The Problem With Evil
Fish for Brains @ Mercury Cinema (Iris Cinema)
10:00pm, Fri 11 Mar 2011
“The Forces of Darkness are presenting a demotivational seminar,” said the Puppetry section of the Guide; “I’m there,” I replied. I bought my ticket, then happened to catch a bit of Leon Ewing’s masked performance at the TuxCat Staff Show; I loved that snippet of his aggressively political act, and spoke to him gushingly afterwards. He suggested that he’d give me a freebie ticket if I live-blogged his show; I declined the ticket (as I am wont to do), but promised I’d see him the following night.
And when I rocked up at the Mercury around twenty minuted before the allotted time, I knew that it was going to be an… ummm… intimate show. The Merc foyer was empty, and I was there a good five minutes before I even saw the bar-and-tickets guy. I had a bit of a chat with him, followed by a yarn with Leon… but, at 10pm, I was still the only punter there. Leon stood up, saying “let’s get the show started”; I offered him the opportunity to just chat about the content in lieu of the performance, if he preferred. “No,” he insisted, “this’ll be great”.
So I was positioned in the second row of the Iris, and Leon went off to put on his skull mask. Ewing portrays the embodiment of Evil throughout the performance, adamant that the end of the world is coming (on time, under budget). By “end of the word”, Evil is referring to economic armageddon… and he proceeds to explain how we (and by “we”, I hope he meant “society in general” and not “the audience/me in particular”) are contributing to the apocalypse.
Evil’s contention is that western culture is evil by proxy; usually, he posits, it’s mere apathy that increases the amount of evil in the world. He presents a local reference (the “proof” that Adelaide is inherently evil: City of Evil – the truth about Adelaide’s strange and violent underbelly), and then proceeds with a real mixed-media presentation: a lot of his material is delivered spoken-word style, roaming the set as he rants. There’s a PowerPoint and video accompaniment projected onto the Iris’ movie screen, and Evil has a series of cameras posted around the stage that he uses to screen the results of his puppetry.
Ah – the puppets. By burying The Problem With Evil in the Puppetry section of the Guide, Leon ensured that he’d be a bigger fish in a small pond; unfortunately, late-night adult contemporary puppetry doesn’t really seem to take people’s fancy. But Evil’s conversational asides to his puppets – Bruce the Evil Angler Fish, Elvis the skeleton, and a statue of Jesus with eerie eyes – allow him to break the flow of the performance up a bit, so his ranting and blame designation maintains its freshness.
But, as the TuxCat snippet showed, The Problem With Evil is a deeply political show; the core of his material surrounds the meltdown of the GFC, the pillaging of the environment, the seeds of terrorism and the western response, religion, and the inequalities between the First and the Third World. This content is curiously delivered in two tones: early lines may make you laugh, but then Evil will throw a line in that makes you feel very, very small… and responsible.
And that’s the real hook to this show; it’s entertaining and determined to put you in your place. But the other memorable hook (at least for me) was that Evil was adamant that I be involved in the performance, first by handing me a hefty camcorder and insisting that I “report” the show, and through repeated attempts to get me to live-blog the show. Evil occasionally also offered me the opportunity to choose the next chunk of material: I always said “you choose the stuff that will make me uncomfortable.”
And he always managed to so. And I loved that.
Look, I know that this is not a performance that many people would come out of and think “yeah… that was alright.” Any artist whose intent may have the side-effect of making you feel shit about yourself is always going to be treading a fine line. But I love that level of engagement, the mental challenge where you have to contemplate whether or not you’re comfortable with your actions in the world.