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The Australian ‘Triumph’ Review

Louris van de Geer’s Triumph at fortyfivedownstairs full of ideas

  • Chris Boyd
  • The Australian
  • February 22, 2016

A small group of men and women gather in a community hall to share their experiences of a recent terrorist attack. After hearing the account of one survivor, a second (Emma Hall) says to the first, brightly: “Your story was incredible.”

The first woman (Leone White) becomes the public face of the survivors group. The thing is, her story is incredible in both senses of the word. Like Alicia Esteve “Tania” Head, the Spanish woman who became the president of the World Trade Center Survivors Network, the woman in Louris van de Geer’s Triumph has made her story up. She wasn’t there. She wasn’t hurt. She didn’t lose her partner.

Van de Geer’s character differs from Tania Head in one intriguing respect. While Head lapped up the attention, van de Geer’s character finds the scrutiny trying. Even daunting. And this makes her pathology all the more puzzling.

The second part of Triumph is set in a hospital. This time, the attention-seeker is a mother (Hall again). Her chronically ill 13-year-old girl (coolly played by 14-year-old Anouk Gleeson-Mead) is a victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

What’s interesting about this section is that the focus is on the girl who is initially complicit — or at least co-operative — then rebellious and finally defeated.

The first section is a definition of naturalistic banality in which too much is told and too much is shown. Deliberately. The second is pared back. Less immediate. More spare. It’s almost a mime.

But it’s the third section where the imaginative fireworks go off. It’s farther away from us again, literally (each scene is played out behind the previous scene) and metaphorically (the final section of the narrative is as unexpected and strange as a storyline by Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare).

To describe the content of this final scene would be to impose an interpretation. And it would be a massive spoiler.

Triumph is an example of a close and trusting collaboration between van de Geer (who is taking baby steps down a trail blazed by playwrights like Caryl Churchill and Tony Kushner) and director/dramaturge Mark Pritchard.

Good stage writing is often about the gaps, the spaces left for imaginative contributions by a production team. And this show has an unusual and clear trajectory.

While the acting is uneven — more work needs to be done on motivation and through lines — the concept (visual, aural, semiotic) sustains the work beautifully.

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