Reviews Performance Published 3 April 2013

Blackouts: Twilight of the Idols

Chelsea Theatre ⋄ 27th - 28th March 2013

Identity, exile and cinema.

Diana Damian Martin

Twilight

1.       The soft glowing light from the sky when the sun is below the horizon, caused by the reflection of the sun’s rays from the atmosphere

2.       The period of the evening during which this takes place, between daylight and darkness

The result of several years of work, Dickie Beau’s show uses found and recorded sound to navigate a landscape both liminal and seminal, glamorous and shipwrecked.  The show’s central discourse is presented by an engagement with recordings Dickie Beau took of his conversations with Richard Meryman, the last journalist to have interviewed Marilyn Monroe before her death.  This becomes the central framework of the show, with additional archival recordings from Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe.

Beau allows these to speak, and performs acts of suggestion and interpretation in a set up that is both theatrical and cinematic. A gauze separates the audience from this space of dreams and recall, also serving as projection screen- with found footage from a range of films starring the two leading women. A wooden desk and a typewriter, a mirror and a chair form a non-descript space behind this gauze, allowing Beau to construct and control the atmosphere, but also play with this separation.

Beau is a cunning performer; he brings clarity of character to his performances, but also plays with the identity of those he represents- his precision and sharpness held to bring the referent to life, but also place discrete emphasis. His physical language does a considerable amount of work- tracing the history of the character, enacting their physiognomy without straightforward representation : a skillful mix of cabaret, theatre and the cinematic.

The performer here is chameleon; the landscape, reminiscent of the visual politics of cinematographers such as David Lynch, and drawing from the aesthetics of the glamour era of Hollywood, is constantly shape-shifting. The title itself is a reference to the 1888 book by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, or how to Philosophize with a Hammer. Nietzsche’s own book is a reference to the Wagnerian opera with the same name, playing on ideals of false gods and idolatry. From a critique of then contemporary cultural practice of decadence, the book develops a critique of the fictionalisation of reality through these practices- something Beau engages with in an intriguing visual and theatrical argument. Playing with common conceptions and expectations on the identity of these two icons, Beau examines the relationship between fiction and reality, blurring the lines, both formally and conceptually, between these different cultural frames and their personal impact. The recordings- rarely heard and highly distinct- are used not only as a framework, but also as raw material; emphasis, suggestion and intertextuality becoming key theatrical tools,

Dickie Beau has constructed an evocative, shape-shifting theatrical gesture; Blackouts is, however, not a show about idols, but a show about portraits and identity. It constructs a series of landscapes that play on identity as something both performed and presumed, proposed and enacted, making reference to Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland- and inherently, The Wizard of Oz and Little Red Riding Hood. It references cinema, plays with its iconography and investigates its dreams.

Blackouts is, unsurprisingly, a performance of in-betweens; the glow of that which it references is sometimes concealed, other times revealed by gestures and actions. It’s a performance that stands testament to a lot of things, but also keeps them at bay; it is swallowed by its own process, acutely aware of the ways in which its different elements engage in conversation. There is also something personal here too: a different portraiture, as such, an identification with the currencies of exile and cultural context that becomes poetic and reflective.


Diana Damian Martin

Diana Damian Martin is a London-based performance critic, curator and theorist. She writes about theatre and performance for a range of publications including Divadlo CZ, Scenes and Teatro e Critica. She was Managing Editor of Royal Holloway's first practice based research publication and Guest Editor for postgraduate journal Platform between 2012-2015. She is co-founder of Writingshop, a long term collaborative project with three European critics examining the processes and politics of contemporary critical practice, and a member of practice-based research collective Generative Constraints. She is completing her doctoral study 'Criticism as a Political Event: theorising a practice of contemporary performance criticism' at Royal Holloway, University of London and is a Lecturer in Performance Arts at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

Blackouts: Twilight of the Idols Show Info


Directed by Jan willem van der Bosch

Cast includes Dickie Beau

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