Castellucci returns to the biblical with his latest production Go Down, Moses, which he’s brining to the Adelaide Festival this year.
A woman, naked except for silver body paint, is waving a large black flag. Behind her, a series of seemingly random words are projected onto a screen: ‘mucus’, ‘dust’, ‘letter’, ‘king’, ‘smell’. At the front of the stage, a woman in a t-shirt, holding a sword, is grimacing while a laser hits her in the face. This all goes on for some time. Romeo Castellucci’s plays are difficult. They eschew plot, character, dialogue and comprehensibility, in favour of striking visuals and, occasionally, shocking spectacle. The scene described above is from his 2006 play Hey Girl! and is the director at perhaps his least polarising. In his production of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony was played by a cancer patient who gave the famous ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ monologue through his tracheotomy hole. On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God featured a large depiction of the face of Christ which wept excrement. He’s been prodigiously producing and touring work – equally philosophically and aesthetically controversial – for decades, and has won a reputation for being one of the most influential theatre makers in the world. Castellucci returns to the biblical with his latest production Go Down, Moses, which he’s bringing to the Adelaide Festival this year. “Even without considering faith, the Bible is a cornerstone of Western culture,” he says “and in my opinion Exodus is an extraordinary book: many of its key ideas like wandering without aim, solitude, the ban on images, and the desert have nourished the culture of our time.” Despite its ancient roots, it’s a production very much rooted in modernity. “I rediscovered Moses thanks to American culture,” he says, name checking Melville and Hawthorne. Castellucci touches several times on the concept of ‘the image’. “Seeing goes to the roots of being, it provides a common frame for the thing that is seen and the observer, even transforming the latter into the object of vision. In other words, the spectator becomes the thing observed, and one can say that the performance watches him.” Even when he’s ellucidating his work, Castellucci can be opaque. He doesn’t seem too concerned with being understood though, or, for that matter, with entertaining. “Doing theatre always involves running a risk. But the question is not about what is right and what’s not, about agreeing or not agreeing, understanding or not understanding,” he says. “I project this lack of information, and call each spectator to his or her own responsibility, to their own critical sensibility, and ultimately to their own ability to create.” That’s that then; if you don’t get much out of Go Down, Moses, you haven’t been creative enough. Castellucci describes the play as a modern retelling of the story of Moses. “I am most struck by the figure of Moses, and his meeting, face to face, with God,” he says. “To withstand the image of God is a terrible thing, and indeed Moses shields his eyes, but on account of this act, being in front of an image became problematic forever. “In the performance, the woman, the mother of a present day Moses, speaks of an invisible slavery into which we have all fallen. For us, exiled from ourselves and abandoned by God, this woman sacrifices her child, whom she believes to be a new Moses, he who will sign a new ‘alliance’ to save us.” Anybody looking for a new ‘alliance’ – a new revelation, or covenant, or way of seeing the world – should not, however, necessarily look to Castellucci. “We go to see a performance because we want to be deceived,” he says. “Theatre is not a pure form. It is not intended to save souls, but to lose them.” Go Down, Moses Adelaide Festival Thursday, February 25 to Sunday, February 28 adelaidefestival.com.au Images: Luca del Pia