NEON: By Their Own Hands

I can’t say enough wonderful about the MTC’s Neon Festival of Independent Theatre. Five of Melbourne’s most loved, most successful and most challenging independent companies were asked to create something new – no restraints.

Benedict Hardie, By Their Own Hands
Benedict Hardie, By Their Own Hands

We’re still talking about Daniel Schlusser Ensemble’s Menagerie (based on the works of Tennessee Williams) and Fraught Outfit’s On the bodily education of young girls (based on a 1903 novella and developed with a cast of teenagers from St Martins Youth Theatre). I wrote briefly about them on my blog.

The Hayloft Project’s Benedict Hardie and Anne-Louise Sarks also adapted.  By Their Own Hands is the story of Oedipus and Jocasta; loved by the ancient Greeks and so popular that Freud based his own legacy on it. But do we really know the story and the people in it?

Anne-Louise and Benedict begin by  simply telling the story, and telling it in a way that gets the audience involved without any embarrassment. There’s nothing to be feared when they ask the audience to join them on the stage, and you might only be disappointed if you’re not chosen as a cast member. (As Sphinx, I can end the year happy that I was recognised for my true talent.)

Then we’re sent back to our seats and they tell the story again. It’s now that a huge plastic curtain and Marg Horwell’s design comes into play and they tell the tale in ways that remind us how these ancient tales are as much about now and us as they were 2500 years ago when Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus were all the rage.

The title alone takes responsibility away from the gods and fate. They show how conflicted a man must be to consider killing his baby, and the moment when Jocasta realises who she married is soul chilling.

There’s been a lot of boring hoo-ha in recent weeks about the evils of adaption V original work. This season is proving that there’s nothing unoriginal about adaption. These works are sending us back to the source texts (what would Freud say about me having all the Electras and none of the Oedipuses in my book shelf?) and letting us see them again with such fresh eyes.

I don’t like the phrase “intelligent theatre”, but By Their Own Hands explores the relationship between audience and stage and re-tells a known story so powerfully and originally that I could feel new brain cells growing.

And we have The Rabble’s Story of O (after Pauline Réage’s novel) and Sisters Grimm’s The Sovereign Wife (inspired by Aussie-Aussie-Aussie cultural icons like Ken Done and The Man From Snowy River) to look forward to. After The Rabble’s astonishing Orlando at last year’s Melbourne Festival and having recently read O, I think this may be one of the most unforgettable shows of the year, unless they’re outdone by the glorious camp trashiness of the Sisters who have promised/threatened the likes of a character called Poof Cop.


Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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