I feel old when I try to remember how many years ago it was I saw piglet in the garage of James’ Bruswick house. It was an enchanted garden path leading to a strange and dreamy other-world, unfolding back out into the alley behind. It was a performance that belonged with the location, and for me one of the problems with Grace on at Theatreworks in St Kilda is the theatre. Maybe because there was a vile tropical stench of humidity across the city this evening, and inside was infernal … I kept wanting to swat the venue out of my attention.
Grace is a lot of things that didn’t get finished, too much attempted and too little time. The main effect of this with the three main actors, Luke Mullins, Katrina Milosevic, and Brian Lipson was as though they were in different rooms. As a family who are strangers to each other, teenage twins Wade and Serbia, and deranged surgeon uncle only rarely found common ground, as if they hadn’t the time to know themselves well enough individually to be strangers in each others’ company.
Partly this was exacerbated for me by the venue that has really noisy acoustics, partly also by the lighting that seemed to struggle to know what it wanted to do.
James has a talent for preternatural creepiness, a sense of impending doom and tragedy, that everyone involved is not completely themselves, physically or mentally amputated. This tale of orphaned fourteen year olds, abandoned young by their now dead father, and now looking to this uncle, a Dr Moreau who seems to make a hobby of vivisecting pigeons and decapitated people, who also holds the fortune the twins are certain they are entitled to, is simultaneously a train wreck of mental disaster, minds damaged beyond returning to the world below, unless it’s with a bolt drilled through both their shins.
My greatest feeling was there was not enough time, either to explore stuff or to hack what remained into a coherent work, nor a strong directorial line. I’d love to see the trio of pigeons (Carla Yamine, Gary Abrahams, Ivan Thorley) as an all-dancing chorus, as their presence imbued a kooky menace that could have gone so much further.
I’d also love to see the work not contained within a blackbox theatre. Not that I’ve seen any of James’s work since piglet, but it seems to rest far better in a well-chosen site than in the traditional void of the theatre machinery.
Grace is a work that needs to be reined in somewhat, it’s overabundance either focused into a grotesque hallucinogenic bad acid trip, like the more nightmarish parts of a James Elroy novel, or pulled into a restrained and quietly nasty parable. Skating between the two leaves both sides not wholly believable.
Unlike Alison at Theatre Notes, I completely missed any spiritual allegory, possibly because I’m an atheist and that stuff flies over my head. I wouldn’t like to speculate on possible religious interpretations of the afterlife to be found in Grace. I saw a ripe fairy tale from Brothers Grimm, filled with pederasty, amoral teenage rapacious sex, seductive fantasies of incestuous violence in which no one ends up worth any more than when they began.
Grace is flawed, but far from hopeless. I didn’t leave the theatre feeling like I’d lost an hour, but I am still wondering at what it could have been and how it never managed to transcend itself.