, its array of multimedia projections and layered soundscapes (courtesy of Robert Millett and Mike Willmett, respectively) position it in post-dramatic theatre territory.
The latest incarnation of the work also weaves in an almost narrative through-line of a woman dealing with her own grief. Which, as it happens, may eventually turn out to be the focal point that brings the whole production together. However, the current impact of so many contrasting styles is that the work feels quite uneven. Trace seems unsure as to what to prioritise – her sense of veracity, her sense of narrative or her sense of spectacle.
All have their highlights. Relaying Trace’s various interviews and monologues, performer Erica Field is an absolute wonder and continues to affirm her position as one of Brisbane’s most talented actresses. Watching her flit between carefully nuanced variations of an Australian accent is a delight while her final, red-eyed monologue is viciously raw and profoundly powerful.
The technical design of the work is consistently fantastic. Millett and Willmett collaborate to create a series of beautiful, unsettling tone poems that eerily capture regional Queensland’s beautiful and foreign expanses. That weird mix of suburban normalcy and spartan wilderness. A segment oscillating around a controlled cane blaze is overwhelmingly (and terrifyingly) evocative.
The narrative is the most deeply buried of Trace’s sensibilities. Ironically, it’s still probably responsible for Aurelian’s most crushingly elegant moment. Field’s aforementioned closing monologue weaves together all of the show’s various threads and approaches and grounds them in a very personal, very human sense of inescapable loss. It hits harder than any other moment in the show.
The problem is that each of the work’s elements is in competition. In a weird way, no-one seems to trust anyone else to carry the work. Multimedia crashes through understated interviews. Narrative undercuts post-dramatic and verbatim tactics. The show is still engaging and packed with powerful moments – but it’s a bumpy ride. Again, it has a lot going for it. It’s just not quite a finished work.
It may seem arrogant to demand another iteration of a work that’s spent years in development – but I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s a far better work to be found in Aurelian. It’s in that last monologue. In that monologue, there’s a key to a truly phenomenal work. A work that blends verbatim, post-dramatic and traditional theatre seamlessly to tell one woman’s story of irreconcilable loss – contextualising and evolving that narrative within an entire landscape of similarly afflicted characters.
Perhaps I’m greedy. Aurelian’s good – but I just really want to see that show.
Brisbane Festival and Metro Arts present
Conceived by Genevieve Trace
Venue: Sue Benner Theatre | 109 Edward St, Brisbane
Dates: 7 – 15 Sep, 2013
Tickets: $25 – $18