Briefs: Face to Face; Into The Dark

by Jane

I’m not entirely sure when my life got so busy. Or, perhaps, how I used to fit it all in. I’m currently in Newcastle to speak on a panel called I Started A Blog … Now I’m a Critic for the Crack Theatre Festival as a part of This Is Not Art. Over the next fortnight, I will be in Melbourne, where I am producing Sepia in the Melbourne Fringe, and then it is down to Goolwa for the Regional Arts Australia conference Kumuwuki / Big Wave. I then have a couple of projects I’m working on when I’m back in Adelaide, that I can’t wait to share.

In light of this, I have edited down two pieces I worked on and then were relegated to the “to finish when I have time” pile. I know I can be rather less than brief, perhaps this is the start of a new experiment.

Face to Face was the second stage adaptation of an Ingmar Bergman film I saw this year. I unfortunately didn’t find the time or brain space to write about Persona at Theatre Works, but Alison Croggon does a wonderful job of capturing how the team took this story that was told originally in a film exploitative of the medium, into a play exploitative of its medium. In Face to Face co-adaptors Simon Stone and Andrew Upton approach from a similar place: taking the screenplay and not the film, they create a work which is of the theatre.

In Face to Face we watch the unraveling of the life, and subsequently the mind, of Jenny (Kerry Fox). Through the sparse set (Nick Schlieper), times and places roll over and into one another: the movement of sets on and off the stage in unison choreographed movement with the cast brings some of the most powerful visual images to the work.

We view the stage in two modes. Expanses of black: black stage, black scrim, black wings – empty. And a vast box of white, a stark hospital set with a glass front, encasing the stage as Jenny’s mind is, too, encased.

The space of the set, while arresting in its design and powerful in its composition, ends up paling in comparison to the size of the auditorium at the Sydney Theatre. Particularly on a Monday evening, the scale of space on stage couldn’t help but languish in response to the space of the theatre. Persona, too, used a large playing space. Against the shallow seating bank of TheatreWorks, though, the space is amplified, rather than shrunk as happens here.

In the end I found Face to Face curiously flat. Director Stone elevates moments of the work through to great power and tension, and the work and characters are well carried by the cast. Particularly in the hospital ward, the work reaches almost crushing crescendos.

These moments, however, are constantly lost. A moment filled with tension, echoing through the stark stage and into the audience, is followed up by a moment in which all emotions seem to have been stripped away. Rather than these quieter moments acting to highlight or amplify the moments of larger power it seems that the troughs instead swallow the peaks with a nullifying effect.

The log line for the collective listening experience Into The Dark is “the lost art of listening”, which I took, at its core, to be something I fundamentally disagree with. Like all media industries, the radio is currently facing shake ups – trying to find its feet in what is becoming a thoroughly digital world.

Part of the reason for this is not because we’re not listening, but because we have more agency over what we listen to than we ever have before. We have the choice of thousands upon thousands of podcasts at our disposal – and that’s just a part of it.

That said, ‘listening’ is rarely a collective experience now. It is behind headphones and earbuds, cloistered off from the street or the tram. Into the Dark captures something oddly comforting about returning radio to a shared experience.

In the Format Basement every nook and cranny was occupied, on couches, chairs fashioned out of car tires, on rugs and cushions on the ground. And in the dark (well, nearly) we listened to different people’s stories: some happy, some funny, some sad. Responding – and in particular laughing – in a group and only listening – not navigating footpaths and pedestrians – did change the dynamic, finding, perhaps, the lost art.

Some things were strange in this move away from headphones. With the two speakers on one wall, from my position I had a completely mono experience  where most of the time now I’m listening in stereo.

This series comes to Adelaide from interstate, and the debut session was pulled from interstate producers. The South Australian Radio Collective will be pulling from local producers for future iterations. I look forward to what stories they are going to tell.

Sydney Theatre Company presents Face to Face, a film by Ingmar Begman. Director and co-adaptor Simon Stone, co-adaptor Andrew Upton, set and lighting design by Nick Schlieper, composition and sound design by Stefan Gregory. With Humphrey Bower, Mitchell Butel, Kerry Fox, John Gaden, Wendy Hughes, Anna Martin, Jessica Nash, Queenie van de Zandt and Dylan Young. At the Sydney Theatre. Season closed.

 The South Australian Radio Collective presents Into The Dark, in the Format Basement. Visit their facebook for information about upcoming sessions.