Monday, 11 August 2014

Ganesh and The Third Reich

Both Platonists and fans of Keanu Reeves in The Matrix struggle with the possibility that the world as perceived is not the same as reality: beyond this veil of tears is another, more authentic realm that determines events. Theatre  - and art in general - poses particular problems for these thinkers, since it adds another layer of unreality to the illusion, distracting from worthwhile goals (ascending towards true wisdom and trying to understand what went wrong in the rest of the Trilogy respectively). Plato went so far as to suggest that actors be booted out of his ideal state, lest they encourage an outbreak of mimetic mockery.

Ganesh and The Third Reich is not unique in addressing this problem - ever since Brecht described 'the fourth wall', directors have been refusing to ignore the audience and get them involved. Back to Back's particular strategy is not to chat to the crowd - aside from a few sneaky smirks and narrative links, they remain within the bubble of the stage. Instead, they divide their story into two. One's a grand adventure, involving the elephant headed god nipping down to have words with Hitler about the appropriation of a certain Hindu symbol. The other is scenes from the creative process, with the director doing his own tin-pot number on the cast.

This division allows the company to delve into the issues behind the action. Worries about appropriation of other cultures -  Australians doing Indian mythology and European genocidal dictators - doubts about the abilities and exploitation of the actors, who have perceived to have disabilities and discussion of power hierarchies become a lattice of philosophical debate which supports the mythical drama. There is no attempt to lend realism to the Big Story. Instead, critique of the work is built into the production through a layering of different modes. They even toy with the staged scenes of their rehearsals, identifying them as scripted.

The particular problem of theatre's spectacle, a distraction from the real, is addressed in a Brechtian manner, by making the unreality clear. It provides a curious detachment from the action. The scene where Ganesh finally confronts the Fuhrer is tense, but more from the argument between Hitler and the god than for any plot reasons. The impact of the show grows over time. It places ideas in a coherent order, falls back from emotionalism.

By deconstructing the performance, Back to Back side step the problems posed by Plato, encouraging a cerebral engagement as well as an emotional one. Rather than covering the real with another layer, it encourages a reflection on what is represented, and dissolves the notion of authenticity.

On the other hand, it is pretty cool to see Ganesh face down Hitler.

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