Permission to Speak was remarkable. The audience sat on four sides of a square. Well, less a square as it was a double traverse. Each side watching the other – a vague outline of figures sitting opposite in judgement over the action in the middle.
And squares were everywhere – from the performance space, to the seats the four performers used, to the shape of the spotlights. High behind the four sides of audience were speakers connected to a particular performer. It meant that often what was heard was their voice, their projected voice, and the actual recorded voice they were mimicking.
Permission to Speak is a brave look at the relationships children have with their parents, from childhood and adolescence through to a parent’s death and sometimes beyond. Fragments of real interviews play underneath in many places during the show.
Equipped with very little – unassuming stage-blacks and chucks – the performers’ main instrument was their singing voice (serrated knives blades drawn noisily over glass rims aside). Georgie Darvidis, Gian Slater, Josh Kyle, and Edward Fairlie had strong voices, with absolute control over them.
A highlight was a montage built up of the words we pay little heed to: Umms, ahs, ers – the gaps we leave in-between speech in either contemplation or hesitation. Like ‘Dolls’ Polyphony” from the Akira OST, the piece started haphazard then grew more assured to draw you in.
While not afraid to have fun (as one short segment staged like an Australian Idol audition proved), the writing and performance got into darker and more interesting territory towards the end. As one interviewee remarks that she dwells more on her parents after their death than when they were alive, the performers take turns making graves. One lays down, another sprinkling faux-dirt over them, before switching.
Later they pull themselves up and what is left – under burned-yellow spotlights acting as graves – are the outlines of their bodies. Our parents will depart, but they never leave. The spectre of their influence is still there. It’s a lovely bit of theatre reinforcing the idea of family history isn’t what’s immediately passed to you from your parents, but something more sedimentary.
What Director, Tamara Saulwick, and her cast and crew have made is a piece built on ferocious discipline, yet still manages to feel fresh. As much as it is the content of the interviews themselves, or having song and voice delivered in perfect time with those recordings, there was something about the way the cast listened and supported each other that made this as compelling and engaging as it was. Sonic high-wire artists without a net, they caught each other every time.
Permission to Speak
Arts House, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Performance: Sunday 27 November 2016 – 5.00pm
Season: 23 – 27 November 2016
For more information, visit: www.chambermadeopera.com for details.
Image: Permission to Speak – photo by Bryony Jackson