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Monday 9 April 2012

BELVOIR’S ‘EVERY BREATH’ written & directed by Benedict Andrews, dissected by me.

When John Howard quoted Chekhov in Benedict Andrews’ play, “Never put a loaded weapon on stage if no-one is thinking about firing it,” I thought to myself, shooting this play would have been a mercy killing.
‘Every Breath’ is an exercise in humiliation- of its cast, its characters and its audience. But you know what? For once, I don’t blame Benedict Andrews for this work as its director and writer. He’s an artist who has a particular voice and style that we’ve come to love or hate. I have no doubt he approaches his work with his own brand of integrity. I don’t think he sits at home mulling over how he can lock the audience out of his work- it’s just his work, given a main stage viewing, time and time again. I mean it would be easy for me to slam Andrews. People have come to expect it. But I do go in to his work hoping to see something that crystallises his ideas and awakens in me a new respect and admiration for him.
No. This time I blame Belvoir and their creative management team for allowing a piece of work to go on the stage that should never have seen the light of day. It’s time to stop experimenting with a group of friends who want to dabble in the craft of writing with no evidence that they are actually any good at it and then give them the main stage to test their work. I don’t want to pay $50 to sit in a theatre laboratory and watch gratuitous, disconnected, poorly-written plays. Just stop. Please. Stop. And that’s what Belvoir should have said to Andrews. Stop. But they didn’t and we all wear the cost.
Let me give you a four line synopsis of ‘Every Breath’.
Chris is an androgynous security guard looking after a family who are ambiguously under threat. She has sex with every member of the family, often. She gets shot and everyone masturbates to try and rekindle their time with Chris. Chris then strips naked in front of the audience.
Got it? Great.
First question: Was it meant to be a comedy? There were times I laughed out loud but I don’t think I was meant to. The guy in the row behind us seemed to suggest he was just as confused when he said ‘What is this play about? I don’t get it’. The people who walked out before the 80 minute show had finished seemed to have ‘gotten’ quite enough.  The smartest thing about the show was not to put in an interval. There would have been very few return patrons to the second half I would think.
Second question: I thought we’d moved beyond the lights down, new scene every 20 seconds transitions in professional theatre. Apparently not. Why is it that the ability to understand that if your episodic narrative doesn’t have coherence or structural integrity and technical trickery can’t save it, you can’t see that there may be a problem with the material?
Third question: How much did the set cost? Alice Babidge is a design genius. I mean the set is very clever, she never disappoints. In fact, the tech crew and design personnel are often the highlight of the creativity to be showcased at Belvoir.  They must look on with horror when they see what is unfolding on stage and wonder how Belvoir get away with it.
The set, a hydraulic, large reflective tiled square that lifts out of the floor and can be manipulated in many configurations, like something out of a Cirque de Soleil show, was a creative piece of machinery in an otherwise gratuitous play. But was it worth the cost when it affected sightlines or was another tool in poor transitions? If you are going to spend all that money, at least use it well.
Fourth question: This is a biggie. Who on earth did you think would want to see this play? Let’s put aside that we have two 16 year old characters cavorting naked sliding around the floor with each other.  I don’t know many brothers and sisters of that age who would want to swim and grope each other naked in the pool. I mean I know a lot of teenagers and I’m sure if I asked them on a scale of grossest things ever they could think of doing, this would probably rate high on their list.
Then let’s count the amount of nudity, graphic simulated sexual acts and self-gratification, even during other character’s monologues to the audience. It started to feel like a live pornographic exhibition. Did I stumble into Sexpo by mistake? It was completely degrading to everyone who was involved or witness to it.
You know those moments when you realise you have been sitting watching something with a quite unconscious expression of incredulous disgust? That was me and I’m sure I was not alone. And when I looked at some of those actors, like John Howard, I felt he was ashamed of being associated with this play and I couldn’t blame him. The play was an offense to the talent of the actors on stage, making them commit to this palpable waste.
Fifth question: What are you selling to me in this show? If your aesthetic is to alienate, like the predilection of the German artists, in order to avoid empathy or catharsis to heighten the ideas, this play only takes you half way there. You see, the lack of empathy, that I got. Never for one moment did I care about the characters. But if you want me to focus on the ideas of the play, could someone help me out here? What’s your message? What are you saying? What’s your objective? Your through-line? Your social examination of the human condition? What??
This play is so thin that even a reference to Greek mythology in an effort to make us believe that Chris is a contemporary irresistible Hermaphroditus wasn’t enough. Was it to mirror art and life as Chris utters “I have this recurring nightmare where I am on display in a circus or museum….I have to stand there naked for a very long time and it hurts….And all these people are staring at me..” before she strips naked and stands there in pain? OK. So is the play about making people do uncomfortable things for a play? Well, you can tick that one off the list then. Success.
There were big holes in the plot. Why is this family under threat? And from whom? If this is the premise or construct of the events of the play, surely it needs to be dealt with?
At the end of the show, if the only pity you feel is for the artists involved in this show, you know it’s a dog. A floating dog in the pool maybe.
So my final words are back to Belvoir. Stop letting artists, whose writing is not ready, jump the queue. You made Brendan Cowell and Kate Mulvany test their work downstairs before giving it an upstairs program and it really honed their craft. Same with Tommy Murphy, who worked with Griffin, before programming him into Belvoir’s big stage, or the musical Keating did a cabaret run before it morphed upstairs. Do the same for your mates because you’re actually not doing them, or those involved with giving it life, or your audience, any favours by putting them on when they’re not ready.
Stop. Please. Stop.


