The Theory of Everything (Brisbane Festival and QUT)
Theatre Republic, La Boite Studio
September 15 – 19
“The Theory of Everything” is a strange show. Everyone is Brisbane seems to know of it (perhaps due to its prolonged in-development phase), yet what the collaborative work, created and directed by Thomas Quirk, is actually about remains a mystery beyond blub of being “theatrical experiment; an investigation into our relationship with meaning” So, what is The Theory of Everything? Well, it isn’t anything to do with Steven Hawking and it probably isn’t Google, the audience is told by a row of pastel-clad actors affront the stage.
This confusion of definition befits the opening scene which sees the eight cast members deliver lines in scatter-gun bursts of enthusiasm before being shot down by each other. As the words tumble over themselves in almost avalanche, it becomes difficult to contemplate the communication. Genuine laughs are evident from the outset, but without wait before moving on, they sometimes serve more as a distraction to a holistic appreciation of the work. So scattered is this initial segment that one of the only threads discernible seems to be the feminist discourse being promoted by Ellen Bailey.
Things calm with the next scene opening to reveal a tableaux of historical figures including, among others, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Andy Warhol. (I don’t quite know why Queen Elizabeth I is wearing a bra on her head though.). As a statuesque Aristotle, Reuben Witsenhuysen raises the insightful question of what if historical figures had been born in different eras. It is an interesting theoretical consideration that reflects the essential nature of this complex, enigmatic work as it morphs from chaos into final scene contemplation of the layers of reality so eloquently explored in Carl Sagan’s book “Pale Blue Dot”. Along the way it ebbs and flows with highlights coming from Katy Cotter in reflection of the infinity of writing, delivered with a deliberateness that showcases the eloquence and imagery of this section of the script, and a metatheatre-ladden analysis of performer existence within the dramatic narrative, which adds another layer to the work.
When late in the show dialogue makes mention of the importance of language being dependent upon the speed of its delivery, it is an ironic summation of a show that starts shakily but ends with strength. Indeed, while the cast are enthusiastic both in performance and towards to project’s provocation, it seems that maybe it still needs a little work to realise the bold ambitions of its component questions about origin, fate, responsibility and contextualisation of self, from within the confusion.
Image c/o – http://www.brisbanefestival.com.au