Fringe Review: Speak of the Devil

Under usual circumstances, would you spend forty-five minutes in a small room with a group of strangers watching another group of strangers grieve about a loved one? Possibly not; which is one of the reasons I found SPEAK OF THE DEVIL compelling.

From a practical perspective it is very good use of Fringe Festival time, place and space. I have no idea if this production is available to Universities or Colleges beyond this particular season, but because it offers a very good slice of the process of grieving among a small group of relatives and loved ones after someone has taken their own life, I think many could benefit from it, if it were.

It would be easy, in layperson’s terms, to have a showing of SPEAK OF THE DEVIL plus a ten minute ‘Q and A’ within an hour.

Fringe Festivals are a Western World phenomenon, they are all over the globe and you could be forgiven for thinking they are simply an opportunity to go see a comedian you’ve seen on television or a sexy acrobatic show where they splash you with water, be titillated, laugh at something out loud in a group; those are wonderful feelings to experience. Fringe Festivals were born originally from a need among theatre companies to try out new, experimental work, the tents filled with comedians came much later as the Adelaide Fringe expanded and grew. At the 1978 Adelaide Focus Fringe Festival I was a teenager doing street-theatre directed by Bruno Knez from La Mama Theatre in Hindmarsh.

In ‘78 Bruno, a Croatian refugee of WW2 had us performing material questioning a trend at that time of Doctors prescribing Valium as a cure-all for many ailments. The street-theatre was mostly clowning and playing out comical skits with a very serious undertone.

Forty years later it is completely appropriate to be watching a work of art like SPEAK OF THE DEVIL about a subject as complex as grief after the taking of a life. I mention the old Focus Fringe Festival to contextualise what Fringe Festivals were originally for, the development of new theatre. Theatre responding to contemporaneous issues that deserve to be discussed in a broad way. Stories created in street-theatre often go on to become more formalised works, and the styles of the genre over time became utilised more frequently, thus the Mainstream Theatre changed because it applied many of the new styles developed on the fringes.

This production uses some of the best styles and simplest forms to display the terrible negotiations of grief between individuals and their own conscious and surrounding individuals whom are sharing in the tangled horrors of loss. It is uncomfortable, disconcerting, embarrassingly awkward to watch, then captivating in the extreme. Some of the simple but delicately beautiful lighting casts remarkable shadows on the confining grey walls, an outstanding contribution visually.

The cast play behind the ‘fourth wall’ there is no direct interaction between audience and players yet the structure of the work is pegged to a thread by ensemble sighs, physical burden shedding that entrap the audience in a more subtle, human way. The combination of theatre styles born of past developments being used to determine a raw difficult to discuss situation really well is magical, dark, tragic with a final sigh at the end.

I felt along with the ensemble, I think everyone in the audience did; because in a confined space with so much deeply felt, bottled-up emotion on display, ones senses and instincts are to be calm, be respectful, find peace, shed judgement, it is very Zen.

As people shift from one stage of grief to another their self-healing develops but there is no guarantee that the subject of your griefs’ sister may be at the stage you find yourself, so the process of grieving even with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ defined stages at hand, remains a game of Snakes and Ladders.

I salute the production on stage, back stage, behind the scenes; I think it is a terrific piece of ensemble theatre that uses mask work with and without masks extremely well, it packs more subtle emotion into forty-five minutes than you could ask for, delivering a potent, well resolved story of sadness, loss, grief and clarity at the end of a darkness left by someone taking their own life.

It is difficult theatre to sit through, even forty-five minutes seems like a very long time when dealing with heavy issues, yet I can see this igniting discussion in a positive way. I admire the theatrical elements used and how the demonstrated emotion is ultimately a catalyst for progress even while seeming to be unendurable.

5 stars out of 5


Reviewed by David Jobling

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