The Author by Ella Hickson is a play stuffed with provocation. It asks questions it can not reply. It challenges the dominant modes of theatre (and society) whereas nonetheless present inside them. What are we to remove from that?
The again facet of some set items sit on the stage. We will see proper into the wings, the place extra set items sit, alongside tables of props. Instantly we’re plunged into the world of development and artifice. This play desires to attract consideration to the truth that it’s a play. A younger girl (Ash Williams) enters and gazes despondently out on the viewers. She has an impassioned argument with a male director (Matt Whelan) concerning the play she simply noticed – the way it was soulless and male gaze-y, and the theatre is an area for the privileged to indulge laughing at themselves for an hour or two earlier than they go proper again to their regular lives. It’s a blazing scene which manifests dominant capitalist and patriarchal energy constructions, and raises the query of whether or not theatre can ever really ‘change the form of the world’.
Then the rug is pulled out from underneath us. This scene was not ‘actual’, however slightly a efficiency by two actors of a piece in progress by The Author (Sophie Henderson). She sits on stage with the actors and The Director (Stephen Lovatt) for a Q&A session, throughout which the facility dynamics between Author and Director appear to reflect these performed out by the 2 actors – an older man who helps (and maybe wishes) the youthful girl, however thinks he is aware of finest about how issues ought to be.
Concepts of energy and management run all through the present, because it undulates backwards and forwards between ‘scripted efficiency’ and ‘actuality’, taking us on a wild and unusual journey. The Author herself is an elusive character, glimpsed via her monologues of existential dread and her constructed fantasies. Regardless of their strained relationship, The Director is the one one who anchors her to actuality. They exist collectively within the ‘actual’ house, and he gazes at her from the facet of the stage whereas the set deconstructs round her. Or does he management her? Does he tie her to a model of actuality that she desires to throw off? He desires her to put in writing historically dramatic dialectics, whereas she desires to subvert theatrical modes and discover her sincere, inventive self, as is enacted within the center sequence – a fantasy and sanctuary of the divine female, a liberating queer love, intercourse that’s linked and intimate and sacred.
Against this, the dialectics she performs are certain by oppressive energy constructions. The Author argues together with her wet-blanket boyfriend about taking a job she doesn’t need for the cash, and lies limp on the couch whereas he fucks her. However when the scene is between two ladies, these dynamics are nearly reversed. Gone is queer liberation and sacred intimacy. As a substitute, the younger black girl is closely sexualised (in hot-pants) whereas The Author appears drawn to play the male, patriarchal position – enacting the male gaze on her companion, petrified of being fucked however very happy to be the one wielding the phallus, pleasuring solely herself in a disconnected and basically violating act.
These scenes present how conventional modes of theatre may serve solely to bolster the dominant tradition of society, in addition to reflecting the relentless suffocation of that society again to us. However additionally they level to a way of hopelessness, of inevitability. The Author doesn’t actually appear to be answerable for what occurs on the stage. The set is moved and adjusted by a crew of people that seem from seemingly nowhere. A child is introduced on for…some purpose… and she or he laments that it’s not actual, it’s not her child. She will solely stare, helplessly, on the director (the watchful eye of god) whereas others form the world round her. No, we should not have management over our lives, this appears to say. We’re powerlessly located, certain to a society of oppressive constructions with wealthy, outdated, white males sitting on the facet of the stage pulling the strings. Even after we shirk heterosexual relationships, we can not absolutely shirk heteronormative energy dynamics, it appears it say. And so the oppressed turns into the oppressor, and on and on it goes.
The Author is a play continuously wrestling with itself. It desires to be radical, eschewing custom in its critique of energy constructions and privilege. But it fails by its very nature. As is identified throughout the Q&A scene, race is rarely explicitly handled regardless of Actor 1 being a black girl. The Author (a white girl) is hesitant to the touch the topic. Certainly, that’s the solely time race is talked about within the play. It’s current, via the casting of Ash Williams, however is it sufficient to have a black physique on stage when race is just not immediately addressed within the textual content? And, after all, the play itself is a chunk of commerce. Silo Theatre must recoup its spending, and Q Theatre is a spot solely for individuals who can afford a ticket. This contradiction asks us if artwork and commerce can ever be separated and, if not, can artwork ever be really revolutionary?
The Author is an fascinating selection for Silo, an organization identified for programming difficult and subversive works (their most up-to-date being Seven Strategies of Killing Kylie Jenner). On the one hand, Silo desires to make use of artwork to impress thought of society, maybe even to alter society. On the opposite, it’s certain by the capitalist system and conventional pay constructions. Certainly, this isn’t simply ‘The Author’ however ‘The Milford Asset Administration Season of The Author.’ Being within the Q lobby on opening evening solely heightened this expertise for me. There I used to be ingesting my free glass of wine and milling amongst business big-wigs – all of us returned so simply to the comforts of our (privileged) on a regular basis lives.
So, what does it imply to make really difficult, radical artwork? Does the play itself know? It appears to be about energy and artwork, however what’s it actually saying? There are palpably relatable MeToo-type experiences within the dialogue between women and men. But the character of the connection between Author and Director is unclear. Though he’s in management in some methods (holding the purse strings), he retains a bodily distance from The Author, stepping away when she strikes nearer. This play (or, a minimum of, Silo’s model of it) appears to eschew straightforward categorisation and offers no solutions to the numerous questions it raises.
This may all appear complicated and high-falutin, and certainly the play is that. However it is usually extremely humorous, and right here it’s expertly carried out and exquisitely designed. Director Sophie Roberts has subtly shifted Ella Hickson’s UK script to an NZ context whereas managing to make all of it really feel placeless and timeless; nearly dreamlike. Rachel Marlow’s lighting is beautiful. Paloma Schneideman’s sound design provides layers of absurdity, whereas Daniel Williams’ set feels lifelike and surreal on the identical time. It’s all impeccable. The Author is a dynamic, provocative, contradictory piece that asks us to probe deeper into the layers of constructed actuality. In its failure to be really radical, it factors to the methods and patterns of thought that stop us from enacting significant change. It’s paradoxical, enjoying with concepts of management, energy, artwork and which means, however by no means deciding on a conclusion, leaving us in chilling darkness. Maybe that’s the most effective that theatre (a minimum of, in its present kind) can provide us. The chance to ask questions.
The Author performs Q Rangatira 1-18th September, 2022.