I had not been inside the cell area of the Adelaide Gaol before last night and it is an arresting thought that until relatively recently any human being was made to wait out time in such a place. It is even more disturbing when such victims are wrongly incarcerated because of their beliefs and it is for those poor souls that Instructions for an Imaginary Man has been created.
As the lights dimmed, the audience was made to wait it seemed an indeterminable period of time before anything happened before them. Combined with the makeshift furniture of gaol benches and old matrasses laid out on the floor on which patrons had make do for comfort, the claustrophobia and anxiety arising in this period were palpable and very much set the scene for the next hour.
Instructions is poetry composed by prisoners of conscience from across the globe put to music by Richard Chew, sung from the rear of the stage area by Nigel Cliffe (Baritone) and Cheryl Pickering (Mezzo Soprano) and separated from actor, Graeme Rose, by a six piece ensemble (the composer on piano.)
Rose worked his cell area excellently conveying the boredom and despair of such deprivations and the obsessions with what would seem to those not in that predicament mundane matters like a solitary uncovered light globe and a peep hole.
Between the actor and his audience was a transparent curtain that acted not only a barrier to a closer connection to this isolated soul but also as a screen for various video pieces.
As immersive as the whole theatrical performance was, it also had its drawbacks. Operatic performance, such as this effectively was, often makes it hard to pick up what is being sung and thus the connection between sound and sight was often hard to make, diminishing the result. (Sure, we had the words in our hands but not the light to read them in situ.) The emotive lighting of the singers high above the other performers made for eeriness but some parallel treatment in the seating / lying area would also have been a boon.
Theatre that truly removes you from one’s comfortable world and places you in that of the production is rare and this aspect was a triumph. However, more attention to the needs of the audience (as highlighted above) may have helped round out a most emotive experience in a production that is most worthy of our Festival.
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