This week we’re diving into the labyrinthian maze that was Room of Regret by THE RABBLE. A compelling experience for 40 patrons each night, Room of Regret was a highlight of the Melbourne International Arts Festival in 2013 presented at Theatre Works.
Room of Regret by THE RABBLE was presented at Theatre Works from the 21st of October – 3rd of November 2013. The play was inspired by one of Oscar Wildes iconic novels The Picture of Dorian Grey, injecting a fresh energy into a well known story.
Room of Regret was part performance art, part installation and part experience. The performance took on the form of a participatory journey ‘to the darkened core of vanity’. Taking place in a ‘purpose-built labyrinthine network of shadowy corridors, mirrored passages and disquieting viewing chambers’. The audience would be given an immersive experience through 12 different rooms, with each participants story shaped by the journey they took or were invited by actors to take. Kate Davis the co-creator humorously described it in Beat Magazine as ‘logistical hell’.
‘From room to room, the enigmatic Dorian flickers and shifts: between male and female, duplicitous and honest, monster and man. But mirrors never lie; though we may not always recognise the phantasms lurking in their depths.’
In an interview in Melbourne Community Voice, Tim Hunter spoke to co-creator and director Emma Valente about their inspiration and process for Room of Regret. When Theatre Works approached THE RABBLE to use the venue in a really different way they knew they wanted to reimagine the story of Dorian Grey. “I remember reading The Picture of Dorian Grey and really enjoying the luxury of it as well as its incredible homoerotic tension, and I thought those two things were a very good match with each other”. Speaking with regards to the productions themes Emma said that previous RABBLE works had been heavily female-focused so they wanted to try something with a male-focus.
‘We want to put things that are on the fringes in the centre and focus the lens on something that doesn’t normally get looked at. The gay male experience is often ghettoised, or theres a cliche attached to it, and were interested in progressing those cliches forward.’
Mileta Rien’s 5 star review for ArtsHub touches on the queer themes of the production; ‘Show creators Emma Valente and Kate Davis connect Wilde’s deep inner conflict, self-loathing and subsequent persecution, to more modern forms of anti-gay prejudice and violence. They capture the horror and tragedy of the book, but also its aesthetic delights, its celebration of beauty and philosophy of sensual pleasure as life’s ultimate aim.’
In an article for Beat Magazine, Kate Davies discussed how the group uses most of the same actors since forming in 2006. The creation of their work is formed mainly through improvisation and investigating themes within a text which they are interested in as a cohort ‘rather than matching a text to (their) process’. THE RABBLE rehearsed Room of Regret for 10 weeks to perfect the performance as Kate says ’so much of the content is improvisational’. This process appears to have allowed THE RABBLE to really interrogate the themes of Dorian Grey through a queer lens. As labor intensive as improvisational work can be, the time spent developing this production is reflected in the quality and vision of the work.
Anne-Marie Peard from the blog Sometimes Melbourne described how the performance style created personalised experiences for attendees.
‘(The Audience) All have their heads covered in a lace veil and are lead through a house, with plywood walls and floor covered in gold leaves, and are left sitting in different rooms. No group can see the other, or really see their own group as all sit like statues covered in dust sheets waiting for the summer return of the household. As the lighting brings an eerie autumn twilight, the other draped statues come to life.’
‘Description can’t justify this experience and no experience can be the same because of the different views. Sometimes the action is in touching distance, other times it’s heard, glimpsed through a doorway or projected onto a screen.
Jane Howard gave the performance 4 stars for The Guardian and wrote ‘Room of Regret is an endlessly complex and intoxicating production, built of much more than will ever meet your eye. It will remain a puzzle, replaying and repeating much like the production itself, as you try to question: what was particular about the work you saw, and what happens in the many versions you may have missed?’
Keith Gow described the effect the performance had on him personally ‘There was a moment early in my experience of Room of Regret that was dark and intimate and very confronting. And because of that moment, the rest of the show resonated with me in a deeply personal way. Had I been deprived that one moment, I’m not sure how much I would have enjoyed the show. I’m not sure how I would have experienced it at all.’
While Gow’s recollections speak to the incomparable nature of the performance, the overwhelming praise from these critics illuminate Room of Regret’s ability connect with patrons even though each experience was so different.
THE RABBLE was formed by Kate Davis and Emma Valente in 2006 from a desire to make work that wasn’t being produced in Australia: visually ambitious, political, feminist and formally experimental. THE RABBLE describe themselves as;
‘a group of visionary women who have consistently produced bold, provocative and visually stunning theatrical experiences. The company has forged an unrivaled reputation for producing experimental theatre of the highest quality – theatre that interrogates the human condition through a combination of surreal and visceral aesthetics, a feminist sensibility, and the application of intellectually rigorous research. The results have changed the paradigm of what is possible in theatrical culture in Australia.’
A behind the scenes interview with Josephine Ridge, (Creative Director of the 2013 Melbourne Festival) Emma Valente and Kate Davis gives deeper insight into the process behind this performance piece. The interview also features behind the scenes rehearsal footage from Room of Regret and Emma and Kate’s justifications behind some of their creative decisions.
PRESENTED WITH THEATRE WORKS IN ASSOCIATION
WITH MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL
CREATED BY EMMA VALENTE & KATE DAVIS
DIRECTED BY EMMA VALENTE
SET AND COSTUME DESIGN BY KATE DAVIS
LIGHTING AND SOUND DESIGN BY EMMA VALENTE
FEATURING: PIER CARTHEW, DAVID HARRISON, EMILY MILLEDGE, ALEX MCQUEEN AND MARY HELEN SASSMAN
VIDEO OPERATORS: EMILY ALTIS, TEGAN LARIN AND CANADA WHITE
PRODUCTION MANAGER: JESS KEEPENCE
TECHNICAL MANAGER/AV OPERATOR: REBECCA ETCHELL
STAGE MANAGER/SOUND OPERATOR: JENN TAYLOR
STAGE MANAGER/LIGHTING OPERATOR: HAYLEY FOX
DIRECTING SECONDMENTS: EMILY ALTIS & TEGAN LARIN
DESIGN SECONDMENTS: GEORGIA MILL & ELEANOR DAVIS
LIGHTING SECONDMENT: JAMES O’DONOGHUE
SOUND SECONDMENT: JAMES HOGAN
PHOTOGRAPHY: MARG HORWELL & DAVID PATERSON