This is a very ambitious project: 60 characters and 12 different settings across three countries: Hungary, the Soviet Union and Britain. We’re taken through wars, censorship, madness and just about everything in between – including a levitating piss pot.
Bela and Grigor are two very different artists; Grigor wants people to be static so he can reflect them faithfully. Bela, our tortured genius protagonist, wants change. His cartoons see into people’s souls, and what they’re concealing. His cartoons “dry quick, speak quick, hurt.”
But they hurt a little too much. He comes up against attempted censorship for his bitingly satirical depictions of two egomaniacs, Stalin and Churchill. The Soviet Union’s considered, almost conciliatory attempt at censorship juxtaposes with the heavy handedness of British government officials who threaten to close down the Daily Mirror, for which Bela has a plum gig later in his career. It’s commentary on the arrogantly presumed superiority of capitalist western societies, and the true price of freedom that WWII soldiers fought for.
The ambition doesn’t stop at an epic, and often meandering tale. The set merges theatre and art, old and new with a large screen backdrop depicting original cartoons from Australia’s great political cartoonists, Cathy Wilcox and David Pope.
Given the Australian context: where outrage culture rubs squarely against the controversial cartoons of The Australian’s Bill Leaks in an increasingly polarised culture war, the scene is set for some pertinent parallels and commentary.
But much of that is lost in a dialogue that’s always verbose and often pretentious. The biggest irony is that Bela’s cartoon captions were succinct, allowing the picture to do the talking. This three-hour long multi-genre production bites off more than it can chew.
Until Oct 28. Seymour Centre, Corner of City Rd & Cleveland St, Chippendale. $35-$44+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.seymourcentre.com or Ph: (02) 9351 7940
Reviewed by Gary Nunn.