The words “performance art” normally scare me more than the prospect of listening to that Celine Dion Titanic song on repeat. I get visions of wacky make-up and special effects, and the image of my father first confused, then annoyed, then asleep. (He’s not a big theatre man, my Dad).
To be fair, there is a bit of that in Double Vision, but the excellent performances and imaginative direction make this Merivale Street Studios production one to catch.
It’s a hard play to describe I could use thousands of words that still wouldn’t capture the imagery and power of the show. It’s probably simpler to know that it’s not like anything you might imagine it to be. Double Vision tells the true tales of two mothers, both Australian, both surnamed Murphy (a great coincidence!) and both accused of being “bad” mothers after misfortune befalls their children. It deals specifically with the links between mothers and daughters.
The first story is of Mary Murphy, whose three children were assaulted and murdered in 1898 in Gatton. The murderer was never found, and Mary was whispered about by locals for not showing “appropriate” grief. The second mother is Bilynda Murphy, whose son Jaidyn Leskie was kidnapped and found dead in a Victorian dam in 1998. The interaction of her daughter Breehanna forms the second half of the piece.
Brush up on your symbolism skills. The nerve centre of the stage is a cage construction filled with every conceivable instrument for making music. The “musician” wanders around the stage holding speakers that play audio clips, bouncing balls, rubbing balloons, tossing bits of metal about, banging drums, and drumming against walls. Vanessa Tomlinson as the musician is superb, and one can only admire her ability to turn anything and everything into coherent sound.
Downstage right is Christine Johnson, who carries the bulk of what would be termed the “script” (remember this is performance art), standing in a two metre tall crinoline skirt, with the same red striped pattern as the cage. Johnson has a marvellous voice, and as her part requires her to sing, is well suited to the style. An experimental vocalist, she incorporated many different styles into the music, and with her imposing stature, really bewitched the audience. At one stage birdcalls could be heard, and I figured she was miming to pre-recorded audio but the program confirms it is Johnson herself. Now that’s vocal talent.
The other actor was Lisa O’Neill, who as the dancer portrayed the roles of the daughters. Her control over her body is astounding, and the particular dance steps she uses accurately portrayed the feelings of isolation and separation from the imposing “mother” figure of Johnson.
Criticisms. Hmmm. Again, hard to name directly, for fear of arty people targeting me saying “But that was the point!”. On the technical side, there was rather too much overlapping of live dialogue with pre-recorded music and dialogue. Some of the taped stories were really interesting and deserved a better treatment. Also, despite a running time of only one hour some sections drag and the repetitiveness of some dialogue becomes, well, repetitive. More straight narrative would have been helpful in the overall understanding of the piece.
As it is, Double Vision has a visual power one is not likely to see often. Striking images matched with creative music and styles are a credit to writer-director-producer Maryanne Lynch. It seems to come to the perhaps not surprising conclusion that all daughters turn out like their mothers, at least in some way, whether they like it or not. However, if you’re into a play with a straight beginning, middle and end, Double Vision may not be for you.
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