I know nearly nothing about Bob Dylan… nothing special anyway.. nothing that doesn’t float around in the universal collective consciousness… I’m no scholar and I’m no enthusiast. But that’s a-ok because “The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman AKA Bob Dylan (A Lie)- a theatrical talking blues and glissendorf” is according to the programme, no tribute show.

The premise of the show (more than a synopsis, methinks) is “Follow the map to Woody Guthrie’s myth flooded basement of unrecorded songs than go with the flow…” does rely on some knowledge on the key players in this world- and definitely Dylan enthusiasts will find the references rewarding and amusing in equal measure. I have a fuzzy relationship with the characters within this folk tale about folk singers- so I got it- but some may get “it” more or less depending on their music history and willingness to be told a known “lie” about things which they may know the true story of. I like to think that this is a literary fantasia more than a lie (a lie connotes ill-will or cowardice for me- so I prefer fantasia- but of course some may think I am dabbling in unnecessary semotic struggles- I’m not- not really- but since this script is largely about words and games and the slippery edges of meaning- I am going to play along abit.
There are many things that you don’t need to know to enjoy this production- and for me to list them all would waste your time. And mine. Who’s time? Our time. You mean our time? Not entirely! Ha! Huh? What? It’s the ending of the beginning.

What you do need to know is what a glissendorf is- the programme notes explain this as a game whose “purpose was to confuse the observer”… it goes onto say “(Dylan’s biographers report there were occasions when a Glissendorf victim became angry or hurt by the game- a response that… delighted Zimmerman.” And if you don’t know this – you may feel slightly hurt or angry at the slippery elusive lingistic gymnastics of Bob’s mind drawling out via the medium of Matt Ralph (Zimmerman).

Playwright (and poet) Benito Di Fonzo explores, demonstrates and plays with Glissendorf throughout- like a twisted beat poem, words collide and contract and expand- this is writers fun – and he has full liscence to drive this careering car of language all over the place which is punctuated with pit stops of musical interlude. The effect is disorienting- in a good way- and entertaining- it becomes a verbal magic trick- and what is familiar and what is bizarre about truth, fact, lies and fantasia are woven like the rug-littered floor of the Fitz into a pastiche – a decoupage of song and story. And the story is very clear- it’s a road trip/quest story about the path that leads Zimmerman to be who he is where he is the way he is.

The Old Fitz Theatre is transformed into a folk pub/ festival chai tent music event thanks to the design of Eliza McLean which houses the three actors and the musical Director Simon Rippingale perfectly. Matt Ralph’s Robert Zimmerman is all it should be- musically proficient (he has his own band in “real life”), the persona is funny and enough of all it needs to be- emblematic and charming. What is most delightful is the supporting actors- Lenore Munro and Andrew Henry who shift psychedelically between 28 characters embodying a whole range of poets, musician, and incidental characters. They are really incredibly impressive and energetic- keeping the story of a slowly speaking ruminatory beatpoet at an even pace throughout. Munro in particular has the type of voice you want – and it’s impossible NOT to watch what she is doing as soon as she is onstage… she is outstandingly fun and funny.

Lucinda Gleeson’s direction is playful, tight, smart and well paced- we don’t get too much of anything- and just enough so we have permission to let somethings go as an “in joke.” And Benito’s script is as self referencial to Sydney theatre scene (his own career as a journo/poet/performer) as Zimmerman’s is- it’s a wonderful collide of here and there- then and now.

Ultimately, it’s a fun night at the theatre/pub- and I can absolutely see why it did so well at the Adelaide Fringe- and why I am sure it’s Sydney run will be popular.

The trick will be managing what people are expecting to see- those Dylan loyalists after a retelling of his story- may be confused- but hopefully they will enjoy the confusion, surrender to the fantasia (lie) and admire the inventive way in which Di Fonzo has spun the tale/tail of Dylan.

The Old Fitzroy Hotel, 129 Dowling Street, Wolloomooloo, NSW
7th-24th April
$29 Adult/$21 Concession
Bookings: www.rocksurfers.org/thechronicills