Some reviewers delight in seeing a bad show, thinking of what wonderfully wicked things they can say the next day. To be frank, writing wicked things about bad theatre is not my bag, yet in the case of Baal, unless I do exactly that, there won’t be much to say.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning. I walked into theatre anticipating a good show. The play was the first for one of theatre’s greats, Bertolt Brecht, it was to be directed by QTC artistic director Michael Gow, it would have the full financial banking of QUT Creative Industries, and would be cast with some of the bright young talent to be graduating from the QUT acting school, and to top it off it came with the neat little warning, “some concepts and language may offend”.
After all was said and done, I opened the program and found a neat little summary of what I’d just watched. (Warning: Spoiler) Apparently, Baal, after rejecting the substantial offer of a millionaire to publish his poems, seduces the millionaire’s wife, betrays a close friend by sleeping with his friend’s girlfriend, then has a lot more sex with a bunch of other women, abducts a girl, has more sex, goes on an adventure with a new friend, and specifically stops having sex, ditches the now pregnant girl he abducted, get a bit homoerotic, gets jealous of his buddy’s girlfriends, kills his buddy’s girlfriend, then his buddy, gets chased by the cops, then dies. And now that I’ve told you this, there’s very little reason to watch this show unless you know somebody in it, for after sitting through two hours that’s all I gleaned from the production.
So what went wrong? In brief, the acting seemed to belong in another play or, perhaps more rightly, on screen; the direction only seemed to muddle an already challenging script; the design served to confused me further; and the production standard was high only in the sense that clearly a lot of money had been spent.
So after an hour or so (and I’m almost embarrassed to say it) I simply gave up. I was so confused, and perhaps a little bemused at my confusion, that I had to resort to the old “close your eyes and just listen to the words” trick that usually helps unravel even the most warped of productions.
Not this time, however. The words themselves were nasty little beasties that slipped around just outside the edge of understanding, and unless you knew beforehand what you were supposed to be listening to, it was the “so bad so sad” syndrome again. When I wondered earlier what had gone wrong, I know realise that it was something surprisingly fundamental. For me, the production failed to bridge the gap between text and story.
If you’re a student of theatre, I’d expect you’ll be two steps ahead of me about now. Later in his career Brecht developed a technique of political theatre that was all about stopping the audience from connecting at an emotional level and instead getting them to think. I can’t help wondering if in this play he was trying out some of the ideas he would later bring to fruition. If this is the case, then why anyone would choose a text that is only going to fight against the actors’ natural instinct is beyond me. These poor students were acting their guts out trying to get us to feel something, but it didn’t work. The text fought against them every step of the way, so that in the end I was more disappointed for them than anything.
Directed by Michael Gow
Playing until 20th August 2005: Wed-Sat 7:30pm
Running Time: 2 hours, no interval