Presented as the final work in the 2017 Ralph Indie season, Tristan: A Song for the Superior Man is an experimental ensemble work, performed by four men and one woman, which sets out to explore the notion of what it takes to be a good man.
Combining physical theatre, story, song, dance with strong butoh elements, Chenoeh Miller and her collaborators, have taken a series of stories, some of the experiences of her cast, others from various sources, and used them for the basis of a clever work laden with arresting images.
Excellent sound and lighting, a minimalist design, and a quintet of committed, talented actors, has resulted in an intriguing production which puzzles and fascinates, while challenging its audience to ponder the issues it raises.
It begins with a half-naked man furiously exercising himself to exhaustion, before slowly dressing and joining four others dressed in blue business suits. A mirror ball flashes as a drag-queen belts out I Need a Hero, while the suited quartet perform a unison routine, their faces contorted by desperately fixed smiles.
Slowly they begin to undress the drag-queen, then, one by one, share stories commenting on their experiences of maleness. One, compellingly narrated by Chris Endrey, tells of a gentle musician driven to violence by a wife who is herself infuriated by his insistence on being a “good man”.
The episodes are executed slowly and deliberately, butoh style, which sometimes invites boredom. One long voice-over monologue, in which an addled female tortures herself trying to rationalise gender issues, would certainly benefit from judicious editing. However the direction is so artful, and the individual performances so skilful, that the very slowness itself becomes mesmeric, allowing the observer to study every move, and wonder what the next might be.
Because the intention behind many of the episodes is not always clear, each audience member will have their own interpretation according to their individual experience. However, as an experimental production, Tristan: A Song for the Superior, certainly justifies the Ralph Indie imprimatur in its embrace of innovation and experimentation. For those willing to embrace the experience, it provides a challenging, unusual, meticulously crafted and surprisingly entertaining theatrical experience.
Tristan: A Song for a Superior Man
Ralph Wilson Theatre – Gorman Arts Centre, 55 Ainslie Avenue, Braddon
Performance: Wednesday 29 November 2017
Season: 29 November – 3 December 2017
Information and Bookings: www.agac.com.au
Image: Oliver Levi-Malouf and Raoul Craemer in Tristan: A Song for the Superior Man – photo by Andrew Sikorski
Review: Bill Stephens OAM