  1. If the same claque is dominating next year's season I won't be subscribing. The thought of Simon Stone re-writing Eugene O'Neill is so awful that I suspect I won't bother to go. What will they bastardise next? King Lear? Waiting for Godot? Simon Stone and Benedict Andrews are directors, perhaps good directors. For God's sake, confiscate their pens.

  2. Sounds like a very confused state of affairs. From what you've described, the word 'awkward' pops into mind - on all levels.

  3. Yes, the main stage point is a very valid one. Interesting that all the examples of other playwrights working downstairs first were under a different AD.

    1. Sounds like Si and Ben have surpassed Malcolm Keith in craptitude. Were they shagging any of the actors? Should have used acting students, at least they are desperate and have no shame. Onya boys!

  4. I didn't like the last play (Baby Teeth) which was sold as a "comedy" - I don't want to subject myself or my 3 friends who subscribed with me this year - to this crap - based on the "draft" synopsis they used to sell the play. What a waste of my hard earned dollars on the subscription this year. I have other choice to make for culture and entertainment.

    I feel like my time has been stolen as well as my money! It's false advertising!

    1. I also object to marketers advertising a show as a comedy when it just plainly isn't funny. I observed this same marketing pitch for another show, and when people complained that it wasn't actually that funny they changed the description to 'a light entertainment'. Ha - now that's funny.

  5. I have noticed at least twice so far this season a lot of empty seats at Belvoir (once for Buried City at a Saturday Matinee, once at Every Breath on Good Friday). Now admittedly this may be to do with me choosing a less popular performance time, but I have a feeling part of it may simply be that the word has got around that some of the new plays ain't that good.

    Having said that, new writing is ALWAYS a gamble and I know of plenty of duds during the Neil Armfield reign as well (Beatrix Christian's "The Governor's Family" particularly sticks in my memory, plus most of the work of Stephen Sewell, a writer who's more passionate than actually good - the Gates of Egypt in particular).

  6. Great review - so glad I didn't put my money down for this one. There is enough unhappiness in the world. Why add to the misery - and make people pay? Crazy.

  7. One of my favourite reviews! Hilarious. And spot on.

  8. He probably thinks he's being terribly creative. From what I've read so far his name is box office poison. Belvoir wants to stay in business we won't be put through any more of this nonsense. Some art students never recover from being a student and keep making the same crap they made at school they just get really good at promoting it and themselves. He probably thinks he's terribly clever. Unemployed but clever.

  9. Rather than be critical of a novice playwright being included in the Belvoir subscription season, I think it's better to be critical of a poorly written play to be included, novice or not.