“Do you want to go faster?”
I’m sitting on a pink revolving circle with five actors, its designer Nicholas Fry, and Alexander Berlage, director and co-creator of the Old Fitzroy’s first production of 2018, There Will Be A Climax.
We are surrounded by crinkly, shiny gold foil and spinning at a rate just a bit quicker than your average merry-go-round.
The actor asking if I want to go faster has a wide grin on his face.
No, I do not want to go faster. Actually, a bit slower might be nice. If I look down at my notebook for more than a few seconds, I feel a touch unwell.
The Old Fitz has never hosted a stage revolve before. It’s easy to see why. The edge of the disc is just 20cm from the knees of the audience members in the front row and 20cm from the back wall. There isn’t much room for error.
“This will be a total disruption,” says the smiling Berlage. “There are no words at all in this show. Just six characters who believe they are stuck on a revolve that will never stop spinning.” The characters are determined to get off, Berlage explains, but all sorts of distractions conspire to keep them in place.
“For example, a red telephone falls from the sky in the first 10 minutes, followed by a range of other random objects,” says Berlage. “These guys see so much meaning in these objects. But satisfaction is impossible. They are always trying to achieve something but are constantly distracted. It’s an ode to the impossibility of satisfaction.”
Is it a play?
“I don’t think so because there are no words,” says Berlage. “We look at this world and we see clowns, but we are actually hoping the audience will see themselves in the clowns. I think of it as more of a physical comedy than clowning, and more of a piece of theatre than a play.”
“It’s a ride!” says actor Oliver Crump. “It’s such a breath of fresh air. So many Sydney audiences come to theatre half expecting what they are going to see but we’re going to flip that. It will be a total surprise.”
“People are asking me what genre it is,” says Berlage, “I say it’s as if you took a Beckett and presented it as a GIF.”
Berlage is an acclaimed lighting designer. His recent work includes Cloud Nine at the Sydney Theatre Company, and 4:48 Psychosis and Doubt at the Old Fitzroy. He’s also an emerging director and There Will Be a Climax was his graduation production at NIDA. He wanted to make something radically different to the other graduate showcases, he says. He did and it sold out every night.
“We thought it would be fun for a wider audience to see it here at the Old Fitz,” Berlage says. “The audience response was so great first time around, we just wanted more people to see it.”
Performing on a spinning revolve takes some getting used to, says actor Geneva Schofield. “When I first stepped onto the revolve at NIDA, I did feel a bit nauseous at first. It’s quite confusing, too. As a performer you think, here’s my blocking, I go here and then I go there. But on a revolve you can’t do that. We have very tight choreography. There are other shows where you can hide a little bit or get lost in the space. But you can’t hide in this at all. The audiences sees everything.”
As we continue to spin during this interview, I notice a creaking sound, just like an old fairground carousel.
“I promise it won’t be that loud during the show,” says designer Nicholas Fry. “But we do want the revolve to have a bit of a sound. It adds a bit of menace. It sounds different at different speeds.”
“We go about 1/3 of the maximum speed the revolve goes to and that’s pretty fast,” says Berlage. “You could fly off if you don’t put your feet right.”
Why did Berlage choose to begin his directing career with a show with no words at all?
“I’m not a writer, and I’m the first to admit that if I was to write a play it would be atrocious,” he says, laughing. “I hope that doesn’t fuck me up in the future…For me, my interest is in work with sceneography at the forefront because that is a skill set I have. But the bigger reason is that you don’t always need words to express what you want to say. You can say so much with light, with sound, with the relationship of six humans in a small space.
“I think artists should make work based on what they want to say rather than the genre they want to work in,” Berlage adds. “We shouldn’t define ourselves by ‘I just direct text’ or ‘I just direct physical theatre’.”
Berlage sees himself working as a lighting designer and director in the future.
“I will direct the shows I feel like I should make, and light the shows I shouldn’t,” he says. “There is no reason why I should be directing Hamlet, though I would love to light a Hamlet for someone who would do an amazing job of it.”
The interview is almost over. Let’s go faster.
A voice in the darkness says she is increasing the speed. Everyone holds on and laughs. This is becoming ridiculous.
“It reminds me of The Rotor!” says actor Duncan Ragg, who is new to the cast.
“It might make you stick to the wall!” laughs Crump.
Berlage is smiling. “I just hope no one puts their beer on the stage.”