The Year of Magical Wanking [FringeTIX]
thisispopbaby @ Adelaide College of the Arts – XSpace
9:30pm, Thu 23 Feb 2012
Courting controversy with a ever-so-slightly-risqué title, coupled with Jesus imagery on the poster, The Year of Magical Wanking is a very odd beast. The external presentation of the show suggests that there’s the likelihood of smutty sacrilegious innuendo… but there’s an oddly serious crowd assembled for this evening’s performance. They all seemed very earnest in their approach to the XSpace – and I wondered what they knew that I didn’t.
Besides the obvious, I mean.
It’s a simple set: a square in the middle of the space, lined with fluoro tubes, their light directed to the centre. Some wonderfully unsettling white-noise punches accompany the dropping of the house lights, and then the fluoros flicker into life: Neil Watkins has arrived, barefoot and clad in a neat suit.
He plunges into his monologue: he’s gay. He watches a lot of porn on the Internet. He masturbates… a lot. Family tragedy has gifted him cheap and easy living. As he explores his sexuality and descends into a drug-addled life of hedonism, the details get grittier: he contracts HIV. He elaborates on his rape fantasies, surmising that they result from his molestation as a child… that he actually enjoyed. He exposes us to the HIV-positive underground culture in Manhattan, to his flirting with stoner boys in Helsinki. And, as he reaches emotional low-points, he relies on alternative healers to lift him up.
Things take an odd turn when he develops a Jesus-complex… the same age as Jesus when he was crucified, he presumes that his own life was also one of persecution and sacrifice. Another low-point, another alternative healer, and a revelation… and the seeds of this performance.
Watkins’ language is… well, frank. There’s certainly no punches pulled, and no overt contrivances to justify a rhyme. And his presentation is fantastic – he owns his performance space with intense and focussed movements, his Irish lilt making the rhyming script just glide. But there’s also a sense of distance between he and I; for all the directed movement, there’s no connection. For all the weakness and humanity he puts on display, there’s no empathy generated in me. In retrospect, it’s very much a cold, pragmatic storytelling piece, emphasised by the caustic interstitial “music” (but that sort of thing really does float my boat). It’s challenging story well told, to be sure, but the remoteness is tangible… and challenging.
Completely confounding my expectations, The Year of Magical Wanking is a dense, weighty, and serious production that completely belies its title. Even ten days after having seen it, I’m still struggling with whether I can recommend it to others… purely because the sense of anticipation from the title alone is so much to overcome. In fact, the next evening I was at ACArts again when Wanking was about to start; “the doors for The Year of Magical Wanking are now open!” announced the venue guy, and a mighty cheer went up from men amongst the crowd of fifty or sixty present. Oh dear, I thought, you guys are going to be sad pandas in an hour’s time.