Au Cause Célèbre is described as “An oversaturated tragically romantic melodrama.” I’ll admit to some uncertainty as to the significance of the title, so I’ve looked to Cece’s wee description as a way to better understand the material:
An – The form of ‘a’ before an initial vowel sound, beginning with a silent or weakly pronounced ‘h’.
Indeed, silence was a tool used throughout the piece, giving each long poetic sentence a weight they might not communicate were they strung together in a heavy verbal bunch.
Oversaturated – To charge with the utmost. To soak, impregnate, or imbue thoroughly or completely. Endless repetition.
Last year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival featured many solo cabaret acts that tinkered or played around with the form. Here, however, instead of musical accompaniment, pace, and songs, we have long swathes of mostly-remembered text occasionally broken up by a song. CeCe is being subversive with her structure, but should the work keep developing, care needs to be taken not to have that subversion come at the detriment to her relationship with the audience.
Tragically – Extremely mournful, melancholy. Characteristic or suggestive of tragedy, dealing with a serious or sombre theme.
The funereal aesthetic permeates through all of it. Mini-rituals are scattered along the way, often lasting just a few seconds: A candle is languidly lit, then snuffed out shortly after; CeCe spreads out her coat to sit on it (not an easy task in her dark olive dinner dress) as she describes a picnic, then stands a moment later; a recalled line from earlier is a cue for a blackout, before the lights come straight back on as the story continues. These small physical embellishments didn’t so much feel enriching as they did arbitrary, making the text harder to engage with.
Romantic melodrama – Ardent; passionate; fervent. A dramatic form that exaggerates emotion imagination, or introspection at the expense of characterization.
While the language she uses is incredibly rich – detailing dark family history, secrets, and great loves – it’s presented to the audience in long, metronomic blocks of dense verse devoid of the very passion being described. It was a fascinating arrangement at first, but one that desperately needed breaking up near the end to avoid being too regular.
CeCe deserves only respect and admiration for putting herself out there on an extremely hot night in a room with no ventilation. Under those conditions, it’s doubtful overwrought mytho-poetic storytelling interrupted by sporadic Anohni-esque renditions of pop hits wouldn’t have had difficulty connecting with any audience. But, the work isn’t finished yet. With further dramaturgy (and perhaps some AC), Au Cause Célèbre can transform from intriguing to extraordinary.
Au Cause Célèbre
Brunswick Mechanics Institute, Corner Sydney and Glenlyon Roads, Brunswick
Performance: Saturday 27 January 2018 – 9.00pm
Season continues to 3 February 2018
Information and Bookings: www.midsumma.org.au
Image: Ms CeCe Rockefeller – photo by Kieran Mcnamara
Review: David Collins