Review by Kate Gaul
Superbly crafted and presented, “Masterclass” is one of this year’s highlights and is created by Irish based company Brokentalkers (who presented “Have I no Mouth” at Sydney Festival in 2015). Having been performed around the world, “Masterclass” now makes its way to Melbourne via the Rising Festival and is not to be missed!
Performed by Adrienne Truscott and Feidlim Cannon “Masterclass” deconstructs the construct of a ‘masterclass’, examining power, adoration, the lone male genius, and hierarchy within the arts to explore themes of political power, misogyny, and gender.
The show begins as a kind of send up of those American arts master series shows that can now be caught on YouTube. Truscott is playing a legendary, misogynistic, enfant terrible of screen and stage, Adrienne Truscott (whose latest play is called “Fat Cunt” as the title “Fat Pig” was already taken!) Cannon, the interviewer, can’t help but over share his admiration of his guest. Although his stated intention is to really dig deep in his interview all he does is preserve the myth of the white male genius. Costuming is complete with wigs and false moustaches and on a retro looking playing space we quickly get the idea that is not all as it seems. There’s a gun, cigarettes, whisky, talk of Hemingway and discussion around Truscott’s barely sketched women characters.
Truscott’s author delights in sharing the best ways to dominate a room to create a climate of fear for everyone around you. In a highlight the pair enact a scene from Truscott’s aforementioned play. Cannon reads the lines of the female character and Truscott’s author shoots down any suggestion that his writing is sexist. "If you think that, you clearly haven’t understood it." They then go into a rehearsal of the scene. Truscott denies any claims of traumatising female actors while looking for a raw visceral reaction. It was never women that Truscott attacked (It’s “female characters”, he insists). It’s all for the sake of art, of course. It’s bleak and very funny. It feels safe – we know they are acting. Complete with funny dances and exaggerated physicality the show could have continued in this way and been provocative and entertaining.
Halfway through, however, “Masterclass” evolves into something else. And it becomes edgier. Truscott and Cannon appear to break from the characters they play and discuss the time they met (at a Sydney Festival!). The piece squares up against the current conversations around equality and power sharing in the arts. They grapple with the balance of power in their own relationship and the different way men in positions of authority behave towards them.
A scene where Cannon briefly describes his reading of “Little Women” is another highlight.
So, it’s time to redefine who should occupy the stage – where and why. For how long? There isn't enough room or resources for everyone, and white men have told all their stories. Time for them to get off the stage and make way for others. White women may have to leave too – but not quite yet. The conversation is layered with the resonances of the actor’s initial characterisation still partly intact – American Truscott’s military silhouette, confident and easily flowing vocabulary against Irishman Cannon’s bluster which becomes his Inarticulate hovering.
Sixty minutes of pure joy, skill, and provocation. No problems are solved. No easy answers presented. The sands of privileged art making are forever shifting. Catch this show if you can.