2019 Adelaide Festival Review: Palmyra

What: Palmyra

Who: Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas

When: March 4 and 5

Where: AC Arts – Main Theatre

Cost: $25 – $49 (see website for full details)

Duration: 70 minutes (no interval)

The title of this show, Palmyra, is named after the ancient Syrian city, it has a troubled political history and has changed hands multiple times during the war. This is the backdrop to the duo, Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas’ Adelaide Festival show.

The opening scene is Nasi acting horrified by a plate, broken in to pieces on the ground. He is distressed, almost outraged, and repeatedly shouting ‘Oh My God!’. As the audience chuckles nonchalantly at his reaction, he directly addresses the audience and comments that we are ‘too far away’ and ‘at an angle’ that we cannot fully grasp the severity of the situation. Many not realising that this can be interpreted as a metaphor for the Western World’s indifference and distance from the war in Syria, and the turmoil that many still face. 

This kind of direct interaction with the duo on stage continues throughout the entire performance, creating a rapport with the audience that I was not expecting. It was the first thing I noticed upon sitting down, the theatre lights shining on the audience did not dim. In this way, the lighting effectively allowed the audience to be included with the happenings on stage.

Palmyra effectively portrays how conflict can rapidly escalate, we the audience are confronted with this reality through the duo’s uncomfortably graphic and emotive performance. For example, there is a sequence where the duo are skating gracefully across an empty stage in a serene and calm manner with a majestic operatic soundtrack. Their gracefulness is abruptly interrupted with both of them violently colliding in to one another. In the same vain, the initial broken plate from the start is contrasted to the end of the performance where thousands of pieces of broken pottery have been fiercely scattered all over the floor. Both performers aggressively sweep these pieces around creating a raucous noise, and the clattering sounds the plates make help to underline the idea that something once whole, beautiful and delicate can be suddenly transformed in to chaos.

This performance definitely requires a certain type of audience member in order to appreciate it to its full extent. It is not a light hearted or playful affair despite the duo technically being labelled ‘clowns’. The content of this show have rather dark and sinister undertones, and intentionally provide an agonising contemplation that admirable qualities like unity and peace can be completely destroyed.

3 out of 5 stars 

– by Rachel Wong

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