Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Whiteley's Incredible Blue, A Not-Review.

Whiteley's Incredible Blue; An Hallucination.

Well I've just done something I don't normally do, and that is read other reviews before I've written my own. Not sure why I did this. Perhaps because I wasn't sure I was going to write a review at all. And I'm still not sure. I think what I'm about to do is add my two cents worth to a discussion that hasn't really taken place.

First up, scroll down past the recent Grumpy posts (do take the time to read them - they are sometimes a bit funny) to a Q & A I did with Barry Dickins leading up to the opening of Whiteley's Incredible Blue. That will give you an idea of what to expect from the play. I think if I had been a punter reading it (which I guess I am), I'm sufficiently interested in the life of Brett Whiteley and aware enough of Barry Dickins' talent for it to have persuaded me to check the play out.

Then check out Alison Crogan's positive review of the play here.

And finally check out Cameron Woodhead's negative review here.

There's also a bit of discussion in the comments section following Alison's review at Theatre Notes.

So what did I think of Whiteley's Incredible Blue? I've been telling friends that I enjoyed it and that yes, it is worth checking out.

Whiteley was, of course, a fascinating character. When younger I had probably always been aware of him even without being familiar with his art, being the boy from the burbs that I was. He was exotic, famous, creating weirdly beautiful paintings while living like a rockstar. For a while I lived around the Lower North Shore and it was as much a thrill for me then to glimpse the Whitely house at Lavender Bay as it would later be for me to walk past Patrick and Manoly's place at Centennial Park.

I also have a fascination for addiction and chemical experimentation, and Brett with his 30 years or so love affair with heroin... well what's not to be fascinated by?

Also, I laughed when he said something like, "I'd rather methadone than Ken Done."

So what intrigued me most about this play was that it came from a fever induced hallucination; was it going to capture the feeling of delirium, and would it be able to capture the kind of stuff that goes on in a head swirling in colourful storms of narcotic hallucination?

For me, the writing was spot on. This monologue of an overdosed artist in purgatory more-or-less looking back at his life was surreal, disjointed, occasionally garbled, poetic, sympathetic while exploring what Whiteley's ego must have been like. It's all speculation; it is indeed an hallucination.

Neil Pigot did a terrific job of becoming Brett Whiteley. Certainly he looked like him and appeared to move and talk like him. Was he accurately portraying what went on in Whiteley's head? Who really knows? But it felt authentic to me.

And yeah, it was moving, never more so that when the artist looked back at how he had played the role of father to the beautiful and tragic Arkie. Moving. Not sentimental. It would have been easy to milk the Arkie angle but I think Mr Dickins knew where the mark was and made sure he didn't overstep it.

Negatives? At first the voice-overs and the music were a bit jarring, but I think you either let yourself dwell on these or you kind of embrace them as part of the fabric of the thing. Jazz is not my favourite style of music but it fitted in with the somewhat helter skelter story we were being told. And like the story itself, amongst the jangling noise there were elegant sweeps of beauty.

I didn't read the "self-indulgent" biography written by Barry Dickins that Cameron Woodhead refers to, and I'd guess as a result I'd say this has not sent me in with any preconceptions. I like Whiteley's art. I am intrigued by how such artists think. When I heard of the artists death by overdose, I was saddened and wasn't one of the bitter humans Dickins talks about in my Q & A.

Consequently, I enjoyed this performance on its many levels and and do recommend it.

And that's my not-review. My contribution to this un-had discussion.

Until October 23 at fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Best City In Australia.

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