Venue: Fringe HQ (Potts Point NSW), Nov 13 – 30, 2019
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Alison Benstead, Julia Christensen, Lisa Haanssens, Simon Lee, Thu Nguyen, Madeleine Withington
Frustrated with the senseless jibber-jabber she encounters on the internet, Marguerite embarks on creating a work of theatre, with people who have responded to a paper sign she had stuck onto a lamppost. Using the parody of a TV game show, Marguerite and her new friends proceed to criticise their audience for the stupid things being said on social media, but soon discover the exercise to be futile, as they fail to move beyond this easy act of castigation.
With Simple Souls, playwright Paul Gilchrist expresses a burning desire to determine how we can be better persons, in this age of high technology and deep divisions. He passionately explores why we are so poorly behaved, asking if our nature is capable of improvement, or if we are in an immutable state, on the road to no return. Simple Souls implores us all to be more reflective, and is itself very analytical, about how we are with one another, and how it thinks we might be able to learn to get along.
Gilchrist’s approach for direction is much more basic than how he writes. Early sections of the staging are enjoyable, with less complicated ideas accompanied by a playfulness that keeps us amused, as it prepares us for more sophisticated ideas to come. As the text gets increasingly dense, the performance ramps up in intensity, which may be appropriate in terms of the tension it conveys, but the speed at which Gilchrist dispenses his philosophy can prove too challenging. His thoughts are undoubtedly fascinating, but they race past too quickly for us to attain full appreciation.
Actor Madeleine Withington brings a convincing despondency to Marguerite’s story, and a dissatisfaction with the world that is understandably emphatic. Julian Christensen and Simon Lee play Trudy and Thomas respectively, flamboyant characters with admirable energy, both effective in injecting a valuable sense of theatricality that sustains our attention. The introverted Veronica who is never without her glove puppet, is brought to life by Alison Benstead whose depiction of naivety and idealism, gives the play unexpectedly meaningful balance.
Marguerite toys with the notion that stupid people have it easier, but there really is no way for anyone to know if other people’s lives are truly any better. The weight of the world is heavy on the shoulders of our protagonist, who is doing the right thing by resisting evils, and trying to invent solutions for the problems that she has identified. However admirable her efforts, it seems that the only one facing defeat is herself, as we watch Marguerite gradually consumed by anger and resentment. There is much that needs to be done, but part of the project is to survive one’s own darkness, even if unjustifiable optimism that makes one look a simpleton, is required.