Change seems to be taking place at a rate faster than ever before. In a digital age, technology is superseded remarkably fast and items that are commonplace today won’t be tomorrow. Perhaps every generation feels like this, considering items from their childhood with nostalgia and sentimentality. Evgeny Grishkovets, who performed his show Farewell to Paper at the State Theatre Centre of WA last weekend as part of Perth Festival, laments this rush into the future. He encourages us to slow down and contemplate what it is we are gaining, what we are losing, and whether it matters.
As the name suggests, paper is core to the performance and Grishkovets spends two hours in a comedic but heartfelt eulogy to the disappearance of paper in many forms. On one hand he acknowledges that progress is not all bad. Being able to update family members on the birth of a baby via text message is convenient. Not having to struggle with a giant fold-out map and instead having a GPS in the palm of your hand is certainly a win. Grishkovets admits that technological advancement is no great tragedy, but overwhelmingly the performance is a wistful look at what came before.
Take blotting paper. Is it sad that with the progression away from ink wells and fountain pens we have no use for blotting paper? That this product has been rendered superfluous despite its superior sticking qualities when mixed with saliva and shot through a straw? For me the answer is no, but I appreciate Grishkovets’ ode to blotting paper not least for its humour.
Yet I am someone who keeps things. I try not to, but I admit to having a box with memories inside. I mean, when it comes to a paper ticket from the Fremantle Football Club’s first grand final appearance against Hawthorn on 28 September 2013, you keep that… don’t you? Grishkovets sharing his own box of memories was a delight.
Farewell to Paper is performed in Russian with a live interpreter. Grishkovets delivers a monologue from a paper strewn set complete with books, diagrams, a couple of vintage typewriters and other antiquarian debris. There’s also a laptop computer on his desk – a symbol of his acceptance of moving forward despite the way he romanticises the past. The simplicity of the show works so well primarily because Grishkovets presents such a likeable persona on stage.
Kyle Wilson (left) and Evgeny Grishkovets (right). Photo by Toni Wilkinson, courtesy Perth Festival.
The language barrier between Grishkovets and (most of) the Perth audience was bridged by live interpreter Kyle Wilson: a former intelligence analyst and diplomat, currently an academic with a talent for the stage. Wilson’s impeccable delivery and timing is a major part of this show’s success as a comedy. It is one thing to interpret language and another entirely to translate comedy. Wilson does it remarkably well.
The delay that comes with a live translation allows the audience time to reflect on the romance of Farewell to Paper. While the slow pace is charming to begin, the extra time it affords meant that at 120 minutes, the show runs a little long. I wasn’t alone: the audience got a little twitchy at the 100 minute mark and Grishkovets pulled us up on it.
“Why is it sad that we no longer write letters?” Grishkovets asks. “Because we have forgotten how to be patient.” Perhaps he’s right.