By Jackie Chowns
December 2, 2005
Wednesday to December 11,
Opera House, 9250 7777, $15.
You wake up on a TV game show with a dorky host asking you impossible questions. What is the meaning of economics? Who holds the key? What is the role of the ozone layer?
Soon you discover this isn't reality, this is a nightmare made up from your own tragic, self-aware, ironic subconscious. You are lost, looking for depth in a Wheel of Fortune kind of world.
OK, so it's not you who wakes up on the game show; it's the protagonist of PACT Youth Theatre's Before the Lights Go Out, a play that combines the structure of Dante's The Divine Comedy with the game-show format to investigate our avaricious desire to consume, consume, consume.
Director Regina Heilmann says the main theme of the show is greed: "Greed for another's body, greed to be forever youthful, greed to have many things - and envy as well; desire to have more than someone else."
She says the game show is a useful vehicle because it reflects our desire to "win things and get a quick hit", while Dante's Divine Comedy provides the gravitas. The epic 14th-century poem follows the spiritually lost poet through three realms of the dead. He meets many souls in purgatory (where the poet may atone for his sins), hell (where the sinner must relive sins again and again) and paradise.
"It's pretty bleak," Heilmann says. "It's full of fantastic imagery about the appalling things people do to each other. But it is also a social commentary of the time; it was a very political document.
"Our play follows closely, although loosely, The Divine Comedy in that the poet is taken on a journey through purgatory, hell and paradise in order to confront his behaviour on Earth."
In Before the Lights Go Out, the poet is substituted with the dreamer who wakes in a game-show hell and is provided with a series of clues to find "The Answer". Heilmann says the play prompts the audience to reflect on the contemporary values and to look at our consumerist ways.
"Perhaps we are creating our own nightmare and we are caught in this nightmare of excess and desire and consumption. At some point, perhaps we need to look at some clues that we are creating a fool's paradise and, at some point, it is all going to come to an end."
Heilmann is one of the artistic director's of PACT Theatre, a youth performance company that provides nine-month scholarships for young performers. Before the Lights Go Out is the culmination of the year's work and is the result of a collaborative effort of all 19 members, aged 19 to 24, who worked alongside established artists.
PACT has a multimedia approach to theatre. For this show it uses soundscapes by Liberty Kerr and digital video images by Rolando Ramos.
There's a triptych of images that depict the consciousness of the dreamer as well as providing facts and statistics. The show has songs and music and could be viewed as a series of dreams linked by the protagonist. If that's not enough, there are medieval elements such as an angel and a trio of muses.
"One of our aims as theatre makers," Heilmann says, "is to use what is available in terms of the live experience, how media and the body can work together and create a layered experience. What we try to do is to rediscover the power of theatre, which is very different to other media."