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Review: On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God

Posted on 26 April 2011 by Jake Orr

In Romeo Castellucci’s latest theatre piece, On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the son of God, as part of the Spill Festival 2011, there is sense of care and devotion in the sixty-minute action between a father and son. The father, a frail figure, has the inability to contain the contents of his bowels for more than fifteen minutes at a time. The son, like a devoted servant (albeit a little disgruntled and exhausted), repeatedly strips his father naked, washes him down and puts a fresh ‘nappy’ onto him.

This simple action makes up for the bulk of the performance, and whilst it is not the easiest of human functions to witness (nor for that matter see spilling out across a pristine white flooring) it is the tender desperation between father and son that makes for a captivating performance. The father (Gianni Plazzi), moans continually “sorry, sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” whilst the son (Sergio Scarlatella) repeatedly tells him “there’s no need to say sorry”. The helplessness of the whole situation turns from at first a humourous affair into a tragic cycle of desperation and devotion.

The performance at the Barbican was delivered without surtitles and whilst a hand-out translation was provided of the dialogue, it wasn’t needed to understand the relationship and actions that unfolded on the stage. The remarkably white set of a sofa, chairs, and bed gradually sees the father  moved between them and each time staining them with excrement . In the final moments, the father stands before the white bed and, without clever concealment as before and in full view of the audience, unscrews a large container and proceeds to pour excrement over himself and the bed before finally collapsing into heaving sobs and a pool of brown liquid.

Whilst graphic and yes, shocking if not disturbing to watch, it is this helpless and pathetic form of human life before us that becomes so compelling as a performance piece. Castellucci captures the raw and simplistic actions of the human body, and forms them with the subtle dialogue and situation of father and son in a devastating outcome.

There is a third presence within the space that Castellucci places so that it looms as a watchful eye over the events: that of a huge painting of Christ. Aside from a moment when the son, out of a desire for comfort, rests his face against the lips of Christ, it is not used until the final closing moments as a theatrical device that Castellucci uses to dramatically bring forth a religious metaphor.

With a booming soundscape of shrill sounds and whispers of prayers, the face of Christ begins to bulge and distort as figures press against its canvas form. Then, in a beautiful dramatic image, blood, tears and excrement pour down the face of Christ. With sound and lighting disorientating the audience and the figure of Christ distorted, the canvas erupts with letters that shine from Christ’s face spelling “You are my shepherd”.

As the stage hands remove the scenery and the lights begin to focus once more on the white flooring, all that is left is a dirtied trail of excrement and the distorted face of Christ. It is a poetic,  breathtaking and haunting image that will stay with me for a long time. Castellucci has previously proved that he is a master of contemporary ‘theatre of cruelty’, yet in On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God, he shows a tender, calmer yet just as profoundly disturbing site to his theatre. Utterly breathtaking.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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