When: 20 - 25 November 2018
Where: Main Hall, Arts House
Created and performed by: Jon Haynes and David Woods
Design by: Romanie Harper
Lighting by: Richard Varbre
Sound by: Marco Cher-Gibard
|John Haynes and David Woods - photo by Bryony Jackson
Labeling the show 'seriously funny' is one of the most accurate program descriptions I have read. The final installment in the Ridiculusmus mental health trio (The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland and Give Me Your Love being the first two), Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! is a humorous but sensitive portrayal of aging and the ongoing grief experience which comes with it. After all, if you are the one who lives the longest that means you have watched a lot of people die before you...
Ridiculusmus like to work in the realm of physical theatre and Die! Die! Die! is the work in the trio which sits most strongly in this realm being much less text based than the earlier two. Interestingly, looking at the slowness which comes with aging Woods and Haynes appear to have looked to the dramaturgies of Japan. The show looks to me as if it contains stylings based around the slowness and intricacy of Noh, the jo-ha-kyu structures of Kabuki, and the movement techniques of Suzuki. Even Harper's costume design for the female character speaks strongly to this influence - or at least how it is used...
The show begins with entrance of Norman (Woods) and his wife (Haynes) - we don't find out her name until the very end which has a whole range of feminist connotations (deliberate I suspect) but I won't spoil the surprise. They make their way to the solitary round table and two chairs on a round persian rug sitting prominently down stage centre. This journey across the stage makes up most of the jo portion of the performance and the excruciatingly slow shuffle of the two performers highlights Hayne's mastery of Suzuki.
I didn't time this of course but the sense of the achievement of them staying upright, walking with extremely awkward gaits and committing to the outcome of sitting at the table so very far away for them for such a very long time created an incredible tension and excitement in the audience on the night I attended. When the wife was finally seated it drew a huge round of congratulatory applause from the audience. We use the term durational performance a lot these days in other contexts, but there is nothing more durational than the effort made by these two characters to greet us into their home!
Yes, it turns out we are visitors who have come to view their spectacular building although we never do get through Norman's entire speech as he demonstrates a layer of forgetfulness and loss of focus at the slightest disruptions. Vabre's lighting is superb in this section as the age and timeless beauty of Arts House is juxtaposed against the age and decay of the humans inhabiting the space.
Woods' Norman is hilarious and it is this character which keeps the narrative moving forward. Whilst strongly leaning on Noh, his work is also the most accessible for an Australian audience. Haynes' work is technically superb but I think we hit a big cultural barrier when it comes to fully making meaning from what he is doing, especially in the kyu section of Die! Die! Die! Having said that, it is totally within the Kabuki tradition to include sections which showcase the talents of the actors regardless of those moments adding meaning to the show so my saying this is hardly a criticism.
There are so many hilarious moments such as Norman going to the toilet, the fast forward of bringing his wife tea, the managing pills commentary so prevalent in the acquisition of old age, and the dreaded need to deal with Centrelink! The pair also lean heavily of western clowning tropes although they are harder to read because the pace is so inverted. The door routine was another hilarious moment exactly because of this time inversion.
Cher-Gibard's cuckoo clock was also pure genius. We all know a ticking clock emphasises empty space and empty time and the knell of the cuckoo speaks on so many levels in this work too. In fact the sound design was perfection all the way through the show and the entire climax of the show builds through what is established at the very beginning in a suprising manner!
Whilst the first half of the show is hilarious, it is upon the death of the wife Die! Die! Die! begins to explore the grief commentary. Norman dissociates and his friend (?) Arthur (Haynes) can't stop crying - literally. Norman tells him to stop continually before attempting the traditional keaning technique.
Die! Die! Die! works by literally forcing us to slow down and experience the pace, discomforts, and significant realities of being aged. The premise begins with extreme old age but any of us with aging relatives will recognise all of the signs and symptoms and this is possibly the first time I really understood and processed what it must be like for those who outlive their friends and loved ones. Certainly I find myself thinking about how my mother is coping as she experiences her late 70s.
Ridiculusmus are often described as Dadaist which means their approach is (theoretically) anti-art and through a western cultural lens Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! fits that criteria because our emphasis on dramatic action is somewhat lacking or excruciatingly slowed down to what would normally be considered unperformable despite it's funniness.
Whilst the dramaturgies are complex and well layered, even feeling like I understood it I struggled with the show in the end. I can appreciate the eastern influences but they are not my culture and I am not experienced enough with their sensibilities to fully appreciate the nuances of the moments. It probably doesn't help that I didn't understand anything about the presence of the Arthur character despite the program telling me it is a love triangle. I suspect I will not cope well with the pace of aging.