Festival Review: Doku Rai (You, dead man, I don’t believe you)

by Jane

This review originally appeared on ArtsHub.com

As we walk into the Queen’s Theatre and take our seats, the performers from The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm, Liurai Fo’er, and Galaxy infect the space with their loud rock music. The music festival feel is perhaps somewhat incongruous with the large seating bank, but the music is fun, nonetheless, and the audience is ready to be swept up along with it.

We’re told a story about a young boy, constantly teased by his brother. The young boy asks for a doku – permission to kill his brother. The next time they are in the forest together, he witnesses his brother’s painful death – and runs away.

We are then introduced into the world of the show, Doku Rai (You, dead man, I don’t believe you). A man has requested a doku on his brother, and hired another to make sure the act is completed. No matter how many times he is killed, though, the man won’t stay dead. The pursuit and the killings become endless. New attempt after new attempt, all becoming documented on film, and still he rises – still he won’t die.

Throughout Doku Rai, created by the cast and director Thomas M. Wright, you constantly expect it to reveal another layer, and yet it disappointingly never does. The work appears largely flat and stagnant – the story of people who can’t die has been told many times before, with much more interesting things to say.

Increasingly as you watch the production the work feels like it is saying nothing much at all. Presented bilingually, at first the audience assumes that the work isn’t captioned– it certainly wouldn’t be the first time such a show was presented in the Adelaide Festival. Fifteen minutes into the production, though, the presence of surtitles becomes visible, previously obscured through the haze and backlighting. It is another 15 minutes before the haze has cleared enough for this text to be legible. In the end, this disservice highlights how unnecessary the text really is – which raises the question: why have a text at all?

When the text is understandable – either because it is in English, or because the surtitles are readable – it is embedded in the stilted nature and delivery of 1960s US sitcoms. The work is scattered with self-commentary on the preoccupations and pretensions of art and artistic products, but these comments sit empty in a production not strong enough to give them weight. A live rooster provides momentary amusement, but little else engages.

In Wright’s design, more fascinating than the larger work, we peer into a small room: walls of untreated sheets of wood with light bulbs hanging down their sides, a thatched grass roof, and a central wooden canoe sits elevated above the stage – surrounded by knickknacks, this creates the imagery of an altar. At various points, a large white sheet drapes across the stage: the screen for the video work.

The final moments come when the performers sing over video footage of the development process of the work in Timor-Leste. These videos suggest artists and collaborators who have much more heart, depth, and intelligence than the resulting work seems to portray. It’s a glimpse, perhaps, into a more interesting work that could have developed.

Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm, Liurai Fo’er and Galaxy present Doku Rai: You, dead man, I don’t believe you. Direction and design: Thomas M Wright; Remount directors: Thomas Henning, Melchoir Dias Fernades; Lighting designer: Govin Ruben; Video sequencer: Amiel Courtin-Wilson. Performed by Liam Barton, Etson Arientes de Costa Caminha, Melchoir (Mele) Dias Fernades, Osme Goncalves, Thomas Henning, Agivedo Varela Rebeiro Laka, Vaczadenjo Wharton Thomas, with a special appearance by Gareth Davies. At the Queen’s Theatre, for the Adelaide Festival, until March 4. More information and tickets. 

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