Doppelgangster Co-Director Dr. Tom Payne talks about the company’s extraordinary new show Puntila/Matti, which is currently on at KXT as part of the Sydney Fringe.

My theatrical schooling took place in Wales. And in Wales there aren’t any theatres. It’s a historical thing - something to do with not being able to find a flat piece of land on which to site a seating unit. So, for want of a proscenium arch, people have been making shows in barns, on beaches and in ruined castles for the best part of half a century. The Welsh National Theatre isn’t even in a theatre; it’s a loose association of web designers that meet fortnightly in a bus shelter in Cardiff and text each other tips on social integration.

It was through National Theatre Wales that my Doppelgangster Co-Director Australian Dadaist poet Tobias Manderson-Galvin and I first met. We were sharing a bunk bed at a Rudyard Kipling inspired anti-theatre retreat run at the Girl Guide’s Headquarters in mid Wales; run, as I recall, by Robert Baden-Powell’s granddaughter. At one point Tobias and I tried to build a stage, but the other participants stole the curtains and ritually burned it to the ground. Then we were sent to our room and that’s when we came up with Doppelgangster.

So, with Puntila/Matti we’re reacting against that anti-theatrical sentiment. We’re trying to find a new way. I tentatively term it theatre-specific theatre. It’s basically like site-specific theatre, but there are fewer distractions and it’s a bit warmer. In the title roles, Grace Lauer and Tobias move like actors in a Robert Wilson play on speed. Musically, Jules Pascoe’s score is a jazzier and more imposing version of John Cage’s 4’ 33”. Visually, Antoinette Barboutis’ scenography is reminiscent of the invisible art works of Yoko Ono, Yves Klein and Andy Warhol, but with some well-chosen graphics and a splash of pink. Textually, Tobias’ Epic reinterpretation of Brecht is a weave of many interesting words, often his own. Dramaturgically, Kerith Manderson-Galvin and myself have carefully negotiated all of these elements, in a style close to what the Germans were describing as ‘post-dramatic theatre’ back in the 1990s, long before the term was translated into English and replaced ‘contemporary performance’. Although, artistically, I like to think we’ve moved on from all that

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With this in mind, I propose a new phase. I like to refer to it as ‘post-(contemporary dramatic performance)’. In fact, what you have with Doppelgangster’s Puntila/Matti is ‘post-(contemporary theatre-specific dramatic performance)’. It’s new, and the inclusion of brackets means that audiences will most likely find it tough going to begin with. We expect walkouts. But it’ll catch on, and eventually it will be assimilated into the mainstream and the Germans will publish a useful student textbook called Post-(zeitgenössische theaterspezifische dramatische Aufführung). After a few years, Tobias and I will grow old and fat and die, like Puntila, by the pool, sipping mocktails, with pages from an aging copy of a first edition Kipling floating on the surface of the water. 

When we’re done with the Sydney Fringe Doppelgangster would like to bring the show back to Wales and do it there; although, it could prove controversial, as we’ll have to build a theatre and ask everyone to stay off Snapchat.

Dr. Tom Payne

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