Friday 9 February 2024

DESTROYED: Theatre Review

WHAT: Destroyed
WHEN: 6 - 10 February 2024
WHERE: TW Explosives Factory
WRITTEN BY: Ebony Rattle
LIGHTING BY: Charis Rajamani
COSTUMES BY: Emily Busch
PERFORMED BY: Sarah Cooper, Emma Jevons, Artemis Munoz, Ebony Rattle, and Emma Snow
STAGE MANAGED BY: Kate Celikaite

Artemis Munoz and Ebony Rattle - photo by Leeav Henzel

Melbourne stages seem to be preoccupied with death over the last 12 months or so. Perhaps it is a phenomenon which extends back to lock downs. Perhaps is goes back further than that. It certainly seems to be high on the list of issues/questions for our female identifying theatre makers, so it probably goes back much further in history, and we just haven't seen it because it is only recently that the female voice has had a space to be heard unfiltered in our art and culture. Ebony Rattle's Destroyed is the latest in this sequence and is playing at The Explosives Factory until the end of this week.

It is a little bit strange to speak about a strong queer feminist work but then also say it non-ironically riffs off a play written by one of the great misogynists of history, but here I am telling you that Destroyed has hinged its major conceit off William Shakespeare's play Macbeth. Apparently Rattle keeps being encouraged to try adaptations. Why? Their writing and theatre making is strong so why dilute it by using someone else's old story? I think Rattle should just keep doing their own thing. They don't need the crutch of someone else's writing.

As I said, Rattle is a strong writer. Their writing is sharp and insightful, with a very dark humour which attacks rather than disarms - the way humour is usually tasked in entertainment. The play hinges around Evelyn (Rattle) who is experiencing a terrible sequence of loss with people around her dying. Whilst processing grief she finds herself trying to negotiate a new relationship with Gabriel (Sarah Cooper). Themes of BDSM are explored as pain and love get blended along with bodies and lives.

To complicate matters even further, Destroyed delves deeply into the phenomena known as suicide contagion and also bullying. Amidst all the grief, Evelyn has become blamed for causing the latest suicide and her friends are now avoiding her. The relationship between Maya (Emma Snow) and Evelyn is utterly compelling.

So where does Macbeth sit in all of this? To be honest, I don't think it sits deep in the heart of Destroyed, but it does dominate the theatrical framing. Rattle has taken the idea of the three witches who foretell the action in Macbeth and has transplanted them into Destroyed, apparently to foretell Evelyn's doom. I am not entirely clear on what they did because the biggest problem with this production is the voice recordings are over-processed and pretty much unintelligible. I have absolutely no idea what they said which means I missed some of the most important information in the show.

I might need to take a step back here. Despite the fact that the witches (Snow, Artemis Munoz and Emma Jevons) have quite a lot of script, all of it is pre-recorded. They never actually speak in the space. Their performance mode is interpretive movement/dance, and their words are played through the sound system. I personally don't understand why you would put live bodies on stage but not give them their voice. The audience becomes split about where their attention should be. The body and voice of the performer in the space with the audience is a key factor as to what makes live theatre a visceral experience for the audience.

Apart from literally disembodying the voice this way, there is a basic anatomic hearing/listening problem which comes into play when you do this. Without a visual context, the brain has to work hard to comprehend voice (and pretty much any sound) which means there is delay. This is why, when you speak on the telephone you should say a few words before you say your name to a stranger because their ears/brain need to get used to the sounds and interpret them for meaning. If you then layer in a whole lot of reverb and pitch change and other processing and then add in the acoustic properties of the room the loudspeakers are in, the audience has to work soooooo much harder to understand. 

In Destroyed this became a compounded problem because the first speeches held a lot of information, and it all went on for so long. It reminded me of the discontent I had with all the film content at the start of Transwoman Kills Influencer. People come to live theatre for its 'liveness' and to begin a show with a long sequence of pre-record in whatever form is a great folly. It doesn't allow the audience to key into the show with mind and body in the same way another person in the space speaking does. Don't get me wrong, I liked the idea of the pre-records, but they need to be led by live voice to really work in this context.

I also want to emphasize that all of the sound and music in Destroyed is fabulous. It is one of the strongest sound designs (Alex Mraz) I have experienced this year. Emily Busch's costumes are great too. I kind of assume Busch had some input to the set design too because the witch's cloaks and the stage backdrop seem far too harmonised to have come from different creative impulses. There is no set design credit, so I am not sure. Charis Rajamani's lighting finishes the tableau with great nuance and strong intention.

Destroyed is a show with an incredibly strong visual aesthetic, a biting commentary, and a deep and sad soul. Destroyed reminds us how easy it is to compound tragedy through unprocessed grief, fear, and the fallibilities which make us human.

3 Stars

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