Review: Kill The PM (Unhappen)

unhappenVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 8 – 26, 2014
Playwright: Fregmonto Stokes
Director: James Dalton
Cast: Nicholas Hiatt, Zoe Jensen, Michael McStay, Lily Newbury-Freeman
Image by Lucy Parakhina

Theatre review
We must not take our democracy for granted. It is a key element to meaningful lives, as it insists that every person and their liberties are included. The ideal is a world in which everyone has an equal say, even if we end up with a messy and inconvenient state of affairs, but today’s reality sees a grave inequality of power and influence. As Australia becomes increasingly capitalistic, previous notions of a classless society are quickly eroded, acquiescing to the dominance of the 1%. Our leaders are still democratically elected, but there is no camouflaging the fact that prevailing ideologies of government are disproportionately geared towards the benefit of the wealthiest. One person may still receive one vote, but our voices do not carry the same weight, and the loudest have proven themselves to be the most selfish.

Fregmonto Stokes’ Kill The PM is inspired by the fantasy of the masses, and begins with the most simplistic of ideas. The assassination of a leader is a proposition symptomatic of the disquiet that citizens experience, but the play does not indulge extensively in that premise. Instead, it explores the absurdity of the suggestion that the murder of one person is all the revolution that is required to cause an effective change in the way our nation carries on its business. Stokes’ writing has a sense of wildness that is dramatic and exciting, with surrealist aspects that keep us intrigued. There are unexpected ambiguities which make the script rich and thoughtful, but its narrative structure falters at certain junctures when a more poetic approach takes over. Stokes’ work is thought-provoking, but it has an uncomfortable gentleness that contradicts its powerful subject matter.

Direction of the piece by James Dalton suffers the same shortage of aggression. The characters are blinded by passion but what happens on stage is oddly subdued. The cast does not portray sufficient conviction for the story to take hold, and their relaxed disconnection from the plot (and each other) is frustrating. This is a story that should speak to anyone who is even remotely interested in politics, but none of the players manage to find points of resonances for the contentious issues being discussed.

Fortunately, the production shifts gears in the middle, giving up its unsuccessful naturalism for a spectacular theatricality in a series of dreamlike sequences. Dalton’s strengths with visual aesthetics and his talent at manipulating atmosphere rescue the show to some extent, although its core messages would benefit from greater elucidation. It is the formidable design team that shines in this production, with Dylan Tonkin’s set leaving the greatest impression, having given the venue an extreme transformation with daring innovation, excellent taste and a sophisticated flair. Benjamin Brockman’s lights are another highlight, cleverly adapting to the theatre’s unconventional facilities, and using gadgets that function charmingly as set pieces in addition to providing interesting illumination.

Kill The PM suggests that the elimination of any single person or group would not be advantageous, regardless of how blood thirsty our primitive selves can be. We see the importance of community in the process of affecting policy changes, but also the difficulties in locating ways that people can unite to find strength and commitment. Having a voice in any political climate is challenging, and it is only as collectives that we will be heard. The theatrical arts are fundamentally collaborative, and we must value the egalitarianism that allows individuals to come together to create and to speak. Regimes come and go, but art endures, and at the theatre, the subversive can find expression, and sometimes, have an impact.