Thursday, September 22, 2011

Appalling Behaviour, La Mama, Review

Appalling Behaviour

Written and performed by Stephen House

Directed by Justin McGuinness

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

I once heard about a play that was performed in an elevator. It was at one of those arty fringe festivals. Appalling Behaviour took place on a stage much more intimate. Seriously, I think this was the tiniest stage I have ever seen. Did it work in this shrunken version of La Mama? Hell yeah. This is a case where intimacy really works.

Stephen House wrote this play and could sit back happy that he has done a good job of writing it. It's one of those scripts (it's a monologue) that makes you want to read the words on the page as you watch the performance. It's lyrical. It's savage. It gives eloquence to people most of us ignore.

Story? There's a guy on the streets of Paris. He's broken and lost but clinging to the hookers and the dealers and the schemers who get him through each day, either in reality or the hallucinations and memories he needs to survive. You live in a big city, you see them each day. But you ignore them. You never enter their world. But you wonder, don't you. You wonder how they got there. You wonder what their life was like before they became grimy and fucked up and forgotten.

Acting? There's not one minute of this 75 minute performance that isn't convincing. This guy just a metre or so away in his shitty clothing with his bag of drugs and his tales of sorrow and his yearning for admiration and love and for things to be the way they should have been... he's like the forgotten ones we all see on the streets but step over or close our ears to. This homeless human that Stephen House has created gives a voice to these people. They are human. They have feelings. They have a past. Sometimes they are even tragically funny, just like the rest of us.

This is a big performance on a small stage that was hugely impressive.

Addendum: I was lucky enough to have an accidental post-show chat with Stephen House. Apparently the La Mama stage was so small due to the 6.30 performance of Blackbox 149, which explained the mysterious curtain at the rear of the stage that didn't do anything; it was not a prop in this show. House said that he was intimidated by the diminutive size of the stage and initially didn't think he could do it. He was used to performing Appalling Behaviour in bigger spaces and had to pull back his performance. On hearing this, most of us were surprised because this very intimacy enhanced the performance. You could feel the energy, the anger, the frustration, the sadness and longing.

There was a young kid in the audience who was from time to time disinterested and occupied herself by playing with her rubber ball. But even for her, as distant from this broken character's life as she was, she was frequently engaged, the toy falling still in her lap. House has indeed taken this performance to schools as well as theatres for us worldly grown-ups. However he said the most nervous he has ever been was when performing for homeless people. Understandable, because this was the acid test. Seems he got it right; Appalling Behaviour went down well with the very characters he was portaying. That's how good this performance is. That's how real it is.

As to why the story was set in France? House has spoken to many homeless people who have said that they feel they are speaking a different language, such is society's deafness to them; they feel like aliens even in their home country. He also likes the contradiction between the impression we have of a place like Paris and the reality. Indeed, spend a bit of time in, say, Pigalle, and you'll understand what he means. It's a short walk between vomit in the gutters and the shiniest shopping Paris has to offer.

At La Mama

205 Farraday Street

Carlton, Melbourne

September 21 – October 2

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