‘The Apparatus’ is the latest offering from Perth’s Master of Storytelling, Humphrey Bower. When most performers would run from a 75-minute solo performance, Humphrey is right there giving his unique style. His shows are always highly animated; a couple of years ago he did a whole fast-paced show accompanying his own dialogue with Auslan (sign language for the deaf) yet he never faltered.
Libby Klysz’ production of Humphrey’s new manic and disturbing show can be seen each evening at 7.00 pm in The Blue Room Studio Theatre, 53 James Street, Northbridge.
The story is based on three of Franz Kafka’s macabre short stories, ‘The Burrow’, ‘Before the Law’ and ‘In the Penal Colony’. Although the Czech Jew, Kafka died at the age of forty – just after the First World War – Bower noticed how attitudes and the state of affairs have changed very little in the past century; so he has adapted and blended the three tales to fit a modern situation, calling it ‘The Apparatus’.
The Scene: could be any time from Mediaeval days to today, as he pointed out, time changes little.
The Set: was designed by Rhys Morris and comprised black walls and floor. A white picture frame, high on a wall, showed the time of day, as the light within changed colour from cool blue to warm red. There is a cream plastic patio chair suspended from the ceiling.
The scotopic lighting was designed by Joe Paradise Lui and operated by Tim Green. Tim sat at the operator’s desk in his underwear and with a stark white face.
Employing several channels of sound, the scene is set by the ‘voice of Kafka’ that moves around the auditorium. Meanwhile, the stage manager (Tim Green) collects the detritus from the theatre floor. A man (Humphrey Bower) also in his underwear, enters and puts on an old grey onesie and a headband with a triple LED light that glowed from his forehead. The lights dimmed.
The ‘man’ (or could he be a mole or a badger?) excitedly showed us around his burrow. In the dim light, he proudly displayed his abundant food store, the security of the entrances, the cavernous rooms – the place was a palace. He was even building an extension, perhaps a summer house?
Slowly the initial joy of this man dissipated as he felt hunted. Could he really hear the unknown enemy? Or was he simply paranoid? He ran around the burrow constantly looking about, twitching, ducking cringing, could his end be nigh? His initial happiness soon became a state of mental tension.
After this initial 50-minute tale we find ourselves above ground. A sick and cruel war official dressed in a US army camouflage combat suit explained to us that the quivering ‘disgusting humanity’ before him was guilty of a crime; whether a parking fine or paedophilia was irrelevant – he was guilty and had to be disciplined. The Apparatus was called for!
These tales became extremely harrowing and would be classified as 15+.
The first light-hearted tale could be interpreted as child’s story, but soon it became obvious that the manic animal or man could be a fleeing immigrant, or even a Vietnam war tunnel dweller. The interpretation was as grave or black as the viewer allowed his / her mind to accept. The final tale about a disciplinarian was very dark, but which many of the audience will recognise as typical of the nightmarish treatment of so many poor helpless refugees or displaced races throughout the world.
These stories are absorbing, moving and horrifying. Not easy watching but the acting, storyline and the engrossing style of delivery were chilling. The nervous subterranean creature and the self-righteous disciplinarian were immaculately portrayed by Humphrey with strong support from Tim Green, along with outstanding visual dramaturgy by Sam Chester.
A stupendous and prize winning(?) presentation of an important topic, definitely memorable but not easy for everyone to cope with. Very highly recommended.