totally blurs the line between art and reality
Being Dead (Don Quixote) | Review
M. Osbourne | On The Town
15 March, 2018
No matter how outrageous, zany or post-modern, it is seldom that we are privy to work in Sydney’s independent theatre scene that totally blurs the line between art and reality; between convention and utter confusion. But Kerith Manderson-Galvin’s Being Dead (Don Quixote) presented by MKA Theatre and KXT does this. Over and over.
This work is post-drama, post-narrative and post-convention. It is an experience that feels as though every theatrical rule or form is brandished before the audience and in the same movement, stomped on.
The work, created and performed by Manderson, is subtitled Don Quixote; a literary epic and widely regarded as one of the most influential pieces in the Golden Age of Spanish literature. The story follows a hero who, after being inspired by Romantic books and poetry, sets out on a quest to restore chivalry and defend the helpless. There is a clear, linear structure of the Hero’s Journey and Manderson has very deliberately taken such a narrative and used it to confront and provoke their audience.
We meet the performer without theatricality, as we take our seats and they request that we do not walk on the white floor with our shoes. In a manner that goes further than Brecht’s alienation, they take us through a mundane explanation of each of their props and informs that the projector is not working tonight, so they will simply say the titles that should appear outloud. Manderson apologises; again and again as if reminding us that they are defying the principles of theatre; the mentality that ‘the show must go on’ and other tropes like ‘the audience only knows you have made an error if you acknlowedge it’ and ‘make a choice and commit’. They do none of this. Ideas are suggested, half-formed and then trail off as Manderson steps in and out of costume, leaves the performance space and stops mid-sentence to begin a new idea. We are introduced to characters of the Don Quixote story, but the story is never fully shared, our performer never fully commits and the Hero never arrives.
Being Dead is total chaos and at times total nothingness, but this void of confusion is interrupted by moments of true beauty in movement, design and non-linear monologue. Manderson is compelling in their physicality as the nervous performer but gut-wrenchingly powerful in their moments of conviction and we try again and again to decipher what is fiction.
The work is incredibly devisive. The traverse staging of KXT allows the audience to lock eyes and observe each other during the performance and the myriad of confusion, laughter, tears, frustration and bewilderment observed during the performance truly supports the experience of the work. I suspect that Being Dead is a show that will be described as profound, doing everything theatre needs to; alienating, confusing, frustrating and confronting its audience, whilst other audiences will describe it as an artistic atrocity for exactly the same reasons.
It is a work that begs the question, why can’t art do and be both?