'The Eisteddfod' by Lally Katz/Stuck Pigs Squealing
B Sharp, Downstairs Belvoir St Theatre, 7th and 23rd June 2007
Warning: read Eisteddfod season Part 2.1 first, otherwise this won't make much sense, as it continues immediately on!
Gerture (a beautiful halting and vulnerable performance from Katherine Tonkin), by contrast, lives a fantasy job in which she is a teacher. Unlike Abalone's narcissism, it seems that Gerture's desires are far less ambitious. She's not gifted in any way, she states. But she can "just appreciate other people's gifts." But while Abalone lives for, and is ultimately consumed by the Eisteddfod, Gerture's projections extend into the domestic realm, playing out an abusive romantic relationship with the imaginary Ian, whose role is enacted by her brother Abalone. Immediately, it's clear that we've entered a dark and uncharted sexual realm, and it appears that the implied incest of Abalone and Gerture is the least of their problems.
It appears however that the confused sexuality of this pair is only allowed to be expressed when they are playing an assigned role. For instance, mid way through the piece Gerture sits on the tiny bed and quietly delivers a monologue detailing her relationship problems with Ian, and her attempts at getting other characters within her fantasy world (her teaching assistant Julia, and the computer technician) to help her work out what to do as they seem to "know Ian better than I do." As she does so, Abalone is curled behind her, dozing and apparently masturbating silently. Gerture interrupts her story to gently chide him: "Abalone, don't. I'm right here you know." It seems that some things are out of bounds in these games. As is pointed out earlier in the piece, this is their parents' bed after all.
At Gerture's request – "Be him!" – Abalone performs again for her, but his Ian is a truly monstrous misogynist, far more disturbing than his ridiculous Macbeth. Ian takes ever opportunity to belittle and humiliate Gerture, on the grounds that while he likes to fuck her, he no longer loves her. She's just an object to him, to be used only at convenient times and in convenient ways for him. She is disposable for Ian, just one object among other objects, just part of the other clutter onstage. It seems that Gerture expects and almost welcomes this abuse, believing that suffering will produce an authentic experience: "I want someone to hurt me for a reason". But Abalone's Ian is having none of this: "Gerture, get control of your head." To Ian, and perhaps to Abalone also, this is all just a meaningless game. But it seems that this is a game that Gerture desperately needs to play, even if it is deeply unpleasant for her.
When Gerture complains to Abalone that this performance is too relentless awful, he replies that it has to be this way. All love ends. "Do one where he loves me" she cries, and he responds, "But we have to make it real." Meaning, it seems, is always linked to pain of one form or another. As if to escape the need for such pain, Gerture throws herself back into the world of her imaginary classroom, a stage beyond the reach of both Abalone and Ian. Abalone, wakes to find her gone, and is momentarily in despair at losing his sister and his Lady Macbeth. But due to another narrative conceit, this time an author ex machina (in another sign of the truly odd psychology of the piece, Abalone insists that the voice of Lally Katz must be Mum, a title that she reluctantly accepts), he is able to be transported into the schoolhouse to win Gerture back, in order to finally compete in the Eisteddfod with his Lady M.
This much-anticipated event occurs offstage, and as in art, in this imagined life Abalone's Macbeth meets with a tragic end, at least from his perspective. In the aftermath of this offstage disaster, the siblings seem only to be able to make believe another death, this time that of another girl who lived on the cul-de-sac beyond their house, a story that may or may not be true. It’s a shared account of the girl's last moments, as she hangs herself from the monkey bars in the playground with a skipping rope, for no other reason than she was so very tired. In the distance, a car alarm, "soft, like a lullaby". It seems that even the play of innocents always comes back to death in the end, collapsing back on itself, reaching the point at which it far exceeds its status as a game. The piece ends quietly, and the worlds and stages fade to black. In a somewhat macabre gesture, a child's skipping rope sways gently in the exit door.
There's clearly much more that can be said about The Eisteddfod, and many others will and have already given highly favourable accounts and accolades that it well deserves. But the short version must be this: see it.