I am a wanderer returned from her travels, but there’s no rest for the compulsive Doer of Things. No sooner am I back on home soil than I’m switching to my reviewer hat and braving the chilly Melbourne spring in the name of art and the Melbourne Fringe Festival.
The shows have been good in the first week of the festival, though not flawless. I’ve encountered one or two shows where the whole shebang is not quite as good as its component parts.
Kids Killing Kids is the story of four Australian playwrights who worked with a theatre company in the Phillipines on a stage adaptation of the Japanese book (and manga) Battle Royale. The show is pretty violent and in the context of the history of the Phillipines, some reactions to it from audiences and critics has been extreme.
The whole show has the four writers querying the nature of this violence and reactions to it, and questioning their responsibility as creators of the piece. They thought they were just making an exciting show, but they still can’t answer the oft-asked questions about why they did it.
Battle Royale of course predates the similar series The Hunger Games. I haven’t read the former, but the latter certainly examines its premise closely and explores themes of violence, political change, individual trauma and collective responsibility. That hasn’t stopped fanfiction that seems to be simply about kids killing kids, as though the readers kind of missed the point of it all.
So these playwrights raise and explore terrific questions on violence in art, how it reflects on violence in society and vice versa and, more broadly, the nature of responsiblity in creativity. (After all, aren’t the theatre company and actors, who are Filipino and obviously had more understanding of the cultural context in which they performed also responsible?) The show doesn’t provide answers, but at least it’s asking fascinating questions.
The Good Girl is a one act play set in a future where relationships are banned following a pandemic that killed millions. ONly the elite are allowed to breed. Here, a woman who handles a sexbot is visited by the man who maintains the machine. However, the woman is illegally assisting the robot to develop emotional responses. People are paying more for the experience, but they’re starting to demand more and more authentic responses. They start to demand fear – and that, the robot must learn directly from her handler.
The acting is terrific, the concept intriguing, and yet the descent into aggression (or is it faux aggression?) and sexual violence and its consequences left me feeling adrift. What is being said about relationships and sexual violence? I felt to me that strong performances and a crisp, fast-paced script led to an emotional dead end. Perhaps that was the point.
FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out – also misses the mark for me. Zoe McDonald gives a ripping performance as a series of character, although several are based on outmoded stereotypes. The show, staged as a talk-back radio program, is lively and often funny, filled with anxious women and vajazzling. However, I’d gone expecting something about the concept of FOMO, which is a phenomenon behind our compulsive use of social media instead of doing something more sustained with our time. The fault is probably more in my expectations than the show.
Mind you, if a dashing, fast-paced, hilarious one woman show with music, dozens of crisply deliniated characters and a strong plot is what you’re after, you should definitely see Death Rides a Horse. It’s my favourite show so far this festival, full of warmth, cursing, curses, Spanish accents and send-ups of western stereotypes all over the place. It has a great cinematic sensibility and really, I want to see the movie.
One final plug – and to fess up, this one was co-written by my brother-in-law John Richards. But, as I often say, just because I’m biased, it doesn’t mean I’m wrong, and the show Songs for Europe is two one-act plays taking a more serious look at Eurovision. The first sees a young reporter interviewing an aging singer about her greatest professional disaster – getting nil points in the competition. It’s a terrific look at failure, and how it doesn’t have to define you. The second story is about the true story of an uprising in Portugal, which was signalled when the country’s Eurovision entry was performed. Both are stories about human nature and hope, and I recommend them.
Book to see the shows: