Drop cloth back drop and living statues in flesh linseed linen loincloth set the scene for Wendy Beckett’s classically chiselled theatrical bio, Claudel.
Camille Claudel was August Rodin’s muse and discovery, protege and paramour, an artist of exquisite talent, but gender rendered her genius subordinate to male artists. The compulsion to create was a key component of their life and love, despair and dissolution too. Beckett’s narrative seeks to explore the subordination of life to art and how the art of creation brings conflict.
Was Augustine a goose? Was the creator of The Thinker a stinker. Should he be cancelled by our culture?
He did encourage and inspire her, although emotionally denied her by refusing to leave the mother of his children for her. For all their Bohemia, the couple were caught and trapped by societal norm.
Beckett’s script suggests more psychological harm was done to Claudel by her mother than her lover. And there’s the whiff of incest from little brother, Paul. Product of the harsh aggressive cancerous growth of mother’s Catholicism. Tara Morice’s icy portrayal embodies the malignancy.
The actors in this production are all proficient – Imogen Sage as Camille Claudel, Christopher Stollery as Rodin, Mitchell Bourke as Paul, Melissa Kahraman and Henrietta Amevor as Claudel’s student contemporaries, but it’s the dancers and design work that extend the frontiers of the piece.
Dancers Dorothea Csutkai, Cloe Fournier and Kip Gamblin under Meryl Tankard’s choreography, take Rodin’s statement that sculpture must be animated to full theatrical fruition. These performers bring muscle, sinew, bone and flesh to the production, a transcendent quality of focused intensity, exalted by Matt Cox’s lighting design.
The birth of Claudel’s child, a literal and emotional expulsion is brilliantly executed. Further virtuosity in the visual and aural is exploited by Regis Lansac’s projections on the set’s backdrop canvas, Bob Scott’s sonic compositions, and Li Hongbo’s extraordinary paper craft.
In the play, Claudel corrects Rodin’s use of the word “surface” to marble, declaring “skin” to be the more accurate definition. It’s a telling point. Talent and circumstance suggests that she had much more skin in the game.
Pascal Productions and Tinderbox Productions present
by Wendy Beckett
Director Wendy Beckett
Choreography by Meryl Tankard
Venue: Sydney Opera House, Playhouse
Dates: 23 April – 9 May 2021