Zen little diggers
Andrew Burnet begins the afternoon by meditating on an unusual approach to Ibsen.
Doubtless, tranquillity may be found among the fjords ofNorway, and Australia‘s geographical location certainly allows for cultural interchange with the Far East. but a Buddhist production of Peer Gynt from Sydney seems an unlikely proposition. even in a festival famous for its eclecticism.
But this year‘s Fringe will indeed include an Australian Buddhist interpretation of lbsen‘s picaresque epic. whose participants maintain there is ‘an incredible correlation’ between the play‘s final message and their own philosophy.
The man behind it all, Bastinado Theatre Company‘s Chris Burgess (who produces. directs and plays the title role) is almost disappointingly down-to-earth. As plain-spoken as a Castlemaine XXXX ad, he explains the premise with reference to Ibsen‘s ambivalent finale. ‘Near the end of the play. Peer Gynt comes across the Button-moulder. a sort of representation ofan angel. who tells him that he's never really been himself. and consequently he‘s going to have to melt him down as raw
material. He‘s never been good enough or bad enough to go to either heaven or hell. For the rest ofthe play. he‘s trying to prove that he is himself. but fails.
‘It‘s a fundamental tenet of Buddhism that there is no self— no soul - that we‘re not in fact separate souls stuck in bodies. but we‘re all part ofone. all—encompassing reality.‘
After ‘extensive meditation on the text‘. Bastinado have created a performance which uses specific forms of gesture. speech and visual symbolism to highlight their own vision of Ibsen‘s work. Three performers (representing Peer Gynt, his feminine side and his masculine side) perform the play in three circles oflight (representing old Peer. young Peer and enlightened Peer). focusing on ‘the nature of self‘. which they take to be Ibsen‘s central concern.
Burgess is anxious to point out.
however, that Buddhist philosophy has not been allowed to swamp Peer Gynt‘s ebullient theatrical qualities. The production features spectacular costumes, masks and movement, and was described by the Sydney Telegraph-Mirror as ‘a visual feast‘. ‘It‘s not as if the Buddhism is imposed on top of it,’ Burgess insists. ‘The play works on a very simple level as just a story ofsomeone‘s life. The Buddhist element is there for people who want to see it, but the whole thing doesn’t rest on the Buddhist interpretation. We very much wanted to just kind of choose a play,‘ he concludes, as though discussing his choice of lager, ‘and see what happened through investigating that play very deeply.‘
I Peer Gynt (Fringe) Bastinado Theatre Company, Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41) 225 7294. 16 Aug—5 Sept (not 23 Aug). 1.15pm, £5 (£4).
You didn’twant to be an artist or an academic in China in the late 19608. From 1965 until the death of her husband Mao Tse-tung in 1976, Jiang (ling was the scourge of the Chinese intelligentsia, leading the infamous Cultural Revolution (a less-than-subtle attempt to eradicate bourgeoise elements from the country's culture), and later ascending to the Politburo as a member of the hated Gang of Four. llow, second-generation Chinese emigrants in Singapore are re-examlnlng her life in a play by Singaporean writer Henry Ong, which tries to give herthe benefit of the doubt. ‘When the play was performed here,’ explains Keng Sen Ong, who directed Madame Mao's Memories for Singapore’s TheatreWorlrs company,
‘the younger people were able to relate to her, but the older people just switched off. They felt it was a justification of her evil deeds. We were not born in China, and maybe because we did not live through that era we can
afford to give her another chance.’
Ironically— given that its subject destroyed so much of China's ancient heritage —the play is performed in a style which owes much to that legacy. ‘lt was written as a very naturalistic plece,’ says Keng Sen Ong, ‘but our interpretation is much more based in Chinese opera and traditional theatre. it's part of a foray into our roots, and it’s been a very interesting process to fuse these traditional toms into a contemporary English language theatre. Singapore is such an eclectic mix that there’s nothing we can hold onto and say “this is Singaporean." A lot of our theatre has been about looking baclr to our past to find a meaning for our future and our present.’ (Andrew eumet)
Madame Mao’s Memories (Fringe) ' TheatreWorks, Traverse (Venue 15) 2281404, 18 Aug—5 Sept (not 24, 31 Aug), 1.30pm (weelr one), 27.
Andrew eumet settles down for his most eagerly anticipated post-prandial entertainment.
I Denied Crowns This year‘s winner of the coveted International Student Playscript Award, a black comedy directed by its author Robert Shearman.
Denied Crowns (Fringe) Exacting Theatre Company, Southside ‘92 (Venue 82) 667 7365, l7Aug—5 Sept (not23, 26, 2), 1pm, £3.50 (£3).
I Face To Face Also a student award-winner, this physical theatre production employs women‘s literature to illustrate the eternal theme of Women versus Men.
Face To Face (Fringe) fecund Theatre, Marco '5 Leisure Centre (Venue 51) 228 214], 17Aug—5 Sept (not26), 1.55pm, £4.50 (£3.50).
I Mummy’s Little Girl Old lag of the comedy circuit Jenny Eclair brings her London fringe success to Edinburgh. A sad tale of precocious child talent gone stale.
Mummy ’3 Little Girl (Fringe) Jenny Eclair, Assembly Rooms (Venue 3) 226 2428, I4 Aug—5 Sept (not 17, 27) £6 (£7);£5 (£6).
I Orlando Three-time Fringe First winners Red Shift present a new adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s time-travelling, sex-changing homage to celebrated lesbian Vita Sackville West.
Orlando (Fringe) Red Shift, Assembly Rooms (Venue 3) 226 2428, 16Aug—5 Sept (n0124, 1) 2pm, £6.50/£7.50;£5 (£6).
I The People Who Could Fly New York‘s Shoestring Players in a balletic jaunt around the world‘s folktales. Mainly for children.
The People Who Could Fly (Fringe) The Shoestring Players, Pleasance (Venue 33) 556 6550. 14—31 Aug (not 16, 23), 2pm, £4 (£3).
The List 14 — 20 August 1992 27