Know No Cure @ Theatreworks

from The Age, original photo by Marina Oliphant

the winding, twisted turns of broinowski's brain

written and directed by Adam Broinowski
performed by Matt Crosby and Majid Shokor
Lighting Design by John Dutton
Sound by Jeff Hannam
Set Design by Adam Gardnir
Video Design by Nazim Esa


It is always heartening to see theatre-makers taking risks, and Know No Cure is that most difficult of projects – a short-form, high concept work that seeks to rigorously interrogate the malaise of contemporary society without being didactic.  It is essentially a parable; a man, Cyber (Matt Crosby), is undergoing an operation to repair the hole in his heart.  As the operation fails, he enters an undefined, limitless space outside of time, met by Putra (Majid Shokor), the gatekeeper of vision and the secrets of faith.  It is Putra who apparently holds the keys of Jaya, an Islamic conception that parallels utopia.

Utopia, of course, is the ultimate no-place, and as befits its metaphysical fluency these are not characters in the pure sense; they are ciphers, exploiting many of the pertinent dichotomies that seem to keep humanity embroiled in perpetual conflict, inner and outer.  Superficially, they are Muslim and non-Muslim.  Archetypally, they are seeker and guru, king and jester, surgeon and patient, yin and yang, the two lovers, and master and slave.  Their discourse is surreal and cerebral, like a collision of Tzara and William Gibson.  It is any wonder that some may have trouble surrendering to their dance through the seven veils.

Crosby and Shokor, highly accomplished actors both, have their work cut out for them in shaping a coherence out of the tumbling, roiling spill of language that Broinowski has crafted, but they manage their task admirably, investing all of their energy into creating two distinct and complementary opposites.  The set manages to be evocative despite its sparseness, and the sound design finds appropriate moments to illuminate dislocation without being too oppressive.  The lighting, similarly, is understated but effective (though perhaps could have benefited from a greater integration with the movement of the text), while the video design works best when it features graphics rather than footage of world events – it would have been nice to have seen a more symbolic, less literal application of its function.

It is Broinowski’s text, however, that writhes most evidently through Know No Cure.  It is an unwieldy, serpentine work, and while it alienates its audience it must be understood that surely this is its point – to discomfit, and place one outside of the typical frames of reference in which such conversations usually take place.  Hermetic in nature, its singular message appears to be that the greatest threat to the human species is a cultural homogenisation under the lingua franca of capitalist managerial-newspeak – in contrast to a genuine human expression that retains a core of emotion despite its patina of logic and rationality, the global culture is evincing a tendency to embrace a vacuous tongue centred solely on the exchange of goods and services.  It is a threat that has already begun to inculcate a potentially irredeemable psychosis that threatens to subsume any apparent contradictions of conflicting faiths.

This is a rich vein, but it is one that could benefit from a more delicate hand.  Broinowski can write beautiful and heartfelt movements (Putra describing coming across his father in prayer is one example), and it would add weight to the dehumanisation of language to see more of this in Know No Cure.  It would also be interesting to see what another director would make of the piece, in terms of the explorations of its rhythms and structure.  Despite these reservations, Know No Cure is a work that should be seen.  It will provoke discussion.  It is daring, and walks right on the edge of what works as theatre.