Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday explores the ‘bookends of a life fully lived.’
Director Rosalyn Oades is a pioneer of so-called ‘audio verbatim’ technique, in which she records interviews with members of a community and constructs a work of theatre from the audio she collects. For this project, 80 members of the community were interviewed over a period of 18 months, and the recordings edited down to around 65 minutes. The resulting audio script is then played to actors on stage via headphones (the audience never hear the original interviews), who repeat the lines as faithfully as possible, reflecting every breath, pause, inflection and cough of the original recording. As Oades says in her program notes, “the discipline of this technique prevents parody or interpretation.” Quite why ‘interpretation’ is regarded as a negative is not made entirely clear, nevertheless the result is a rather unique performance style.
In the case of Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday, the technique allows for a large number of characters to be represented on stage and with 80 hours of audio to draw from, there is no shortage of interesting material. The text takes snippets of conversations from a wide range of characters, resembling a kind of vox pop, in which the audience is cast in the role of the interviewer, and the actors address us directly. The dialogue centers around two broad themes – young people on the verge of adulthood expressing their hopes for the future, and older people reflecting on their past and present lives – and is in turn fascinating, poignant and funny, if occasionally a little glib. The cast frequently play against type – older actors play teenagers, male actors are cast as females, white Anglo Australians impersonate a range of migrant cultures – and vice versa. While the cavalcade of funny walks and voices could easily have been a distraction, the text is performed with great respect to the very real people behind the words, and much of the humour is as a result of these juxtapositions – the younger Diana Perini in torn jeans and t-shirt, shines as a jolly aged-care patient, while the…ahem… ageing Jim Daly all but steals the show as a teenage girl delivering an ill prepared birthday speech.
The highly visible headphone technique acts as an alienation device, a constant reminder that the actors are reciting other peoples words. While the technique inevitably has its limitations, it also highlights and celebrates the possibilities of live theatre. What in another context might have made for a perfectly satisfactory television documentary for example, is taken to a whole other level as a live theatre performance – I’m guessing its been a while since Jim Daly or Evelyn Krape played teenagers, and yet their portrayals in this production are superb and utterly believable, and cause us to pay attention to the text in a way we might not have done, were the casting along more realistic or traditional lines. In addition, the skill of the actors is on full display as they create believable, even recognisable characters with little more than a line or two of text.
The excellent set by Christina Hayes, is a perfect reproduction of a typical country/community/church hall and adds to the pseudo documentary feel of the play, although it is seriously underutilised. The actors could just as well have performed in a black box. The text is infused with genuine warmth and candidness – a testament to the generosity of the interviewees and the editing skills of director Oades and Script Dramaturg Raimondo Cortese. The text is matched by fine performances from the entire cast, including Matthew Connell, Jim Daly, Evelyn Krape, HaiHa Le, Roger Oakley and Diana Perini who are all very good, but Daly and Krape in particular stood out for me.
This is an enjoyable production, which for the most part, rollicks along for the full 65 minutes. Highly recommended.
Malthouse Theatre and Melbourne Festival present
Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday
by Roslyn Oades & collaborators
Director Roslyn Oades
Venue: Beckett Theatre | Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne
Dates: 9 – 26 Oct 2014