Character. With one word, an entire exhibition, career, and person can be summed up. The new exhibition, ‘The Extraordinary Shapes of Geoffrey Rush’, carries bucket loads of character in its presentation. Rush’s career, the subject of celebration, has been a collage of marvellous characters. But what shines through most in this tribute to the renowned actor is that Geoffrey Rush himself is one hell of a character.
On now at the Arts Centre Melbourne, the exhibition is an exploration of the lifetime work of this iconic Australian actor, and free entry makes it accessible to all. As Rush said in his own testimony for the exhibition, it is like his life flashing before his eyes, “without me actually having to do the dying bit.”
The display features an array of photos, costumes, film clips, annotated scripts, and personal items on loan from Rush. His own involvement in the project is felt in the personal air of the collection. We are given insight into not only the eclectic characters born throughout his career, but also the actor behind the makeup.
Entering the room we are immediately transported back to 1950s Toowoomba as experienced by a seven-year-old Rush. A school report card, school tie, photo albums and scrapbooks extend the story through his time in Toowoomba to Brisbane, where he dutifully completed his high school studies and more enthusiastically ran the school Drama Club.
On the opposite wall is a compilation of album and EP covers, and show programs from the 1950s and 60s that influenced Rush throughout his childhood: from Jesus Christ Superstar to The Purple Hearts, Canterbury Tales to Slim Gaillard’s Tutti Fruitti. The most interesting inclusion, I found, was entitled Co-Star: The Record Acting Game, with the tagline “YOU act scenes opposite your favourite star.” Finally, we know who to thank for Rush’s acting skills.
After this opening section, there is no direct path to take through the remainder of the exhibition. It is not merely a chronological presentation of Rush’s work. Instead, the display is divided into the various character types that Rush has brought to life throughout his career. Walking to the left, you will see ‘Antagonists’, and ‘Harried Men’; to the right can be found ‘Clowns, Fools and Ratbags’, ‘Fantastical’, and ‘Famous, Infamous and Forgotten’; or alternatively, heading straight to the back will take you into the realm of ‘Dames and Dandies’.
Curator Margaret Marshall has used these categories not only to demonstrate the range of Rush’s acting ability, but also to bring to life his technique of approaching each new character through their ‘shape’. His view of characterisation is eloquently expressed with one of his quotes written on the wall, “a character is a dynamic shape-shifting silhouette – a figure in the theatrical landscape… the same is true when framed for a wide shot.”
Rush’s use of shape extends to costume, and as such the exhibition is full of costumes and props from his most widely acclaimed roles: from Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean, to the dress he wore as Lady Bracknell in Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2011 production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Where costumes are absent, in-action photos of theatrical productions and stills of films line the walls. These capture the selection of characters which make up each section, the range so vast that it’s easy to forget it is the same actor behind all of them.
While the exhibition does not seek to boast Rush’s accolades, it is a worthy celebration of his life’s work and, as such, includes a display of his most prestigious awards. The way this is presented, however, says much about his character. Beside the Academy Award, Tony, Emmy and Australian Film Institute award, proudly sits a Fantales wrapper from the year 2000 which features biographical information for Geoffrey Rush. I am in full agreement that this is a most valid measure of one’s career success.
Geoffrey Rush has been an actor of international acclaim for the last twenty years, and a prominent if not leading figure in Australian theatre for the last forty. This exhibition is not only a reflection on Rush’s career to date, but through him, celebrates the dynamic nature of Australian performing arts at its best.
The Extraordinary Shapes of Geoffrey Rush is on in Gallery 1 at the Arts Centre Melbourne until October 27.