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by Keith Gallasch, Australia, Dez 02/Jan 03

Lifeline is a marvel of non-digital interactivity. As you approach the Victorian Art s Centre' s BlackBox you are surprised to see a shop window jutting forth beside the entrance. In it is the body of a young woman lying face down, dark blood seeping from a wound to her head. It' s a real body in a black dress against a white floor. Like those dodgy fashion ads from the last decade of models splayed and made up like murder victims, this image is both stylish and disturbing . Inside BlackBox are 4 elegant, circular, open-ended booths, each holding someone who knew the victim, one of them possibly the murderer. Each of them sits on a chair waiting to be asked about the circumstances of and the motive for the crime.

The audience is eager, crowding in, moving from booth to booth, quizzing the performers, some seeking simple answers, some probing, perhaps pushing the dextrous performers to their improvisatory limits (though a silence can handily read like refusal or emotional distress) or into John Howard-style evasion: "I'm not getting into hypotheticals." The audience is also improvising, drawing from an arsenal of interrogatory tactics learned from TV courtoom and detective shows, mystery novels and popular psychology. Some are persistent and only appear to leave when they have exhausted their line of questioning, others humbly turn-take, patiently picking up their thread when they find space, some work like teams. Some are kind, some are blunt, most are respectful . Some want to know everything, and clearly enjoy the probing, in search of the truth and testing the performers' skills. Others are more easily satisfied once they know who the murderer is. You can discover that in a few minutes, but you want confirmation and motive.

That's what Lifeline is mostly about, not who dunnit, but the web of relationships and complex desires and frustrations that have created a murderer . She is culpable, but without this particular set of circumstances she might never have killed. As the 4 people tell interlocking and conflicting stories (not as plain narratives but as answers to questions) about the dead woman, themselves and each other, you construct a picture of a volatile Situation and enjoy the texture of revelation. The process is more interesting than the story, though that has its pleasures.

Lifeline was created by German festival guest Uwe Mengel with local actors absorbing his scenario and improvising to it under his direction. Vanessa Gase, Ming-Zhu Hü, Hamish Michael and Eva Parkin give impressive performances, with a calm that bespeaks trauma, with flashes of anger, moments of distraction and tearfulness: no easy task for 2 hours of audience comings and goings. The 4 confessionals designed by Monash University Architecture course students (Amelia Attrill, Ellen Pan, Lucilla Smith) house the interrogation admirably, yielding a strong sense of isolation and of the emotional distance between those being quizzed, the grimness of the Situation countered with the brightly coloured interiors and nicely textured exteriors of an increasing number of modern government facilities. Kathleen Murphy does a good, still dead body. As another of the festival's explorations of very intimate theatre-going, Lifeline proved an intriguing success on a number of levels , most of all in offering a place for its audience to improvise.

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