Slaughterhouse-Five Review

Image designed by Tom Littleson.

Cohesive is an interesting word to apply to a disconnected narrative, displaced into time but that is exactly what this adaptation by Dylan Morgan achieved. This production was a triumph in that even with the “somewhat schizophrenic” material and “scattered” structure and designs it never lost itself. True to the philosophy of Billy Pilgrim and the Tralfamadorians it moved with a sense of inevitability through the thirty-eight scenes at a steady pace, unfolding a pattern for the audience to interpret.

Dylan Morgan writes in his Director’s Notes: “When no event is inherently wrong or right – simply is, existing in a completely pre-determined universe – the unspeakable horror of Dresden becomes understandable in a way, as an inevitability that no-one can be blamed for and no-one could prevent.” So it goes. This becomes Billy’s philosophy. I would hesitate to agree with this, I feel Winston Churchill has a lot to answer for, but what Slaughterhouse-Five does do is take us on a journey into trauma and the lengths Billy Pilgrim travels to distance himself from the reality of the past, present and future.

Throughout this play I never felt lost; the action was grounded despite the non-naturalism. It takes strong writing, direction, production as well as excellent acting to have this effect. Central to anchoring the play was Dan Wood as the narrator. Narrators are complicated characters as they often feel stale and device-like but he was incorporated very well. Even as Billy time-travelled, was abducted by aliens, admitted himself into a psych ward we are carried along with the action. So it goes.

Theatre Incubator is developing a great reputation for producing great student theatre. It is well deserved and this production team were worthy additions to the company. Ruby Mathers provided a great set design that was ideal for the play and also the space and the lighting, sound, costume etc. created a world that was inside Billy Pilgrims tortured memory. The AV was exemplary, with two screens projected onto white ruins. Particularly impressive was the footage that accompanied the Billy’s words as he described the fire bombing of Dresden in reverse. How the flames retracted and the bombs rose up into the planes and they flew backwards and landed and how the war-heads where dismantled and the elements disbanded into minerals to be sucked back into the earth. Kang-Wei Tan’s accompanying footage was beautiful and not only complemented the performance but became part of it. Sophie McInerney’s animations were also welcome additions to the play.

The ensemble cast was great, special mention and ovation were fittingly awarded to Joshua Lynzaat, Josiah Lulham and Dan Wood for portraying Billy in all his forms but all deserve a mention for maintaining such a high standard. Particular mention should go here to the shower scene - very evocative. Also the pain of every character and the disbelief in the world was palpable. It is little wonder that Billy retreats into Science Fiction.

I’ve seen a fair bit of theatre in my time and this production is amongst the best. Do yourself a favour and see this show. It is on tonight and tomorrow at the Guild Theatre, Union House, University of Melbourne. Be prepared to be displaced; be prepared for fire, be prepared for air-raid sirens; watch; wait; listen to the silence for a time and then be prepared for the birds. So it goes.