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  • Kate Gaul

The Eisteddfod

The Eisteddfod

Old Fitz Theatre


In 2024 Lally Katz emerged from the Melbourne indie theatre scene to become one of Australia’s hottest playwrights.  Two works indelibly planted in our collective theatre memories from that time are Stuck Pigs Squealing’s “The Black Swan of Trespass” by Lally Katz and Chris Kohn followed by Katz's “The Eisteddfod”. Both of which played in the Belvoir downstairs space. At the time the plays were hailed as unconventional, raw, poetic works that explored human nature at its most “difficult, comical and depraved” (Alison Croggon).  Moving forward by two decades Ziggy Resnick and her team of theatrical adventurers revisit this work anew.  “The Eisteddfod” explores – through the frame of childhood – themes of loss, dependency, and grief.  Orphaned young by a “pruning accident” Gerture (Fraser Crane) and Abalone (Ziggy Resnik) are living a half-life between childhood and adulthood.  They have become acrophobic and together create fantasy lives ranging from the banal to absurd.


They rehearse a performance of Macbeth for the local Eisteddfod, an undertaking Abalone has made unsuccessful attempts at winning since childhood. He now invites his sister to participate, to draw her back from a parallel world in which she is an imaginary schoolteacher, and a place she is spending more and more time, to the exclusion of Abalone. The events of this play all exist in a highly tenuous relationship to reality as the siblings play out ‘scenes’ as they wish or imagine their lives may have happened. But these are characters whose lives have never actually ‘happened’. They build worlds within worlds, manufacturing a space of destruction and desire, but without any tangible counterpart in the real world. Abalone plays Gerture’s abusive boyfriend, Ian. Gerture plays ‘Mother’ to the needy Abalone, and they play their parents for one another to imagine, or even remember, how their parent’s relationship may have looked. Over the course of the play, Gerture disappears further into her own imaginary ‘school’ world, leaving the despairing and dominant Abalone behind and it becomes apparent that Gerture has outgrown the imaginary worlds played out in their shared bedroom.


The play is unsettling to say the least and a kind of bleakness as we hear Shakespeare’s lines as a kind of pervasive subtext:"Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, / Who struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound fury, / Signifying nothing."


There’s also a nod to Chekhov as the prize for winning the Eisteddfod is a trip to Moscow. Certainly, we feel that Chekhovian bittersweetness threaded throughout the play, but I would never call it nostalgic. I think the play is more savage than this.


Co-directors Miranda Middleton and Jessica Bell never really succeed in creating the suffocation in terms of living space or relationship.  Playing in all corners of the Old Fitz stage (albeit on the set of “Isolde and Tristan”) there is a generous freedom for the two players.  It’s certainly lively and the production’s strength is the glee with which actors embrace their roles and opportunities to play to their strengths. The work straddles melodrama, escapism, clowning, realism and absurdist suffering.... The audience responded with laughs aplenty.  Ziggy Resnick proves once again they are an actor in search of a challenge – the sheer technical skill, imagination, daring and invention are to be applauded. Is there anything they cannot do?  The performance is played at 10+ all night but it fits the style of this production. Fraser Crane impresses with their light touch and deep understanding of their role.  The now ubiquitous audition speech which begins ‘I’m so sad.  But not too sad to talk about it.”  is masterful. I was amused by the antics of the characters.  I was moved by the final scene.  Announced as “Scene 13” Gerture climbs up an onstage mast and from on high sprinkles torn white paper as snow.  Gerture’s pain drives this narrative, and it is through her pain that she created a redemptive act to free her from the siblings claustrophobic bedroom and Abalone’s control.  She (imaginatively at least) arrives in Moscow.

There are many images that stay with me since the show made its Sydney debut in 2007. I now have a new image to add to that storehouse.


 Kate Gaul

(Image supplied)





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