SUZANNAH BENTLEY spends an evening at Brian Lucas’s Performance Anxiety, which returns after a highly acclaimed World Theatre Festival 2010 season.
The Powerhouse’s Turbine Studio is dimly lit and cabaret-style seating surrounds a small, elevated stage in the middle of the room. The audience visit the bar in the corner, find seats, chat, laugh, and sip their drinks. Amidst the pre-show shuffling and seat-finding, a man lies naked and half-covered by a sheet on the stage. Nobody seems too distracted by the bald, sinewy form lying supine in the middle of the room and people continue to chat and mingle until the lights dim and the man bursts to life.
The man is, of course, Brian Lucas. An acclaimed Brisbane-based performer and choreographer, Lucas is known for his solo physical performance pieces and ability to merge his theatre and dance skills into works that defy simple definition. In Performance Anxiety, he uses a powerful combination of speech, sound, and movement to explore themes of war, sex, terrorism, old age, misogyny, masculinity, and perceptions of the self.
During the 90-minute show, Lucas takes on numerous identities, switching between them until their stories blur and run into each other to become an overarching tale of anxiety and expectation. Lucas’s sinewy, dancer’s body effortlessly takes on the forms and mannerisms of a suburban woman, a war veteran, a misogynistic comedian, an elderly man, and a performer who is perhaps Lucas himself. His speech changes tone, accent, and pitch as he channels each personality. I use the word “channels” deliberately, because Lucas really does seem possessed by these characters. They burst out spontaneously, interrupting each other as if he can’t control them.
Although Lucas is the only performer on stage, in Performance Anxiety the sound and lighting become characters of their own. Lucas and the effects respond and react to each other. Sound bites question him and he answers. The lights aim at him like an enemies gun and he begs them for mercy until they shoot him and he falls dead. The sound is perhaps my favourite part of the performance — it features movie bites, news recordings (including lots of Campbell Newman and Julia Gillard), sound effects, and music. The use of Lascia Ch’io Pianga, Handel’s heartbreaking aria, gives me goosebumps as Lucas speaks of shedding skin and the futility of wishing to be someone you’re not.
The thing that makes Performance Anxiety such a hard-hitting show is the constant movement. I don’t just mean the physical movement — although Lucas is of course mesmerising to watch and drips with sweaty exertion. It’s the combination of physical movement with narrative movement. The characters change, the stories change, the lights and sound change, and everything seems to be in a frenzy of flux. The moments where everything turns dim and sad and slow are so much more affecting for their contrast with the bright, flashing, sweaty moments of rage and profanity or the comical moments of satirical asides and witty dialogue.
Performance Anxiety is the kind of show that needs to be seen to be understood, and even then you’ll find yourself dazed and whiplashed for a while afterwards. It’s challenging, raw, and confronting at times, but at its core it is a stirring acknowledgement of human vulnerability.
PERFORMANCE ANXIETY runs from 24 Oct to 3 Nov at the Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio. www.brisbanepowerhouse.org
SUZANNAH BENTLEY is a Brisbane-based writer, editor, and all-round word nerd. She has a Master’s degree in Writing, Editing, & Publishing, and a penchant for horror films and sparkly things.