Review: …HIM, Adelaide Fringe Festival

Media has consumed our everyday living. We can’t walk down the street without being inundated with headlines and advertisements and stories and news and products and media, media, media… it’s no wonder that Barnie Duncan has quite literally been consumed by newspapers in his performance of …HIM playing at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. In a room plastered with newspapers from floor to ceiling, Duncan is a man who can’t form a sentence without quoting from the stacks of newspapers that litter the floor. Every idea seems to emerge from an article or advertisement from that day’s newspaper; …HIM is a performance built from the constructs of media and our consumption of it. Duncan’s performance is curious, for, like the changing headlines of a newspaper, …HIM change on a nightly basis depending upon that day’s headlines from the local newspaper The Advertiser. It makes for a truly unique experience each time it is performed.

There is a certain honesty and purity within Duncan’s work, whether this comes from the simplicity of the piece (there’s a particular simplicity to making and playing with newspapers alone) or from Duncan as a performer is hard to judge but …HIM does have a generous quality to it. It is the sort of performance that makes you smile, whilst also leaving you bemused and wanting more. It is tantalising, and like the tactile texture of newspaper it is fragile and leaves an imprint upon both your mind and body long afterwards. Yet for all this simplicity and generosity, …HIM does make you want to know more. Who is this man wrapped in newspaper in his newspaper home? What has driven him to live the life he leads, page by page, quote by quote? Perhaps we’re not meant to know, and instead it fills me with more curiosity, a hunger never fulfilled, but certainly fed a little.

Throughout …HIM there are a series of images or moments that, when joined with the soundscape of cello and string music, produce devastatingly beautiful instances of theatre. They disappear as quickly as they appear, with Duncan moving from moment to moment with fluidity. Fragile and tender …HIM shows a man whose imagination is caught between being set free like the paper birds he makes repeatedly, or the wings he builds from newspapers, and the oppression and weight that all the newspapers rattling through his letterbox put upon him. There is a sense of sadness that underpins the piece, seen through moments such as cutting out obituaries and reading them aloud. It never feels performed or theatrical, Duncan delivers this with a gentle honesty.

I guess this is what makes …HIM such a honest and curious piece of theatre. It isn’t perfect, the longing to know more and for it to have a more structured narrative pushes away at me, but it certainly fulfils something. Like a child watching a piece of paper being folded into a flower, the audience is wide-eyed and longing for magic, and ...HIM gives it slowly but surely. Simplicity is key here, and it works.

 Originally published on A Younger Theatre.