If you’re looking for an easy night out at the theatre, this one might not be for you. MONO is a 55-minute visual, auditory, and cognitive workout. A rare performance art installation in the Sacred Heart Oratory at the Abbotsford Convent, a wonderfully eerie venue at night, perfect for this grotesque, gothic and haunting avant-garde piece.
Entering the space, a monotonous buzz and hum can be heard as two actors move in a hypnotic manner, transfixed in repetitive motion. The hum continues, and grows in intensity as it is layered with sounds of other actors entering the space. Up to 60 people are seated in two rows down the length of the room. A white platform and wall is before them. The house lights are switched off. Projections fill the walls with white light. The sensory workout has begun.
4 actors explore the notion of monomania within Edgar Allen Poe’s tale ‘Berenice’. Many iterations of ‘mono’, from mono-brow to monochrome, add layers and distort the norm to create an intimate absurdist piece, with an impressive lighting/projection design which carries the central ‘mono’ theme and assaults the senses in the best way possible. Simple coloured projections flood the blank walls and control the mood, cleverly interacting with the characters, reacting to their shifting mental states.
It is difficult to tell if the monotonous, bass heavy soundtrack fluctuates in volume at all. At times your brain seems to tune it out, you find a rhythm and continue the visual workout comfortably, then, rather arbitrarily, a slight change will re-ignite the ringing in your ears and you’re reminded how hard you have to keep working to take it all in. Combining a tonal change in the music with strobe lighting and grid like projections we witness a frightening physical sequence where one character descends into manic obsession. It is quite confronting but fascinating to watch at the same time. We’re at the point in the workout where the pain starts to feel good. We’re not quite sure why, but this seems enjoyable. The creative team present many moments of uncomfortable beauty within this piece. There are moments that make you smile and cringe at the same time. Perhaps that is the point. Intrigue and disgust seem to go hand in hand here.
Symbolic motifs such as the teeth, blood, and the ever-changing hues, connect a seemingly disjointed progression of vignettes, to Poe’s, ‘Berenice’. Being exposed to varying levels and instances of ‘mono,’ along with the subtle Berenice plot, it is perhaps intended that the audience see the monomaniac tendencies we as humans possess. The direction and design however, only allow the audience a fragmented view of the action at any time. Focus is often split across three points; mentally challenging us to combine moments we do catch to form a personal interpretation of the unfolding visual spectacle. It is at times tiring and frustrating. I suspect that many will find a ‘lack’ of plot unfulfilling. But, like any good workout, it’s not meant to be easy.
The costumes (and lack of at times) effectively add to the eccentric nature of the piece. A visual feast for the audience, bare skin is contrasted with darkness and the mesmerising cascade of blood. There are unnerving moments where the sound of heavy breathing haunts you and the walls drip with blood, but also moments of joy and laughter. It was interesting that during the final scene, where the audience has its first real chance to peer into the eyes of these characters and really feel the emotional journey they have been on, that the creative team stood up and left the room. Whilst I can perhaps understand the symbolic nature of allowing the space to be controlled by the actors quite organically, it was more distracting than beneficial. Absolute congratulations to the four actors for such an intense embodiment and expression of a range of emotional states. Their physical control and focus must also have been exhausting. It was a pleasure to witness such dedication to the craft.
MONO is an intriguing project perhaps designed to create discussion about the accepted theatrical norm. It certainly sparked thought in my mind about how we can push the boundaries to create new and immersive theatrical experiences.
So, if you’ve been stuck behind a laptop or TV screen and haven’t caught some visually intriguing performance art recently, or ever, it may be time to pull out those gym shorts. You may not love every minute of it. At times you might hurt all over and question your decision. But in the end I think you’ll walk away feeling something, and isn’t that why we go to the theatre? It’s not every day you get to experience this kind of creative form.