An image from Altar Girl
What: Altar Girl
Who: Hannah Samuel (writer), Alanah Guiry (Director), Sebastian Bertoli (Associate Director)
When: Until 11th March
How Much: $20
The audience was transported to an underage party; cue drugs, alcohol, and sex-fuelled rage. A retelling of William Shakespeare’s Othello dictated through the anarchistic world of underage parties, Alanah Guiry’s Altar Girl was a viscerally fluid interactive performance. Characters addressed and interacted with the audience, and even took selfies with us beforehand – all in character for a thought provoking, teenage re-telling of Othello. We became part of the production.
I was greeted, to a dissociative degree, by partygoers that included the audience in the production. At first, being included in the drunkenness and buzz of the party was jarring. They greeted us like we were in the party, a brilliant effort of immersion in a world that explores growing pains, jealousy, and evil in all its multiplicities. The set naturally followed the tunnelling of the Treasury Tunnels, the dark hallways transformed into a house party run by the revengeful attitude of teenagers with stakes to play. The namesake of the play, an altar, was a mirror. ‘Worship at your fucking altar’ was spat out at one particular point, signifying a narcissistic nature that manages to kill, hurt, and maim. Insecurities ran strife, and the first few minutes of the opening reminded the audience of a world that happens all the time, one that breeds discursive hate and one that consumes those who can’t stay afloat in social media.
The acting was raw, real, and palpable. A particular standout was Jeni Bezuidenhout, who played Lara, a rendition of Iago from the original Othello. She regularly froze the actors, and soliloquised her elaborate game of chess with each character, her motivations to retake the limelight stolen from her by the new lesbian Ollie (Shamita Sivabalan), a feminist, gay restructuring of Othello himself. Bezuidenhout expertly weaves her craft amongst the inner workings of Dess and Rory (Charlotte Watson and Lucy Orr respectively), who, like the original Desdemona and co., played into the whim and lies of Iago’s evil. Interaction was key, phones became symbols, idols of domination. iPhones rang, beeped, and buzzed; the stage design allowed these icons to consume the characters motivations and actions that culminated in some impressive death scenes.
The dull throb of dance music echoed throughout the play, its presence essential for conveying the mood, intonation, and reality of the actions taking place. The pains of growing up were brought to the forefront of the audience’s mind; the social commentary underlying Altar Girl began to reveal itself. Rape was a major theme of the production, its evil quality manifested itself in actions that drugged up teenagers found themselves committing. The production crosses the boundaries incredibly well, with the writing conveying a sense depth. Hannah Samuel must be commended for her deep insight into the postmodern teenage mind. All money raised from the production go to anti-domestic violence agencies, a kind touch and a reminder that actions and words always have repercussions.
High school is a messy world, and this retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello manages to capture the narcotic quality of teenagehood with blood, sweat, and vomit.
4 out of 5 stars