Paving the way to a remarkable theatre experience
By Anastasia Russell-Head
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, turning up at the Artshouse Meat Market for the opening night of Back to Back’s Hell House. Ushered in to the ticket desk, we were given coloured stickers to place on our collars and told to wait until we were called. After a few minutes we were asked to assemble down a flight of stairs in a black plastic-shrouded antechamber. Strange sounds could be heard from round about, and no-one really knew what was going to happen next.
Soon enough the show began, and we were introduced to our devilish guide who walked us through a series of strange and horrific vignettes – a young man’s funeral, an abortion, a car crash, a suicide, a pagan sacrifice – until finally we reached hell itself.
This play originated in bible-belt USA churches, where it is performed annually to thousands of young Christians – the aim being to scare them into re-confirming their faith. Interestingly, Back to Back stages this version as an “anthropological study”, not aiming to pass judgment or present a particular point of view. In fact, the presentation of the play is only one half of the production; the other half being an interactive forum looking at themes of provocation, belief and morality.
For me, the forum (with panelists Scott Stephens, Waleed Aly, Clare Bowditch and Benjamin Myers) was almost more provocative than the play – in that it caused me to completely re-think the way I had viewed and approached the original work. Questions were asked about judgment, consequentialism, good and evil – and Waleed Aly even wove in a few Batman allegories for good measure!
At first I wanted to laugh at the simplistic morality, the black-and-white-ness, the you’ll-all-go-to-hell-sinners vibe of the work. Yet this is not irony. It’s not for laughs (although there are a couple of giggle-worthy moments). It’s not about poking fun at fundamentalism. Rather, this production seeks to begin a discussion and open the door for some serious debate. I’m still musing about it the next morning, which is a sure sign of a thought-provoking work.
Hell House by Back to Back Theatre at Arts House, Meat Market
Until Sunday 5 August
Saturday 4 August: Performances every 10 minutes from 7pm, followed by forum at 8.30pm.
Sunday 5 August: Performances every 10 minutes from 2pm, followed by forum at 3.30pm.
Full $25 / Concession $20
Book online or phone 03 9322 3713