By Rosie Niven
2019 has been a fantastic year for the Sydney theatre scene, with new initiatives constantly popping up for emerging artists to develop new works and challenge themselves as performers. This week, Kings Cross Theatre started a new program for low-budget, high-risk work - a safe space to experiment and push the boundaries of theatre. If you head to the Bordello room at the Kings Cross Hotel, you can expect to see theatre that refuses to be defined, with weird and wonderful stories littered throughout the program. With this in mind, it seems like the perfect place for Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "unperformable" play, Blood on the Cat's Neck.
Produced by Indie theatre company Montague Basement, this absurdist immersive show plunges us deep into the world of alien observer Phoebe Zeitgeist as she tries to make sense of humanity. Through each interaction she observes, she absorbs the language and behaviour of human beings, and while she can repeat what she's learned, she cannot understand it. This 70-minute piece forces us to acknowledge our inherent flaws and how our toxic behaviours can trickle down into learned behaviours. In a brief 70 minutes, we witness a kaleidoscope of violence, a spectrum of harmful behaviours from pettiness to full-blown assault. As we watch,
Phoebe watches too, and this is the picture she begins to piece together about humanity.
With secret pockets and new rooms around every corner, the Bordello room is the perfect space for an immersive production, and dipping into different spaces to catch conversations aids in the fly-on-the-wall feeling that Phoebe exhibits the entire production. Sophie Pekbilimli’s creative lighting design brings life to the space, using lamps scattered around the space to light each vignette that we observe.
The biggest hurdle for any immersive theatre experience is trusting the audience to engage within the space, and move around with the performers so that they have the complete story. While the immersive theatre culture is much more ingrained in other countries and many audiences are ready and eager to chase actors around the theatre, Australian audiences are not quite ready to embrace 60+ minutes of moving around throughout a performance. This meant many audience members chose to sit on the floor during scenes, and when the next scene happened to be at the opposite end of the space, they chose not to move and would half-listen while sitting two rooms away. This could have been mediated by a better mapping of scenes so we didn't find ourselves jumping from one end of the room to the other for multiple short scenes.
Blood on the Cat’s Neck explores the issues that were, as Director Saro Lusty-Cavallari puts it, “really plaguing the children of the Nazi generation”. Unfortunately the content in this post-World War II play does not feel dated at all: the violent themes and language are becoming more and more frequent, to the point that even the most confronting content in this work didn’t shock the audience. Lusty-Cavallari has chosen the perfect time to bring this play back to the stage, but I wish the script had left us with some hope. I left the theatre with an overwhelming feeling of despair, and a single thought: “Is this all there is?” For the sake of our future, I certainly hope not.
Photo Credit: Zaina Ahmed
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.