Thursday July 19, 2018


September 23 2017

HISTORY HISTORY HISTORY, The Substation, Melbourne Fringe Festival, 20-23 September 2017.

History History History is the sort of show that has “festival” written all over it. Part installation, part theatre with subject matter that is rather deeper than just interesting and entertaining.

Devised and performed by Canadian Deborah Pearson, she makes us think of the here and now and how we came to it. We are all here because of “something”, she says. An event or a decision that occurred years before we were born and after – even the journey to the substation was because of a decision.

For Pearson, it was the decisions of her grandparents and parents during the civil uprising in Hungary in 1956. That conflict led to one of the largest refugee crises of the twentieth century, and one in which they were caught up, with far-reaching consequences  including bringing Pearson to Melbourne. 

She tells the story in a live commentary screening of a Hungarian film about football. It is a comedy with dubious subtitles – some are the original and some are super-imposed with nonsense captions that are hilarious. As we get further into it there is also a conversation with her grandmother about that time and about the grandfather who was an actor in the film. 

One notable thing about the film, we learn, is that the screenwriter’s name was not on the final print. He was a known “subversive”. The actor playing the “great” footballer was her grandfather and this establishes her story of memory, history – unreliable and otherwise.

What is true is the day in October, before the premiere of the film at the Corvin Cinema in Budapest, bloody mayhem was unleashed. The cinema – a centre of resistance – was bombed and the scramble to leave Hungary began.

Pearson visited the cinema in 2014 during her research. It had, of course, been renovated and to her felt lifeless; she wondered if people knew or understood the cinema’s place in history. It was unsettling for her, the silence of the place speaking volumes. She had to leave, she says.


The Substation is the perfect setting for this piece – a cavernous room with the whoosh of the trains outside and wind enhancing the scene and atmosphere. There are raked seats, a large screen, a desk with a laptop, a picture frame where the movie is played in real time and Pearson with two microphones. In the centre of the stage is an overhead screen to which she moves a couple of times to show her story board.

At one point, a still image is captured on the screen. It’s of a crowd of people in the square in central Budapest; using a long pole with an enlarger attached to it, she hovers over faces in the crowd. Faces of people who too had decisions made for them that day. It’s a poignant moment, a time for reflection.

If you love history and are intrigued by personal stories and film presented as installation and drama, you will really enjoy History History History.

The show is part of the Fringe Festival so it only has a short run – it closes tonight. You will need to follow her overseas to see it if you miss it. Don’t!

Highly recommended.

Dramaturgy by Daniel Kitson, and outside eye work by Tania El Khoury and Laura Dannequin. A House on Fire research and development commission with Theatre Garonne (Toulouse) and Bit Teatergarasjen (Bergen). Developed in part at the National Theatre Studio.



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