Originally posted September, 2013.
Melbourne Fringe is always an exciting time for independent theatre makers and this year I found myself swept up in the hubbub of getting a show on. Having only recently returned from my travels abroad, Enzo Condello contacted me to direct his play. The pre-production/rehearsal time frame was perilously short but on reading the play, I was determined to stage it against the odds. It is a work of momentous proportion employing Condello’s rich language and verse style based on Livy’s account of the rape of Lucrece.
The 500BC event is best known through Shakespeare’s some 1800-line poem which laboriously expresses the pain and anguish of the sexual assault. Many renditions have been made of the work, including Benjamin Britten’s 1946 opera, The Rape of Lucrecia.
As a director, I couldn’t help but wonder why Shakespeare, a master tragedian, did not make a drama of the work? Rape, of course, is horrendous in any era and it is the perpetuation of the crime across millennia that gives an urgency to Condello’s work that not only reflects human violation but the violation of nature:
‘Uncontrolled, power-poisoned man, pollutes
Slashes and scars the modest face of nature too… ‘
In pursuing Livy’s account of the event, which led to the overthrow of the Tarquin dynasty and the establishment of the Roman Republic, Condello has provided the ray of hope that perhaps might permeate our civilisation as to the barbaric evil and insanity of uncontrolled lust.
As a director, three small words in the stage directions of the script, ‘He rapes her.’ , provided the greatest challenge to my maintaining human decency and delicacy while at the same time delivering the horror of the event. And while some readers of this blog may yet attend a performance of the play, I will simply state that multimedia provided a powerful solution that traverses 2500 years of assault against women and nature. With a powerful and unnerving soundscape composed by Ted Kazan, the sequence situates rape in the now.
I believe Condello’s Tragedy of Lucrece is a play for now. It clearly demonstrates not only the prolongation of patriarchal dominance in power, but the consequential humiliation and indignity that besets a victim seeking justice.
While the limitations of a Melbourne Fringe production can provide little more than a studio representation of the work, it is my ardent desire that a major production company can recognise the currency in the piece and bring Lucrece centre stage to take her rightful place alongside those other indomitable tragic figures, Medea, Lucia de Lammermore and Lady Macbeth. And in so-doing iterate the value of theatre in our overly mediatised existence.
The Tragedy of Lucrece is world theatre looking for a world stage.