An Anarchist at the Demo
Adelaide University Fringe Club @ Directors Hotel
7:30pm, Sun 26 Feb 2012
I like the Directors. It’s a decently-sized space, suitably appointed, and has the perfect ambience for a Fringe venue. And, after the entertaining (but conflicted) Over My Dead Body in 2011, I was looking forward to seeing what my alma mater’s Fringe Club had to offer.
An Anarchist at the Demo is a compilation of two short plays by Australian writer Van Badham. An Anarchist at Dinner kicks things off, a very short play (twenty minutes, tops) featuring a quartet of four wealthy, ultra-conservative Sydneysiders having a rowdy drink whilst belittling the proles. They’re expecting an old friend for dinner; when Vanessa (co-director Freyja Stokes) turns up, her belligerent anarchic attitudes create bursts of enjoyable conflict… a far cry from the uncomfortable classism of the earlier conversations.
Dinner was a difficult piece to like, even with its brevity; the four conservative characters, who I suspect I’m supposed to love-to-hate, just seemed sad and hopeless. The firebrand Vanessa, on the other hand, is instantly likeable… through her contrasting politics. As a person, she’s intimidating, and it’s hard to figure out why she would choose to spend any time at all with the rich crew. There’s more questions than answers, and as a result An Anarchist at Dinner feels very conflicted and rough-around-the-edges.
The second piece, We Met at the Demo, is a far more approachable work; Peter and Fleur (as the title suggests) meet at a demonstration. Fleur is an apolitical office worker who gets struck during the protest that Peter was orchestrating; he tends to her wounds, and the two share their respective anger. She is swayed by his political ideology, and you can feel her eyes being opened and her apathy dissolving as he preaches his radical unionist agenda.
The second act, seven years later: there’s been a change in government, and Peter is a high-ranking union official whose power has led to self-absorbed conservatism. Fleur, on the other hand, has taken his ideology and run with it: tables have turned, as she now represents the radical, and he the conservative. Their chance lunch meeting – years after their physical relationship ended – is full of taut barbs, both personal and political.
The two main characters in Demo – Natalia Sledz as Fleur, and Steve Marvanek as Peter – are well realised; there’s plenty of little hooks in their characters that create a sense of believability, supporting the strong premise of the play. The supporting characters do their jobs, but the real strength is in Badham’s switchback political script.
In all, An Anarchist at the Demo was reasonably entertaining and pretty well produced. The main takeaway for me was in the political content of the pieces, not necessarily in the performances themselves; there’s not enough overt discussion like that these days, I reckon.