Nihilistic act embraces doomsday

The Age – December 2012
By Rebecca Harkins-Cross
For The Book of Revelations 

A WOMAN stumbles backwards through the audience, burdened by an overflowing backpack, muttering about the home she’s left behind. When she reaches the mountain onstage, she looks upon its cloud-swirled peak with awe.

This stillness is ruptured by an involuntary outburst as she begins spitting out the scourges of the modern world – “nuclear explosion… war… car salesman”, she yells.

This is the final show in La Mama’s explorations season, which allows performers to stage works still in development. Devised and performed by theatre maker and academic Alison Richards, it questions our eschatological paranoia that the end times are upon us. It is fitting then that it is premiered on the eve of the Mayan’s prophesised doomsday.

Like many pilgrims before her, Ada (Richards) ascends the mountain in search of salvation, but her journey evokes sublime terror; she speaks in tongues, collapses into fitful sleeps. Richards combines operatic singing with an ethereal score by Faye Bendrups, her eruptions into song apparently brought on by the mountain’s ecstatic pull. Richards’ seraphic voice is haunting, the lyrics evoking visions of birth and death.

But when Ada finally converses with the heavens, she does not receive the revelations she hopes for: the voice of the divine is nihilistic, urging her to accept the universe’s chaos.

While the work is still fragmentary, unfolding like a dream, this is a powerful performance by Richards. Its striking imagery fails to cohere yet in narrative terms, but it is promising nonetheless.