Review: The Apparatus, Blue Room Theatre (WA)

Nerida Dickinson

A triptych of works by Kafka with dynamic physicality.
Review: The Apparatus, Blue Room Theatre (WA)

Humphrey Bower and Tim Green. Photo: Floyd Perrin.

Humphrey Bower has shown form in his creative presentations of classic short stories – murmuring Jorge Luis Borges’s The House of Asterion in intimate darkness and punctuating longer-form prose poetry with his emotive physicality – and here he rises to the challenge of presenting three separate works by Franz Kafka, each one with its own style, pace and focus.

The Apparatus addresses Before the Law, The Burrow and In the Penal Colony, each in a distinct, sympathetic style. Within the hour, Bower and Tim Green tackle classic Kafkaesque themes of hopeless frustration, anxious futility and absurd, terrifying justice, with an understated eye to contemporary Australia.

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Narrative gravitas contrasts with the act of fussy theatrical preparation for Before the Law. The controlled, accented voiced intonations capture the desolation of the parable of misdirected perseverance while Green clears the stage of finicky detritus and Bower carefully dresses for the next act.

Bower takes his time in the second piece, relishing his verbal and physical exploration of the world of the burrowing animal. Samantha Chester’s movement skills enhance Bower’s delivery of text-rich work with dynamic physical presence. The creature’s anxious pursuit of security, and its fear of an inexorable approaching threat – even in its fortified Castle Keep – are delivered through a dense internal monologue following its shifting moods of glee, menace and smug self-satisfaction. On a dark stage, wearing a bright headlamp, Bower brings the gripping writing from the page to a fascinating performative piece. Along with some of Bower’s animal mannerisms, light relief comes from Green’s distracted snacking behind the tech desk which bursts the bubble of particularly self-important passages.

In the Penal Colony is low-hanging fruit for analogy with current Australian political ideology. Despite a relatively subtle approach, it is the most demanding tale of The Apparatus. We meet the eponymous device through the enthusiastic lens of the jocular, matey face of institutional evil. Bower’s down-to-earth character takes jovial patriotic tangents in his praise of the apparatus, its harrowing workings and the ingenuity of its creator, ‘The Minister’. Green stands next to the machine in silence, as an example, giving Bower’s operator further scope to describe the devastating details of each step of its function, while demonstrating his own frightening lack of reflection and insight. Taking the story to its terrible conclusion, Bower’s thumping eagerness and strident declaration that ‘Justice must be served’ contrasts strikingly with Green’s restrained movements.

Simple staging enhances the impact of the word-rich performance, leaving Bower plenty of room to capture each moment with his dynamic physicality. With the only prop being a plastic garden chair, hoisted up with a pulley in part one, becoming a geographical fixture in part two, and then meting out harrowing justice in part three, Rhys Morris’s set design intrigues the audience while enhancing the scene changes. Joe Lui’s lighting design is simple with light and shadow tightly matched to the nuances of each piece.

Such diverse works require distinct changes in treatment and pace but, as with many written anthologies, can feel uneven. While Bower and Green may intend deeper contemporary relevance in these adaptations, in the end, in the horrified absolute silence of the closing scene, each audience member is left with their own thoughts both in the theatre and for later reflection.

3.5 stars out of 5 ★★★☆

The Apparatus
Writer, director, performer: Humphrey Bower
Producer: Libby Klysz
Movement Director: Samantha Chester
Sound & Lighting Designer: Joe Lui
Operator & Assistant Director: Timothy Green
Set Designer: Rhys Morris
Presented by The Blue Room Theatre and Humphrey Bower
Blue Room Theatre, Perth WA
13-31 August 2019
Tickets $20-$30

About the author

Nerida Dickinson is a writer with an interest in the arts. Previously based in Melbourne and Manchester, she is observing the growth of Perth's arts sector with interest.