Review: Degenerate Art (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Oct 17 – Nov 4, 2018
Playwright: Toby Schmitz
Director: Toby Schmitz
Cast: Septimus Caton, Guy Edmonds, Giles Gartrell-Mills, Henry Nixon, Megan O’Connell, Rupert Reid, Toby Schmitz
Images by John Mamaras

Theatre review
If it were a painting, Toby Schmitz’s Degenerate Art would comprise a thousand tiny brush strokes, too detailed and too intricate, but they collude to present broad strokes that are imperiously forceful, certain to make an impact. Like other bad boy artists of renown such as Adam Cullen and Damien Hirst, the work is brash and obnoxious, replete with evidence of genius, but unlike white box museums that allow us to glance, gasp and swiftly walk past, Schmitz’s 100 minutes of grandiose cocky art, holds us hostage in our overly snug seats, intimidating us into thinking that some very big meaning lies behind all that is being waxed lyrical in the playwright’s very many excessive diatribes.

The play is ostensibly about Hitler’s relationship with art, and the ironic and incongruous phenomenon of fascist attitudes always seeming to surround the dissemination and consumption of art. We see prominent Nazi figures of the time, arguing over art like any healthy society should, but the way these white men cannot help but escalate their competition of penis extensions into acts of violence, is despicable and telling. Visually sumptuous, the staging is provided a glossy glamour by Alexander Berlage’s diligent lighting design. Schmitz assembles a testosterone fest that begins desirous but eventually turns shrill, with shouty blokes intent on asserting their importance, a reminder that art cannot help but imitate real life.

Although little room for nuance, Degenerate Art is a showcase for some remarkable performances, and the rhapsodic peacocking of its six male actors proves to be truly impressive. Megan O’Connell too, is an effective and memorable narrator, despite never really being able to overcome looking like an afterthought. It is frustrating that we are still being subjected to groups of white men talking about Nazism. To some, it might make sense that white male villains can only be played by white men, but for others, this is completely counter-intuitive, and a lazy, even irresponsible way of getting into discussions about fascism. Actions speak louder than words, especially when the words are deafening.

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