Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Histrionic

It was entirely by chance that we were offered tickets last night to Thomas Bernhard's The Histrionic (or so it has been translated by Tom Wright for the Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre production at the Wharf) -- in fact entirely by chance that I even got to hear of the production at all since, unlike Bernhard, I don't read newspapers from cover to cover every day, or whatever the online equivalent might be.

For its 1984 Salzburg premier the play had a 'real dunghill' on the stage, as Gita Honegger writes in her biography of Bernhard; at the Wharf here in Sydney there were wood shavings scattered over the small wooden stage on the stage, as well as a beautifully foul and bloodied stain at one edge of it and all the way down the steps that led to the kitchen, as if someone had vomited up blood sausages on the previous Tuesday and not yet got round to scrubbing the floor. We were treated, though, to the gratifying odours of frittata soup at an emblematic family meal that only Bernhard could have created, as nobody seemed able to eat but the one who could rant.

There is something of Gargoyles or Verstörung in the play (Honegger explains that the title of the US publication of this novel is misleading as Verstörung means 'perturbation'): something about its being set deep in the Alp-clefted centre of Austria, where illness and maiming and the shrieking and stench of blood-let animals in filthy stalls keeps reminding us that the apparent freshness and freedom of the glorious landscape all around is no more than yet another figuration of the claustrophobia. And such an impression, after all, is not so far from our own experience here on the edge of our wide, stained continent of dazzling sands, bush and beaches. As Billie Brown, playing Bruscon, retched the words Utzbach and Austria from the edge of his little stage, I could have sworn that the last time he did it, 'Austria' sounded like 'Australia'.

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