By Douglas Horton
Music by Gerry Brophy
Have you ever been to a show where you have the best fun if you keep your eyes closed for half the time? Trust me, that’s the case with Chamber Made’s production of Phobia currently playing at the Powerhouse.
Phobia concerns the making of a soundtrack for an imaginary film in the suspense/film-noir genre. The six performers inhabit a sound studio such as those in which the Foley artists of the 1950s and ’60s worked to produce the sound-track and atmospheric noises that were often dubbed after shooting for a film was long over. Between them they create the dialogue and evocative background sounds for a film we can only imagine through their magic.
The synopsis of this supposed film is provided in the program, but it really doesn’t matter. We recognise nostalgically all the hallmarks of the genre the persistent detective, the femme fatale, the tension created by phone-calls, locked doors, approaching footsteps and scary music. Phobia reminds us of how much these films relied for their effect upon the atmosphere provided by the sound studios of the period.
This is where keeping your eyes closed comes in. There are a number of cleverly created effects, but the scene in a restaurant is particularly memorable and epitomises for me what the whole piece achieves. Close your eyes and you are there the chink of cutlery, the clatter of plates, the rustle of napkins, the half-heard conversations all perfectly reproduced to give the dialogue a context and the scene authenticity.
Of course it is a Catch-22 situation if you close your eyes you miss the fun of seeing how it is all brought about. The careful orchestration and perfect timing required to bring this imaginary world into being is most impressive. We watch, fascinated, as the performers move with impersonal precision around the stage, and discover that each is multi-skilled; involved in speech, instrument playing, action, and manipulation of the various ingenious devices for producing the background sound-scape.
The dialogue is shared, often with several voices speaking in unison or, at other times, in counterpoint to add colour and urgency to the speech. The music, written and directed by Gerard Brophy, is a key element in supplying the ominous atmosphere and blends seamlessly with the other hand-produced effects in a sound design by Darren Steffen. This is clearly an ensemble piece, with each contributor adding their skills and experience to the overall design.
It is hard not to be impressed by the wit of this concept, the confidence and polish of its realisation, and the talent and versatility of the performers. Phobia is currently touring the country and is only in Brisbane until 25 June. Catch it if you can and watch with eyes wide shut.
Directed by Douglas Horton
Playing until 25 June 2005: Evenings 8pm, matinee Saturday 4pm
Running time: (no interval) 1 hour 30 minutes