Doku Rai

Carriageworks, September 26

Doku Rai res
Phto: Peter Plozza.

If nothing else, Doku Rai makes one realise how predictable much of our theatre is. An approach to narrative, characterisation or acting, once established, is maintained to the end. That most miraculous of devices in any art form, surprise, is often missing in action.

Not here. Rather like the chapters of James Joyce’s Ulysses, many scenes in the work are presented in a different style or medium, from a fresh perspective, or all three. We are variously presented with song, ritual, film, music, story-telling and acted scenes. The latter, in turn, vary stylistically between drama and comedy; mysteriousness and zaniness. Were one to characterise the piece as it whole it would be as the blackest of comedies with a serious heart.

The first international theatre production created in Timor-Leste, Doku Rai is a collaboration between Melbourne’s Black Lung Theatre And Whaling Firm and some East Timorese artists. The piece carries no writing credit, so presumably was group devised, and was originally directed by Thomas M Wright, with Melchior Dias Fernandez and Thomas Henning (both among the eight actors/singers/musicians) directing this remount.

The underlying tale is of a resentful younger brother who pays to have his older brother murdered. The act is carried out, but the murdered man will not die. He is killed in endless ways – stabbed, buried alive, drowned and more – only to bounce back to life to the bewilderment and frustration of victim, murderer and brother. The non-dying murdered man could be a metaphor for Timor-Leste and its struggle for independence, but this is not didactic theatre, and nothing is hammered home.

The calibre of performer varies, but the madder and blacker the material the less this matters. It is only when the text straightens into conventional theatre for any period that cracks in acting and voice projection appear. Otherwise one is swept along on a tide of surprise, with the glorious sensation of having no idea of the destination.