Wednesday, 3 July 2019

The Intriguing Case of The Silent Forest - Theatre Review

What: The Intriguing Case of The Silent Forest
When: 3 - 7 July 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written and directed by: Matthew Crosby
Performed by: Matthew Crosby, Kathleen Doyle, Eidann Glover, Alana Hoggart, Lorna McLeod, and Rodrigo Calderon Tobar
Set by: Noriko Ikaga

Rodrigo Calderon Tobar and Kathleen Doyle - photo by Oscar Socias

In a situation where there is no false advertising at all, The Intriguing Case of The Silent Forest is, indeed, very intriguing. Playing at La Mama Courthouse for this week only, it is probably best described as an anime/noir fusion. There are only a few tickets left for the final performance though, so book now or miss out on one of the most...intriguing pieces of theatre produced recently.

The ensemble putting on this murder mystery evening call themselves The Thursday Group because they meet on Thursdays to engage with the practice of Suzuki Method of Actor Training. All of the performers in this group have an extensive background in Asian theatre forms generally, and Crosby and Doyle in particular have engaged with the home of this method, SCOT (Suzuki Company of Toga). There is always a lot of interest and curiosity about the Suzuki method and you won't see a better example of how it translates into performance in Melbourne for a very long time I suspect.

I did train with this group for a short while a few years ago now. The Suzuki Method is tough, disciplined, and comes from a deep and strong methodology which literally emerges from your core and is solidly grounded in your feet. This is evidenced in the planar tableaux created throughout Silent Forest.

The Intriguing Case of The Silent Forest is a murder mystery which reveals domestic tragedy. A young girl, Mary (Hoggart), is found dead and Detective Rob (Crosby) is trying to find information about her older sister Josephine (Doyle). What emerges is a tale of sad and horrifying domestic child abuse.

As the play moves forward across around an hour and a half, what is perhaps the most intriguing aspects of this work is its focus on Josephine and the issue of secondary trauma. Most tales of this sort tend to be about the target, but the insight of Silent Forest will start many new conversations around this issue.

Crosby is a very lyrical writer and I think the text indicates he is a phenomenologist. I guess you could say The Intriguing Case of The Silent Forest is well and truly at home within the world of Expressionism - it is subjective, focuses on one main character, and is the world of nightmares and whispers and secrets. Why does Josephine go into the forest? And why is the forest so quiet? Every scene and every word, every description is designed to evoke a visceral response.

I said at the start this play is a kind of anime/noir.  By that I mean it encompasses all of the tropes of both. Noir films always have murder at their base, shadowy aesthetics and ethics, and tropes you can't help but trip over. Anime has cartoonish figures, world ending devastation, and random moments of unexpected humour sometimes with elements that have no apparent functional purpose. As an example of this I am talking about the comic penguin in Neon Genesis Evangelion perhaps. The Intriguing Case of The Silent Forest has all of that and will leave you guessing what it is about and what has been going on until the very last moments.

Those who enjoy stylised theatrical techniques such as Commedia dell'Arte will get a real kick out of this show. At the core of Suzuki character creation process is identifying the characters walk and developing character and tableaux from a technique called statues. The Suzuki method is not as prescribed as Commedia - the characters are found through exploration - but the similarities are clear, with a strong emphasis on what Brecht called gestus.

Suzuki is a presentational style of performance and its clearly Asian aesthetic makes it strange to us, but not impenetrable. Even the lilt and rhythm of character's speech is developed from the core of the actor so that the very normal (and beautiful) words Crosby has written become strange and unsettling whilst also inviting us to lean and listen just that little bit harder.

The Intriguing Case of The Silent Forest is a powerful work created by true masters of their craft. Doyle is mindblowingly fantastic and terrifying and piteous as the lost little girl/monster and Detective Rob (Crosby) is funny yet sincere. He is the Everyman and together we try and work our way through the brambles and bushes of this hidden tale. As happens with all dark and shadowy glades, we do get lost but the rest of the ensemble are the lamps which light our way out of the darkness.

4 Stars

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