Sometimes, no matter how many times I rewrite a piece, I just can’t connect what’s in my head and heart with what ends up on the page. It doesn’t happen very often but when it does I find both my body and mind start pacing. Backwards and forwards, up and down, tossing and turning. It’s an unsettling business when you can’t get out what needs dislodging, especially when you’re so very keen to do so. I’ve been fiddling about for hours now. Perhaps I’ll just start with the facts and see where it leads.
I saw a play today, one I’ve been wanting to see for two years. During its debut season, friends told me I’d be a jerk to miss our mate Dash Kruck in A Tribute of Sorts. With the best of intentions and the worst of timing, I wasn’t free to see it until about three weeks after the run had finished. Typical. Story of my life. I damn near missed it this time too. What can I say? I live life on the edge. Thank god for matinee performances and single seats!
I normally avoid matinees. Too many pensioners, too many school groups, not enough atmosphere and hardly anyone drinking in the lobby bar – just me and some old bloke waiting for his wife to return from the toilet. I also really hate the sense of displacement when you exit a theatre and it’s still daylight. It’s like leaving a nightclub at 5am and wondering what that weird light is – only to realise it’s the sun. Anyway, I needn’t have worried about the daylight displacing me. It wouldn’t have mattered what time I left the theatre, A Tribute of Sorts would have had me feeling scattered.
There’s a fine line between pleasure and pain, and A Tribute of Sorts occupies that line. Comedy and tragedy make for uneasy bedfellows, but they’re a common coupling nonetheless. There is nothing funny about children dying. Nor is there anything funny about people in the margins, feeling like you don’t fit in, facing your insecurities, and unrequited love. Unless of course it is funny, which tragedy often is. As Carrie Fisher once said, “If my life weren’t funny it would just be true, and that would be unacceptable.” Black humour to get us through our darkest moments.
And those moments are where A Tribute of Sorts resides. It is a very funny play about child mortality, social exclusion and unbearable heartbreak. The deeper it goes, the bigger the laughs. It’s endearing and absurd and bittersweet. I recognise myself in the characters. It’s my vulnerability I’m watching on that stage, and it’s my melancholia that it plays with. It’s why twelve hours later I’m still sitting here, trying to write it out.
Australian theatre lovers don’t get to enjoy a lot of truly unique theatre, and when we do it’s normally an adaptation of some obscure work by some post-modern playwright from some village in the Ukraine that doesn’t really translate all that well but we pretend to like it anyway because we’re so dramatically starved. Blerg. In fact, make that a double blerg. With that in mind, A Tribute of Sorts is both a relief and a shock to the system. But it’s a delightful shock, and one I’d urge you to experience if you ever get the chance.
It’s a beautiful, affecting piece of theatre. Let it get under your skin.