The Guardian

[The Guardian] Catalogue review – Rawcus ensemble show range but lack higher purpose

18/03/2015 Jana Perkovic

This Gillian Wearing-inspired experiment in live portraiture is a marvel of stagecraft but identity is not enough of a topic in the age of the selfie

Rawcus, a physical theatre company of differently able performers, has developed an uncommonly rigorous approach to making work over the past 14 years. Unlike the ad-hoc structure of most theatre companies in Australia today, the ensemble works around the year, creating pieces through long periods of experimentation and gestation.

Catalogue, likewise, is made with great care and attention to detail. From the set – stacked cubes with a video background – to the performers who disappear and reappear inside them and the precise lighting that illuminates them, it’s a marvel of stagecraft. And yet, dramatically, it is a giant mess.

The theme is portraiture, the show an assembly of miniature portaits of ensemble members, with scenes lasting from a few seconds to minutes. Some are individual portraits: a man singing bad karaoke with gusto; a woman being questioned about whether she believes in the Easter Bunny (she does); a single scream. Some show interactions: an embrace, dancing together. Sometimes all the cubes are filled, with the performers demonstrating the various ways it’s possible to act masculinity, exuberance, or illness – like in the serial portraits of Ari Versluis and Ellie Uyttenbroek.

The scenes vary greatly in feel and scope, ranging from collective disco dancing numbers, to confessional monologues, to statistical breakdowns, to sweeping video pieces, and there is a truly glorious rendition of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Oscar acceptance speech thrown in for good measure.

Catalogue openly credits the inspiration of photographer Gillian Wearing, who pioneered the portrait genre of people holding up a confession on a piece of paper in the early 90s, and video artist Candice Breitz, whose video wall portrait of Madonna fans is in the Mona collection in Hobart.

It all showcases the range of the Rawcus ensemble. However, while any two minutes of Catalogue are exquisite, the whole fails to come together. The show arrives in tiny, unrelated pieces, like a pile of unsorted Lego, from which the audience can (or must) assemble their own meaning. There is no conceptual through-line, no common motif, no progression.

A catalogue is not a show, nor is identity enough of a topic in the age of the selfie. Just like Wearing’s “people holding signs” has become a tired internet meme, Rawcus’s material has lost its intrigue, and needs a higher purpose to be interesting.