Friday 28 February 2020

Hades Fading (Hades Memudar) - Theatre Review

What: Hades Fading (Hades Memudar)
When: 27 February - 1 March 2020
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written and directed by: Sandra Fiona Long
Music direction by: Ria Soemardjo
Performed by: Rinrin Candraresmi, Sisca Guzheng Harp, Heliana Sinaga, Ria Soemadjo, Wawan Sofwan, Dasep Sumardjani, and Godi Suwarna,
Set by: Emily Barrie and Deden Jalaludin Bulqini
Costumes by: Emily Barrie
Lighting by: Aji Sangiaji
Stage Management by: Dasep Sumardjani
Heliana Sinaga and Rinrin Candraresmi - photo by Muhammad Sa'iquddin
We often talk about theatre as being a beautiful art form and in Hades Fading (Hades Memudar) we get to see this truth at the pinnacle of possibilities. They say that beauty is only skin deep, and if you want to know if someone is truly beautiful you must look into their soul and judge their deeds. Hades Fading is the Platonic exemplar of beauty and is showing for the briefest of moments at La Mama Courthouse as part of AsiaTOPA.

An Australian/Indonesian co-production, Long (writer/director) has collaborated with Mainteater in Bandung to explore the ancient Greek realm of Hades through the story of Eurydice (Sinaga). Eurydice was the wife of Orpheus (Sofwan). She died on her wedding day and her husband - a musician of supernatural sweetness with the talent to be able to persuade anyone with his music - descends into the Underworld to try and get her back.

Hades (Suwarna), brother to Zeus and ruler of the Underworld, was not an evil god. He was, however focused on maintaining balance in the world with a heartless lack of discrimination. Nobody was allowed to leave Hades and return to live above because the world would become overcrowded. An interesting conversation to have in light of our efforts to live longer and the growing world population, perhaps? But I digress...

Orpheus decides to try and get Eurydice back regardless and charms Hades wife, Persephone (Candraresmi), who then persuades her husband to let Eurydice go. There was only one condition - Orpheus was not allowed to look back until they were both safe above ground. Typically, he could not trust his wife to arrive, he looked back and she was lost to the living forevermore.

In Long's version of the tale we hear the tale from Eurydice's perspective and I was quite intrigued by her musings as the couple start to ascend. It made me think about how many young brides rush into marriage - in this case enchanted by glorious song and music - and are left to ponder how much they don't know after the vows have been said.

On this point Barrie's costume designs are brilliant. Eurydice is dressed in an ornately laced wedding dress of pure white. In Western culture it is the sign of purity and marriage, in Indonesia it is the colour of mourning. All the characters wear white in this dreadful, dark Underworld.

The true messages underlying Hades Fading are much deeper though. Eurydice finds herself slipping in and out of forgetfulness. She is mired in the shredded remnants of a library and is frantically riffling through old books trying to remember who she is.

For Eurydice the books are how we remember and in a world of commentary about fake news she brings us starkly to the realisation that all of history is fake news. As she researches, this young bride discovers the texts are contradictory. Was her mother a water nymph, a wood nymph, a flower nymph, etc? None of the texts agree and her confusion is overwhelming.

Persephone joins her and tells her about the state of the world above. The seas are bubbling cauldrons of plastic, mountains of concrete, and the humans are no more. Eurydice realises her symptoms are a part of the disappearance of gods because there is nobody left to believe in them - an old tale but Hades Fading takes an interesting turn as we then slip into the story of Orpheus.

As ephemeral and delicate and earnest as Sinaga is, Sofwan is powerful and hilarious as the self-annointed rock star.  Sofwan is as seductive in his humuor as Orpheus was reputed to be through his music.

One of the impressive things about Hades Fading (Hades Memudar) is Long's ability to manage the pace and modality of the performance, and the structure has a definite symphonic arrangement. This is not surprising because all of Long's work is intrinsically meshed between text, sound and music. Pair her up with the incredible Soemardjo and what has resulted is a sonic piece of theatre filled with sounds, music, and rhythms which transcend the show into an aesthete's dream. All of the instrumentation is Asian and, in fact, the show begins with Harp luring us in like the Pied Piper and the children of Hamelin (or Orpheus and his young lovers as tales would have it...) with a gourd flute.

The show is bilingual and I mean this in a really composite context. Yes, the spoken language of the show is a constant shift between Bahasa and English - sometimes even in the middle of a sentence. The world of Hades is a maze of scrims (it has been ages since I have seen scrim used!) and the surtitles are projected through those layers, pushing back through time just as the story does.

Hades Fading (Hades Memudar) is breathtakingly  beautiful and incredibly haunting as it speaks to forgetting the past and losing the lessons of old, inevitably heading to a future without human life. The cast constantly find themselves asking what language they are using, caught in a maelstrom of spoken word, music, and visual messaging. It makes me think of all the possibilities and information available in a globalised world which we are ignoring. Indirectly it also made me think of our recent bushfires and the offers of our Aboriginal peoples to teach us how to care for and manage this land and our reluctance to hear them.

Hades Fading (Hades Memudar) is a dream. It is a beautiful dream. It is a nightmare. It is funny, it is hope, it is despair, it is a warning. It is art.

5 Stars

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