The premier is dead. Beth (Freya Pragt) has lost a father she never knew and the public have lost a man “who could stop the boats, but couldn’t stop heart disease.”
This exquisite script written and directed by playwrights Seanna van Helten and Penny Harpham, brings you behind the scenes into the desperate world of current affairs program Breaking!, as sexy heterotopian news anchors Lenka (Zoe Boesen) and Robert (Michael Wahr) fumble to find the next hot news item.
We watch the narrative unfold on the set of Breaking! as hard-lined producer Stella (Morgan Maguire) regurgitates palatable news for her white-bread audience. Sandwiching “the Syrian uprising between the Lemon Detox Diet and celebrities” this current affairs news program is embarrassingly reminiscent of the fare on our own set top boxes. Segments like Lunchbox Lockdown tackle the “obesity crisis” just like our heroes from the project, saving the nation’s youngest diners from a chaotic cholesterol calamity. It felt like I was reliving a Tracy Grimshaw moment, except this time with less propaganda, more point, but just as horrific. A recurrent focus on weight-loss segments throughout the piece adds another channel to the undercurrents of sexism in the media, consistent throughout the play.
Lenka tries to befriend her female producer Stella, through the Power of the Pussy. Lenka comments on how women need to “tighten up” for television, crosses and uncrosses her legs rejoicing in her own (vagina) objectification. She exploits her tits, tan and tight skirts, bending and snapping her way to the top, whereas Stella a woman of power presides over the production and holding an aesthetic poise and control.
We see Stella’s surreptitious affair with Beth’s father divulged through her relationship with Alex (Chris Hunter) and the voyeur becomes the viewed. The characters’ lives are cleverly intertwined between the five on stage with the sixth – the late premier John Campbell, played through a voice over by Sir Robert Menzies. The five physical characters are comprehensively developed on stage and off, teamed with dialogue enmeshed on top of intricate soundscapes, with innovative and flirtatious sound design by Narayana Johnson.
Stand-out performances from Morgan Maguire whose final monologue begs “How do two people whose lives revolve around constructing reality, construct their own?” and Michael Wahr whose sexually ambiguous, alcohol-fueled arguments uncover the darker side of the media dream.
Vastly entertaining, it is not often that I am captured by a play for the entire duration of the performance. All scenes were quintessential to the narrative and dialogue was consistently strong. An excellent mix of the comedic and the profound. Prosaic at times, Van Helten and Harpham have written a sharp, cunning script, fogging our glasses with poignant pop culture (re)current affairs.
Certainly a play that will transcend this years fringe season, Van Helten and Harpham have written one truly excellent piece of contemporary theatre.
Presented by She Said Productions 25-30 September, Sketch & Tulip, North Melbourne.