On Ibsen in One Take
In this Australian premiere, Chinese director Wang Chong pushes the boundaries of convention and reminds audiences that our past can both shape our lives and destroy our future.
Inspired by the works of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, Ibsen in One Take tells the tragically beautiful story of an unnamed man (credited only as “Him”) struggling to make peace with his turbulent past.
Weathered and beaten down by years of isolation and regret, the elderly Him is desperately searching for the meaning of life as he slowly comes to terms with his own mortality. His quest for answers forces him to re-examine his life and, as a series of memories play out on stage, the audience bears witness to a painful past full of abuse, neglect, failed relationships and lost opportunities.
Accurately described as “a movie, filmed live on stage in a single take”, Ibsen in One Take’s unique format raises some interesting challenges for the audience.
Performed entirely in Chinese by members of the Beijing-based Theatre du Rêve Expérimental, the story unfolds on a sparsely furnished stage while a small film crew circles the actors and projects the images, as well as English subtitles, onto a large overhead screen. This is somewhat problematic, for the viewer’s eyes are drawn to the actors on stage, but if you focus too intensely on their performance you risk missing important information delivered through the subtitles. It is a struggle to find a balance – made harder still by the fact that there are often two scenes playing simultaneously, while only one is being filmed by the crew.
With his slow, purposeful shuffle and hunched shoulders, Tan Zongyuan plays the elderly Him with a quiet dignity and his ability to engulf the audience with the profound sadness of his character was heart-wrenching. Li Jialong and Yang Boxiong deliver strong performances as Him’s younger selves, while Zhang Yezi expertly manages multiple roles as a nurse, lover and colleague.
Clever cinematography enables Chong to create fractured images of his characters, and a palpable feeling of grief seemed to spread through the Space Theatre as their faces blurred, distorted and disappeared in a dramatic closing sequence. An emotionally charged script masks uplifting messages of forgiveness and acceptance.
Exploring themes such as isolation, hopelessness and grief, Ibsen in One Take’s sombre premise haunts you long after the encore. It is achingly beautiful.