THE APPARATUS @ The Blue Room Theatre gets 8/10

The Apparatus
@ The Blue Room Theatre
Tuesday, August 20, 2019


Devisor and performer Humphrey Bower, alongside assistant director/operator Tim Green, transformed a minimalist set with sparing but effective lighting and sound design in The Blue Room Theatre’s studio space into a cavern of nightmares with The Apparatus, a brilliantly devised and expertly performed showAn adaptation of three stories by the master of the macabre, Franz Kafka, this was a metafictional piece during which you could never quite get comfortable.

Walking into the space you’re confronted with assistant director/operator Green. Face painted white, he sat shirtless in only his black undies by the technician’s desk, which was prominent rather than being hidden like in most shows. The performance space was devoid of any props, save for the floor being littered with empty packets of sugary snacks and some random items such as a pair of Dr. Martens, and what turned out to be a headlamp and knee pads.

The first of the three Kafka tales adapted was Before the Law, a haunting parable of a man waiting outside a door. This story was being played through the speakers as Bower entered the space, also in nothing but black undies, before he slowly dressed in a grey onesie and put on the Dr. Martens and knee pads. The space was tidied up and Green put the headlamp on Bower’s head as Before the Law finished. This parable is an agonising tale, well worth a read, and the story sets a scene of helplessness and anxiety which segues aptly into the rest of the show.

Bower’s incredible performance skills absolutely shone in the next two pieces, starting with The Burrow. For this story, in which Bower played a mole-like character addressing the audience directly in a long, passionate rant about his love of his safe haven underground, the space was blacked out with the only light coming from the headlamp on Bower’s head. This served to turn Bower into a caricature of a mole as he squinted upwards, nose seeming sharpened and pointing toward the ceiling. It also made for a very interesting audience experience as patrons were illuminated whenever Bower looked their way.

It was a very effective lighting choice, creative yet simple, by lighting and sound designer Joe Lui. Bower used his whole body for the characterisation in this piece, and while there was plenty of humour in this performance, and indeed, there were several nervous giggles, it felt far more frightening than funny as Bower’s performance oozed paranoia and hysteria that progressively transformed the vibe in the room, already eerie, to downright creepy.

The final piece, In the Penal Colony, ramped things up to a visceral and quite sudden climax that left the audience shocked. It starts off innocently enough, as Bower dons an army outfit over the top of his grey onesie, transforming instantly from subterranean creature to an army officer with an affable, classic “Aussie blokey” nature, accent and vernacular. Still addressing the audience directly, this piece was Bower detailing his favourite torture device with absolute reverence, in a deceptively light-hearted tone that felt all the more chilling for the darkness of the content.

While during most of the previous performance Green sat at the technician’s desk, seemingly apathetic and bored pretending to be on his phone, for this piece Bower walked over to him, removed the earphones from his ears and recruited him to help with the demonstration of the torture device… a white plastic chair turned upside down. Without going into too much detail, this piece escalates to the point of spilt bodily fluids, and the final image you are left with is incredibly disturbing.

A stunned audience showered Bowers and Green in hearty applause, and rightfully so. The Apparatus is an incredibly chilling experience that will leave you mulling over what you’ve been presented with for days after.


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