I am a director, playwright, and theatre critic with a Masters in Writing for Performance. You can check out my my portfolio and musings at www.samsaradunston.blogspot.com.au
History repeats as refugees flood the world
In a time when the world is in a refugee crisis and the question of nationalism is high on everyone's agenda, Deborah Pearson brings her stage documentary to Melbourne. Playing at the SubstationHistory History History takes us through another time in world history when there was a refugee crisis - 1956.
History History History is a story about a story about a story about a story. Pearson begins by showing us a movie made in Hungary in 1956. The movie - a political satire - was due for release on the same day of a Hungarian uprising against the USSR which failed. Ironically, the uprising centred around the cinema in which the movie was going to debut. Because the cinema was circular, tanks couldn't enter those streets so the revolutionaries thought it was a safe place. It wasn't and refugees flooded Europe and the world in the ensuing Communist crackdown.
Amongst those fleeing the country were Pearson's grandparents and her grandfather just happened to be the star of the movie which never opened. They eventually moved to Canada and as he was not fluent in English, he was not able to pursue an acting career. The movie was also not able to be released because the screenwriter was exiled, the star had fled the country, and the football star who was the subject of the film had refused to return and was now playing in Spain. It took almost 15 years for a seriously censored version of the film was released.
All of this sounds like theatre gold. The conceit of the work is Pearson is doing a live documentary about the film and the people involved in the room. We see portions of the uncensored version which she got from her mother. Pearson has also asked her mother to translate the movie and interviews her grandmother about her grandfather. The problem with History History History just doesn't go anywhere. The film itself is hilarious and I really would have been very content just to watch it. There is some interesting meta-commentary as the grandmother censors Pearson from saying anything bad and some hilariously inaccurate subtitling showing the potential inaccuracies of this as a form of translation. In the end though, the presentation just circles around itself.
We don't learn anything of significance about any of the major players. I feel this would be a show of great significance in Canada as they explore the stories of their population but none of the major players seem to have been anyone of real significance - except to Pearson of course. None of them seemed to have altered history in any way or made much socio-political impact in the end. Or, if they did, Pearson certainly doesn't expose it.
I am not entirely convinced this style of lecture presentation is theatre. I expressed reservations in 2014 with Wot? No Fish!! and after watching History History History I still haven't changed my mind. I hesitate to define theatre in any definitive way but to me, it does require something more than just talking about someone and showing slides. Of course, I have no idea where the line between lecture and theatre is, but I am rather more of the side of symbolic engagement I think.
At one hour and forty-five minutes (the length of the original film) History History History is a tad too long. Having said that, as I mentioned before, the film which forms the basis for the show looks hilarious and just seeing those excerpts was well worth the trip to The Substation. I just wish I could find out more about it online ...