I was always susceptible to liking Mari Lourey’s new play, Bare Witness. What with an interest in areas of conflict; that I’d just re-read Hare & Brent’s Pravda and an equally scathing depiction of journalism in a friend’s new play that is the glorious bastard child of Hare, Brent, Stoppard and Beckett; I was almost certain to be provoked. But where BW differs is that its focus is the corruption of the image, not words. Whereas the latter can be nimble and conjure the trick of “truth” in front of eyes — hearing how it’s done behind the by-line would deflate anyone insistent on objectivity — an image is supposed to be bare A camera is a witness, a machine that doesn’t need to decipher right from wrong. But this is not true either.
The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own. – Susan Sontag
Frenetic. We plunge into a war-zone with a young photojournalist, Dany Hall, as she tries to make her mark. A coterie of war journalists organise the image and are then lacerated by light. A count down begins. 010 appears on the screen at the back of the stage. In front of the screen are some chairs, a table, but not much else. The image is talked into existence. But there are no cameras. That which can keep someone at a remove from the action has been removed. The ensemble snorts lines of coke down the lengths of each other’s arms. Hands become two inverted Ls that make lenses. The same hands that manipulate dead bodies from a massacre to capture the light. The same hands are raised in self-defence. The same lens is applied to a long-distance phone conversation with family as it is to a portrait of a political leader. It is thrilling physical theatre.
As with the entire production, Emma Valente’s lighting is multi-faceted and full of innovation, from the hand-held torches to spotlight the actor’s faces, to the fluorescent lights that strobed and glared at different moments during the play, to the swinging candles during Yatserk’s (sp?) final monologue, as he stared out into the audience, lights flickering, clock ticking, in a limited, plain-spoken delivery that was not quotable but the best writing in the play. Similarly, Jethro Woodward’s score was notable not for any particular part but a relentlessness, a restlessness even.
As we follow Dany through the various wars her gaze gets narrower, her feelings numb-er. At first I mistook the reprisal of scenes when Dany arrives at a war — scenes flat and without the fuss, excitement or nervousness that pervaded the same dialogue earlier — as a tired memory retold to colleages, but afterwards I connected it with the thread of addiction and adrenhalin and the final war in East Timor. Miss TN is correct to say that a play such as BW that burns so intense would find it “difficult to sustain… without its effects becoming simply numbing”, but I think this is the point. The exposition is blather, the earnestness unfelt. Much like getting 300 pages into Catch-22 and being utterly infuriated by the inaction and bureaucracy, if you give in to the idea that we are supposed to feel numb, allowed to feel numb, then we are again closer to the experience BW offers.
A must see.
Bare Witness by Mari Lourey, directed by Nadja Kostich. Composer/musician Jethro Woodward, set and costumes Marg Howell, video Michael Carmody, lighting Emma Valente. With Isaac Drandic, Daniela Farinacci, Adam McConvell, Todd MacDonald and Maria Theodorakis. La Mama Theatre @ fortyfivedownstairs, until September 26.