Thursday 20 October 2016

An Event in the Town of Goga – SNG, Maribor

[seen 16/10/16]

I once got very told off for using comparisons to English plays in Eastern Europe. Nonetheless, the quickest way to describe [Slovensko Stalno Gledališče Trst in Glasbena Matica’s staging of] An Event in the Town of Goga (Pogovor o uprizoritvi Dogodek v mestu Gogi) is to say it’s a bit like Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood crossed with Jim Cartwright’s Two. With added string trio and piano.

[Please understand, grumpy Eastern European critic, that I’m not actually saying one is better than another thing; I’m just trying to explain a thing to my predominantly English audience by giving them an idea of something it’s a bit like. I’m sure there are better ways of doing this, but I think there’s also a useful dimension where borders are usefully collapsed by doing it this way...]

Essentially, two actors (Patrizia Jurinčič, Dan Malalan) play all the roles of the inhabitants of Goga, a (fictional?) Slovenian town where the townsfolk grumble that nothing ever happens. The clanging irony, of course, is that there is lots going on underneath the surface (think Blue Velvet). A hunchbacked youth dreams of becoming an actor, and appears obsessed with Ibsen’s Ghosts. A young woman returns home and tries to murder the man who raped her as a child. A couple of other things happen. I get the impression that this is a radically pared-down version of the original, witn only the bare bones of set-up and pay-off in each event remaining; the rest having been cleared away to make room for a meta-theatrical framing device of two bewigged (C18th) socialites/singers observing the citizens at a party of some sort, while also singing operatic arias to the audience (and Bohemian Rhapsody).

As stagings go, well, it looks lovely. The artfully empty-by-not-empty stage is perfectly lit – a scaff. tower stands in the middle, doubling as various locations, while the impression of other houses is given by a bunch of Persian carpets laid out about the place. There’s a piano at the back, a string trio sitting about the place, and several mannequins and dressmaker’s dummies

As you might have noticed from the plot summary, there is *some unevenness of tone* here. The comic blah sits uncomfortably with the story of a girl who was repeatedly raped in her youth. And, well, the tragi-comic disabled simpleton probably wants a bit of looking at as well. On the other hand, this is my first acquaintance with what I understand is quite a well-known folk play here in Slovenia. Perhaps if the plot and characters of the story are pre-known to an audience (as they will be here), then directors etc. feel less need to cushion the brute facts, or apologise for them. And there is *some* layer of *something* around the performance that I think acknowledges that attitudes have maybe shifted somewhat since the play’s inception. Or, again, perhaps it’s this peculiar situation we now have in England where representations of *everyone* have to somehow be “fair” and showing situations in which the oppressed are oppressed is deemed to perpetuate that oppression. I dunno. England’s in a very funny state right now, and writing about its theatre is just about the worst thing imaginable (apart from all the actual bad things; which are worse).

So, what to say about this performance? It was hard work, for me. But I suspect I’m not the intended audience (not even remotely a native speaker, not culturally native). The seats were uncomfortable; the surtitles too high up, and too dim to be easily read, but this is all piffle.

There’s an uncomfortable feeling, sometimes, in criticism, of just being an external examiner, or moderator. You come in, and see a spread of the work that has already been marked highly, and really you should just be pleased that someone else has seen something in it, even if you don’t perhaps see it yourself. I mean, I really don’t. I haven’t met the curator of this Festival yet, but I suspect if we got to talking, and discussed our highlights of European theatre over the past few years our venn diagrams of the high points would overlap very little. I also don’t perhaps see where he or she is coming from dramaturgically yet. Unlike the Lithuanian showcase at Sirenos, which clearly has an emphasis on the emerging and the young, or Priit Raud’s astonishing programme at Baltoscandal, which chose complimentary pieces that, when placed alongside each other, actually added up to more than the sum of their already considerable parts, the programme here so far feels like “some things”. But perhaps there’s a clear agenda that – because it doesn’t touch on anything I’m experiencing – I’m just failing to perceive.

Director: Igor Pison
Dramaturgs: Katarina Košir, Ana Obreza
Set designer: Petra Veber
Conductor: Igor Zobin
Language consultant: Laura Brataševec

Afra/Hana/Ms Prestopil: Patrizia Jurinčič
Tarbula/Ms Tereza/Komi Omar Prelih/Pisar Klikot/Grbavec Teobald: Dan Malalan,

Slovenian Musical Centre ensemble: Ana Obreza (violin), Valentina Bembi (viola), Irene Ferro Casagrande (cello)

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