The Second Woman

A multi-layered and vulnerable exploration of relationship dynamics and risk.
The Second Woman

Part endurance test, part seductive cinematic experiment, The Second Woman is a multi-layered and vulnerable exploration of relationship dynamics and risk. Over 24 hours performer and maker Nat Randall and her team (and 100 Tasmanian men) share with us an unbroken performance as part of Dark Mofo 2017.

In the work Randall performs a single scene inspired by the 1977 film Opening Night by cult 70’s filmmaker John Cassavetes. She plays the role of silver screen actress Gena Rowlands, an ageing theatre star on the brink of self-destruction, drinking and coping with fears of aging.

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Her world is a stylish scarlet and pink room created by FUTURE METHOD / Genevieve Genevieve. Evoking memories of the infamous scene in Wim Wenders Paris Texas, it’s a bubble-like space where the lines of present and non-present are blurred. Here her 100 scenes take place, each altered by what the participant brings, the level of fatigue, the mood (or inebriation) of the audience and the choices made within.

Participants are given the script before hand. Some you know have diligently been practicing their lines in private, others freeze on set and some are clearly winging it with very little preparation. Each performer’s response to intimate touch and awkward posturing is unique and spontaneous. There is no rehearsal.

At the end of each scene each man is given $50 and told to leave, which despite the fragility and descent of Randall’s character, feels like a signal as to who is really in control. Within the context of the narrative it can be seen as paying for dinner, but in each scene I watched it felt like, ‘it’s time to leave, I’m done with you and I need to be alone’.

The man however gets the last word and is given the option of the parting words ‘I love you’ or ‘I never loved you’. The response is always the same from Randall. She shuts the door and continues the ritual without flinching, tidying the space in readiness for the next participant.

In The Second Woman she is both sad clown and glamour queen. Her show must always go on, despite her insecurities, or her exhaustion. There is symbolism in this repetition, linked cleverly to the origins of the piece. In this we see the kernel of the absolute cleverness of the work. How Randall has smartly mirrored the durational nature of pushing through fatigue with the film’s original premise of an actress on the brink, dutifully making sure the show goes on.

There’s is an intelligence, also, in the choosing of this particular scene – and the repetition of its message, as the audience is asked to contemplate a woman whose worth is reliant on the opinion of a man, or 100 men in this context.

Randall’s performance is stylish; her attention to detail for the cinematic style of the time is immaculate. In this work the camera operators are key creatives, making spontaneous and improvisational choices throughout the work – to elicit laughs or emotion from the audience.

Audiences engage with the work by entering and exiting Salamanca Arts Centre’s Peacock Theatre throughout the duration of the performance and are encouraged to return multiple times over the 24 hours. I visited twice, once at the triumphant commencement at 3pm, and again at 10:30am the next morning.

At 10:30am the theatre smells like a hundred drunk people have been occupying a basement club and are about to emerge from the darkness after dancing to a song over and over again for hours to reveal that its sunlight outside. There, still trapped inside a single room with a scene on repeat, is our faded woman and the smell of a boozy evening.

At 10:30am you don’t have the crispness of the 3pm kick off, you catch glimpses that basic motor skills falter without sleep and a few participants have come to perform clearly hung-over. However Randall is a consummate professional, and the show never looks in doubt of being triumphantly completed.

Nat Randall is a fascinating maker and performer, not afraid of taking risks to make intelligent, engaging, multilayered and original work. The Second Woman is a show whose endurance, references and risk is exciting and uniquely thought provoking.

4 stars out of 5

The Second Woman
Concept & performer - Nat Randall
Script & direction - Anna Breckon & Nat Randall
Video direction - E.O. Gill & Anna Breckon
Lead camera operator - E.O. Gill
Lighting designer – Amber Silk
Participant engagement coordinator - Ange Downing
Sound composition - Nina Buchanan
Set design - FUTURE METHOD / Genevieve Genevieve
Hair artist and make up - Sophie Roberts
Lead vision switcher - Anna Breckon

Peacock Theatre, Salamanca Arts Centre
From 3pm Saturday 17 June to 3pm Sunday 18 June
Presented as Part of Dark Mofo 2017
 

Kath Melbourne

Wednesday 21 June, 2017

About the author

Kath Melbourne is a Tasmanian arts executive who has led multi art festivals, innovative government initiatives and produced large-scale dance, circus and theatre productions in Australia, Asia and Europe. She's worked in Aboriginal communities, outback towns and off the side of 20 storey buildings. Right now she's consulting on projects nationally and internationally, and reviewing for Arts Hub Australia. She does not tweet.