Adelaide Fringe 2014
House of Vnholy’s work, MONO- is a theatrical feat of no mean kind, boasting impeccable design, phenomenal skill and commitment of performers, and exciting construction, but its needless abstraction makes our heads spin with wondering what it’s all about.
To be clear, from a visual perspective (as a sheer work of art) MONO- is a triumph. All the elements of design (sound, lighting, costume, scenography, etc) combine with (for the most part) well-thought through presentational technique (the performance is promenade, leading us through its insides to reveal its mysteries to us) to create something that is visceral, arresting, and excites the senses.
Very mild audience participation is negligible in its effects on us and on the performance, but nevertheless serves to draw us further into the mystery. One finds oneself questioning the role of ‘audience’ in the settings we find ourselves in – often the audience is nearly as much a part of the mise en scene as the performers, and we stand in quiet contemplation of one another. Who are these other anonymous faces? But of course, we are all just interlopers; onlookers gawking through the invisible proscenium at the queer spectacles on the other side. All of this – the inscrutable actions of the performers, the labyrinthine route of the action, and undefined nature of our own identities within the structure of the narrative – serves to intrigue, to entice, and to inflame the senses.
The source of the irritation lies in needlessly obscure references, tenuous connective tissue, and disruptive flourishes that pull us out of the fantastic landscape we’re otherwise only too happy to be lost in. For the sake of preserving the mystery (this is the sort of work you really just have to see), I’ll avoid too many specific examples, but it’s worth mentioning the ballet in particular, which was such a departure from other styles at work (and whose connection with the topical through-line so tenuous) that it felt more like a distraction than a contribution to the piece. To be fair, I suspect that much of the problem here lies in how we approach such work – those of us expecting dramatic theatre may spend more time trying to decipher codes and make narrative sense out of the work than they do enjoying it, while audiences who come expecting a piece of emotive visual art will find themselves immersed in a world of sensation. It’s all a question of perspective.
Saying all of that, this is definitely a singular piece of work on the fringe and worth a look. The site itself is exciting and remote, and the space used well; action playing here and there, often taking us by surprise from the corner of our eyes. The sound design is particularly good, working subtly against our senses and grinding us into the fabric of the work. We’re reminded SHUNT’s Money machine, though perhaps a bit more abstract and slightly less cohesive in its conception. But there’s no arguing with the execution, which is spot on. Check MONO- out for the exciting visuals alone.