Sydney, Sydney Fringe Festival 2014

HIM, SFF 2014

0 Comments 26 September 2014

HIM is a short, live art production performed by freelance theatre artist Coleman Grehan, that is showing at the PACT Centre for Emerging Artists. The piece is slow and achingly painful to watch, but this is certainly its intended purpose. Set against a canvas hung on a small section of PACT’s huge space, we are confronted by a man dressed and painted in white. He brings us through six stages of emotion and memory — remembering, admiration, frustration, presence, absence, and forgetting — with the piece reflecting on a previous relationship.

Grehan credits the style on Butoh theatre, an art form created in Japan after World War II. It’s a form that is is usually defined by slow, controlled physicality, white body paint, and abject imagery, that sought to turn away from Western traditions, so it feels jarring to say that a Western man can be a Butoh artist. Nonetheless, Grehan has traversed this delicate line bravely, and whether he succeeds or not would be up to a Butoh expert, not a theatre reviewer.

Grehan is clearly a trained actor, who has serious control over his body and physicality onstage. What lacks in the piece, then, is the narrative. Although we are told in the program that we’ll be lead through six stages, in the actual performance we are blatantly hit with these ideas; portraying “frustration” by angrily plastering paint onto one’s body is hardly a unique way of enacting this feeling in performance art.Though the performance wavers the most during the middle section, we are rewarded with our patience during “presence,” when audience members are invited to join in and paint Grehan’s body. The imagery of this moment is beautiful and raw, but is in fact the simplest, least embellished part of the presentation.

If you’re unfamiliar with what PACT usually showcases, you might find HIM to be confronting and confusing; it’s definitely not theatre as you know it to be. Though you can still enjoy HIM by embracing what the Fringe is all about — discovering new work you wouldn’t normally enjoy, and finding beauty in them when you normally would not.


Reviewed by Bridget Conway


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