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BWW REVIEW: Highlighting The Power Of The Pencil, Particularly Through Images, NO END OF BLAME Challenges The Audience To See Art As More Than Entertainment

BWW REVIEW: Highlighting The Power Of The Pencil, Particularly Through Images, NO END OF BLAME Challenges The Audience To See Art As More Than Entertainment

Wednesday 18th October 2017, 7:30pm, Reginald Theatre Seymour Centre

In a world where artists and media are censored, sometimes terminally, Howard Barker's NO END OF BLAME challenges the audience to consider the power of art. Directed by Damien Ryan the enlightening and at times confronting work, written in 1981 and rarely performed in Australia, is presented with raw honesty to show the power of the pencil.

The well woven work with a multitude of characters presented by an economic cast of 8 follows 6 decades of the life of poet turned political cartoonist Bela Veracek (Akos Armont). From a war torn mountain village in Romania where Veracek is consumed with lust for his companion Grigor Gabor's (Sam O'Sullivan) unwitting life model, a terrified peasant woman (Amy Usherwood), the audience is exposed to Veracek's good and bad qualities. Pacifists, poet turned artist Veracek and painter Gabor have survived the 4 years as soldiers and have never "put a wound in anyone" and now the first world war is over, they try to return to their passions but Veracek gets thrown out of art school for drawing cartoons, unsatisfied with the slow deliberation and lack of 'voice' traditional art provides, even with a colourful life model (Angela Bauer) to put on paper. This is the start of Veracek's quest for 'freedom' and the ability to make a difference with the sweep of a pen, using political cartoons to highlight the truth that many others would prefer to turn a blind eye to. Naturally, as with the university lecturer, Veracek's work, though widely acclaimed, does rise the ire of the establishment wherever he goes and he develops an all-consuming frustration and anger at the system that will not let him have an uncensored voice.

Designer Melanie Liertz gives the performers a raised, tilted stage to present the work that expresses that nothing is ever really balanced and stable. Set pieces and props surround the platform with a stacking reminiscent of a second hand store, allowing reasonably fast changes whilst projections of political cartoons or life drawing etch out on the huge paper backdrops and Alistair Wallace's sound design presents an often ominous tone dominated by deep strings. As the audience enters, a reel of current political cartoons by Cathy Wilcox and David Pope set the tone for understanding the ongoing relevance of the artform and during the performance Nicholas Harding's sketches provide the studies in Gabor's sketchbook and Wilcox and Pope's images stand in for the works that had Veracek followed by the GPU and threatened from deportation from his adopted England. Liertz also marks the change in time from 1918 to 1973 through the subtle changes in clothing styles but retaining a consistency of the heavy military coat Veracek retains, as a link to his past as a type of security blanket and also a symbol of his ongoing struggle.

Akos Armont delivers a layered performance that ensures that Veracek is not seen as completely good, which is also reinforced by Barker's decision to have the audience's first introduction to Veracek be when he is consumed with lust, prepared to take what he wants even if he does try to justify it with dubious logic. Armont balances the nobility of Veracek's desire to have his art, which traditionalists didn't acknowledge as art, make a difference by providing a voice for the people and challenging the government, with his less honourable traits which included an arrogance and also an impulsive desire that saw him want, but not necessarily love, Ilona and badger Gabor into quitting art school to go with him to Russia. He is compelling in his frustrated desire to continue producing works that made statements, demonstrating Veracek's bewildered response to the high acclaim that his work received whilst people that praised it still wanted to warn him off criticising the establishment.

Gabor is the opposite of Veracek and Sam O'Sullivan captures the more sensitive perfectionist's innocence and purity, from the naive young soldier who doesn't realise that his subject does not understand that he only wants to capture her image to the broken man that has resorted to paint by numbers to retain control of his art. O'Sullivan presents Gabor as social inept and single minded in his need to control the world around him to find perfection in it.

As Ilona, Veracek's wife and Gabor's life model, and more, Lizzie Schebesta develops through the story. Whilst Ilona attends art school with Veracek and Gabor, Schebesta doesn't draw focus to her until Veracek is expelled making for a somewhat stilted performance as the excitement levels seem to rise unexplicably. Once the relationship has developed, with the aid of Gabor's life drawings (drawn by Harding), Schebesta's delivery of the young wife and mother in the middle of what appears to be a love triangle, is more honest and natural.

Stand out performances come from Danielle King as the ballsy Daily Mirror Editor Bobbi Stringer who presents a strong female figure trying to save her paper whilst trying to protect Veracek's right to draw what he sees. As Doctor Glasson, King delivers another strong female character who also has a sympathy for her patients and a sense of rebellion and fun. Angela Bauer's portrayal of the life model Stella is presented with a confidence and sass as the nude subject regales the gathered students with tales of her colourful life.

Highlighting the importance of having an uncensored media and the freedom for artists to express themselves, NO END OF BLAME is an enlightening and interesting work. Whilst Veracek is a fictional construct, the story is based in truth and retains a relevance for all audiences whilst highlighting the power of a seemingly disposable artform, delivered quickly to comment on current affairs before the papers hit the printers and disposed just as fast once the day is over.

NO END OF BLAME

Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre

12 October - 28 October 2017


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