Death at Intervals
by Lisa Romeo
Reviewed on Thu, 15/05/2014 - 04:23am
Lisa Romeo Total Reviews: 21
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Death at Intervals
Theatre Review by Lisa Romeo

What: Death at Intervals
Where: La Mama Courthouse
When: May 14 to May 25
Based on a novel by José Saramago & adapted by Colleen Burke and Rod Primrose
Directed by Rod Primrose
Performed by Colleen Burke and Frank Italiano
Music by Dave Evans

Puppetry is an ancient form of theatre, believed to have originated 3000 years BC. It is a performance based on the process of animating inanimate objects ‚?? the puppets. Many societies use puppetry in rituals and celebrations, such as carnivals.

Death at Intervals is an adaptation of the novel ‚??Death with Interruptions‚??, by the famous Portuguese writer Jose Saramago. The book was later published in Britain as ‚??Death at Intervals‚??. It was first released in 2005 in Portuguese and subsequently translated in 2008 by Margaret Jull Costa.

The novel opens with the conceited concept of vanquishing death, based sometime in the unspecified past and an unknown country. At the stroke of midnight on January 1st no one in this country will ever die. The citizens rejoice and celebrate their immortality, but the joy is short-lived, as it becomes apparent that the end of death brings with it no end to suffering, in a physical sense as well as financially and demographically.

The Catholic Church is threatened as no death means ‚??No fear of God‚?Ě; funeral workers fear the end of their business and healthcare workers are afraid the system will collapse due to generations of incapacitated, but still living people, overpopulating nursing homes and hospitals.

It is quite a phenomenal novel, and with the expert direction of Rod Primrose, Death at Intervals, the play, captures these many issues astonishingly well. It can be described as object theatre, and the magical realism of the puppets created by Colleen Burke and performed so splendidly by Burke and Frank Italiano brings the story completely to life.

Commencing with the hauntingly, heavy sound of the piano accordion played by Dave Evans, Burke and Italiano take us to a world of fantasy and mystique. The first puppet is based on the character of Saramago as he is writing the scriptures that will end death, giving himself the liberty to play God. This old and weathered puppet is manipulated by using the Japanese Bunraku puppetry style, although not strictly. Another style used is Black Light Puppetry, where the stage is lit only with ultraviolet lighting that both hides the puppeteer and accentuates the colours of the puppet.

However, for the most part, this show is not locked into any one style, but like the writing in the novel, where at best there is no punctuation, the play also develops and stretches all styles of puppetry, without rigidly adhering to rules.

Death at Intervals, the play, is full of the details of the extraordinary fable so brilliantly presented by the grotesque puppets that are indeed works of art, and the performers that metamorphosis themselves into these objects. The puppets make up the chilling imagery of the story - disembodied heads representing the old and dying citizens, the mangled black crow, death herself who is a mere skeleton figure, and the morose Catholic Bishop who is frighteningly real in his cloak, and mourns the end of death as it questions the fundamental foundations of his religion.

But not all is dark and gloomy, for there is love to be found and delightful hints of humour captured in the Undertaker puppets, who are desperately seeking an alternative to save their livelihood by offering funerals for pets; ‚??How much money we could make from the funeral of an elephant!‚?Ě

Some high-level satirical politics is also cleverly written into the story line that no doubt represents our current Prime Minister in all his greedy attempts to try and capitalise on the unexpected eternity.

As a novice of Puppetry myself I found this piece of theatre to be a remarkable discovery. This show is so unique and elegant; I was lost in another world for an hour, removed from reality, and yet confronted by debate faced by every day humans of mortality, love, politics, economics, philosophy and religion. Pure escapism and visually captivating. I highly recommend it.

5 stars

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