A dreamscape of art and addiction
By Anastasia Russell-Head
The subtitle of this play is very apt: “an hallucination”… hallucinatory by name, hallucinatory by nature. Given its subject-matter – one of Australia’s most famous artists, infamous for his addictions – the poetic, dreamlike nature of this show is a tribute in form as much as it is in its substance.
Beginning at the end, as it were, in the motel room in Thirroul where he died, the dead Brett Whiteley muses over his life and art. Neil Pigot is superb as Whiteley, alternately celebrating and regretting, remembering and forgetting, drug-addled and lucid.
Barry Dickins, the playwright, describes his script as a “magical monologue”, where “the words are a poetic synthesis of his own experimental paranormal paragraphs, his own ‘unlanguage’; if you like”. Words are used for their pictorial and evocative sense, and mostly this is extremely effective at conjuring up the decadent, swirling exuberance of Whiteley’s visual world – without actually showing any of his artworks.
In fact, visually this production is very sparse, with a sparing use of projections creating surreal imagery like blue tendrils slowly covering Whiteley as he speaks about the effect of heroin, and the neon “no vacancy” sign of the budget motel flickering into life outside the window.
The least effective aspect of this show for me was the use of voice-over, narrating impossible stage directions. Supposedly an attempt to add to the hallucinatory nature of the piece, this really detracted from the strength and power of the lone actor and the poetry of the text. For me this filled in the gaps too much, rather than leaving it to the imagination.
With an excellent musical score played live by the Calvert George Fine trio, this production is at once mesmerising and incomprehensible – as every good hallucination should be.
The premiere of Whiteley’s Incredible Blue is playing for the Melbourne Festival until Sunday 23 October
Fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Times: Tuesday to Sun 8pm, Fri & Sat 8pm & 10pm
Bookings: 03 9662 9966