Melbourne Fringe Review: … him

by Jane

This review contains minor spoilers.

He reads newspapers.

He hoards newspapers.

He re-enacts newspaper stories.

He re-creates the weather.

He does the crosswords.

He lives alone.

He lives alone, behind a locked door, in his room of newspapers. Newspapers pile on top of each other in stacks around the room. Important pages are stuck to the walls. Certain pages from certain sections have their place. Every day, the new paper is delivered through the slot in the door.

In this space, he finds joy. Great joy, sometimes. He reads every page of every paper every day. He knows what’s going on in the world. He’s just not quite part of it.

But in the room, sometimes there is loneliness. Sadness. Sometimes the news isn’t enough of a companion.

…. him from New Zealand artist Barnie Duncan is an uplifting, hilarious show which had the audience laughing uproariously, but then the work turns to find great pathos.

The gems of the fringe are often these shows that take you in an unexpected direction. Which lull you in to believing you are being taken down one path, and then carefully take you by the hand and lead you in a different direction all together. Duncan and director Kat Henry expertly play with this balance and shift in …. him. Together, they take the audience into a place of great humour and joyous engagement with this man, then they slowly guide you into the tragedy and heartbreak of the lonely world he finds himself in.

Some scenes are taken straight from the daily. On 08 October 2012, the cover story in the Herald Sun was FIGHT FOR THE FUZZ – a story it is easy to laugh at, particularly with the overstatement of “human rights issue” in the lead paragraphs. He holds a gun crafted out of paper, a stand off between the bearded man an an invisible police force, forcing him to cut his beard. It is interesting to consider that this dynamic of the show has the possibility to take the work to some much darker places right off the bat. I wonder, too, if taken to the Adelaide Fringe (which I hear it will) how meta the production has the possibility to become? How many front pages during festival time in Adelaide are about the festivals?

There is something heart-achingly beautiful in the way Duncan treats obituaries from that day’s Herald Sun: reading out the dedication, cutting them out, paying his respects. Through these simple actions, Duncan demonstrates a great respect for these people, and there is something so touching in the knowledge in some small way there is a small scene in a small show dedicated to lives lost.

At one point, I felt the show had perhaps started to overstay its time. I felt we had explored and seen as much of him as we could; it felt like the production had happily played its final note. From this, however, Duncan and Henry proved me absolutely wrong: taking the show in a new direction, giving us so much more of him, and carrying my emotions for the character to a beautiful new place.

While he exists in a world of the peculiar, he carries himself with so much heart that even as the audience laughs at his antics – at creating (and eating) a meal out of newspapers; at a crush on a woman cut from the pages; of knowledge the fact the paper on 08 October 2012 contained zero stories about the royals – you are simultaneously empathising, finding a shared joy within the pages of the paper.

The world Yvette Turnbull has created in the small office space of Melbourne’s Tuxedo Cat is reason enough to see the show. The space is utterly consumed by the newspapers, and in a strange way this feels cosy and homely. Even the seating has the audience sitting on the edges of the space, on stools of newspaper, or on tables covered in newspaper with small stack of newspaper for cushioning.

For much of the show, the only noise in the space is the soft mutterings of him as he thinks or reads out loud, or the soft flap of newspaper sheets against each other. Occasionally, though, the space is interrupted by composition from Beatrice: that which matches the obsessive unfolding and refolding of his newspaper seems to shrink the space down to the single paper, while sections of composition open up his world, and the world of the room, in our eyes.

… him is utterly beguiling. I wanted nothing more than to give him a hug; to hold his hand; to lead him out into the world.

… him devised and performed by Barnie Duncan. Directed by Kat Henry, compositions and sound design by Beatrice, set design by Yvette Turnbull. At the Tuxedo Cat with the Melbourne Fringe until tonight. More information and tickets.