We enter the bar where two chairs sit, either side of a small table. A projector on the back wall reads “The Rothschild and Rockefeller Institute of Re-education”. The show begins as a masked figure in a suit throws a cuffed man to the floor. They are then given a briefing by an off-screen figure on a skype-style video call and proceed to interrogate the man about “What’s in the box?”. The show flicks between these two modes. Interrogation, and briefings from a growingly impatient “boss” figure. The interrogations are interesting in form. The man (Bennie Wragg) believes that “Trump is humanity’s saviour” and that we all need to be enlightened. He’s a free-thinker, a holder of esoteric knowledge. Speaking to Wragg after the show, he informs me that everything the character says is quoted from real-life believers they spoke to in their research. This is terrifying, but I must admit an interesting point of reference and a conceptually worthwhile use of the verbatim.
This quirky anti-establishment captive is interrogated by Agent 24681 (or something similar, I neglected to write down the exact numbers), played by Lauren Huggard. They are an agent of the deep state, and their mission is to work out how to open “the box”. There is some unclear backstory about a previous case in which the agent showed too much empathy. This is where things start to fall apart. This is really the only attempt to give any of the characters some depth, and I can’t make enough sense of it to buy in. There is simply no meat to either role, and the production fails to truly give any empathetic understanding to either side. In the end we appear to be asked to root for the captive, but we do not know them as a person. All we know is the terrifying beliefs that they hold, and thus being asked to empathise with them is not only difficult, but brings into question the agenda of the show. I’m not suggesting that Huggard and Wragg came all the way from Melbourne to convert us into Trump supporters or capitalist-anarchists (yes that’s an oxymoron, and yes it’s an accurate label) but due to a lack of depth of character and storytelling, this is the only reading I can take, and it makes me uncomfortable.
I’m also disappointed in a lack of production value. At $25 General Admission, this is one of the most expensive shows in Fringe and even the few props and set they have are unconvincing. It’s an intimate space at Circus Bar. I am less than two metres from every piece of action and I can see that apart from some legit-looking handcuffs, all of the props break the reality of the world. Syringes are without needles, a bucket used for drowning is basically empty, and a slap blatantly fails to connect; none of it passes for realism, and it is clearly supposed to be realistic. This could be forgivable if the actors’ performances had the strength to carry the show, but they lacked any intensity or dramatic timing. This was most punctuated during the strange movement sections, which looked lazy and without purpose.
This is a show that (from talking to the creators, rather than what I saw on stage) has an interesting intention and subject matter to explore. Sadly, it does not dissect or interrogate them with any force or intellect. I’m aware that Sneakyville intends to take this show to further festivals this year and so I want to provide some feedback that may be useful.
Showing some verbatim of free-thinkers is not enough. At forty minutes you have plenty of time to flesh this out and properly interrogate their humanity and what forces them into such hatred for any sort of establishment. Who are they as people? Why should we empathise and how can you put this on stage? I would love to see a greater commitment to performance from the cast. They’ve put work into this show, but the night that I saw their performance was lackluster and unconvincing.
With considerable development, the ideas in this show could make for an interesting watch but its current form leaves much to be desired and, at its price-point, left audiences feeling undoubtedly like they had been conned. Good on these young artists for braving it across the Tasman. I’m sure that this has proved an invaluable learning experience and look forward to seeing where they end up in festivals to come.