Brown Council (presented by Vitalstatistix Theatre Company) @ Queen’s Theatre
8:00pm, Fri 4 Mar 2011
Of all the posts I’ve committed to write this year, this one is the hardest to approach… because there is so much to appreciate in A Comedy, and yet it provided the most vindictive, hateful experience I have had at the Fringe in years.
At its core, A Comedy is a durational piece – four fifty-minute sessions back-to-back. The thing is, I wasn’t aware of that until I’d rocked up at the Queen’s Theatre for the session that fit into my Schedule; on arrival, there were a handful of punters for my session standing at the bar, watching the TV that had a live stream of what was going on in the performance space. And all I could see were the four women of the cast, each clad in Wiggles-esque bright colours with matching pointed dunce caps, standing spotlit in the middle of the Queen’s Theatre whilst getting pelted with objects.
It was only after most of the previous session’s audience had exited, and a quick cleaning sweep performed, that we were allowed behind the curtain. Only after donning my own cap did I notice that the performance space was surrounded by a semi-circle of fresh tomatoes; outside the ring, we sit at a thin collection of cocktail tables, upon which more tomatoes are stacked.
The performance starts: one of the women is the host and facilitates proceedings. The audience guides the Brown Council towards the performance of one of five mini-shows: Dancing Monkey has an awkward dance. Slapstick sees two members slap each other. Standup forces a cast member to tell an incredibly bad joke with all the stagefright of a first-night comic. Magic Trick sees a cast member perform a tacky trick. And Cream Pie… well, you can guess. These are all incredibly short pieces… once performed, one is added to the show’s tally on a blackboard, and the audience selects again.
Repeat performances of each of these little segments is where things get interesting, though. The Monkey becomes more and more reluctant; the Standup increasingly fearful. And the slaps… well, they become vicious.
But throughout this performance, there is another actor – the audience. Because those tomatoes are there for a reason, right? And so, apprehensively at first, some members start throwing them. At the cast.
At some stage, pure reckless lust takes over the audience… and they just start throwing tomatoes with abandon. Let’s peg a tomato at the actor’s head, they’re standing still. Oh look, there’s the performers’ beer bottles on the table behind the performance space… target practice! The big LED timer that counts down the remaining time in this session? Let’s try and knock that fucker off its mounts.
And I just sat there in deepening disappointment. The audience is given an opportunity to interact, and they choose to act like complete fuckwits. I did not want to associate with them in any way, and – whilst I appreciate the commitment of the actors to put themselves in harm’s way – I struggled to understand what I was to take from the performance… especially when the last couple of minutes see the actors line up, as we’d seen them from the bar before hand, for a brutally insatiable tomato firing squad.
I left appalled, disgusted, disappointed… in the audience. Here’s one of the comments I left on the Adelaide ArtBeat page that pretty accurately describes what I felt at the time:
I have to say that, whilst I loved the performance, I hated the experience of sitting through A Comedy… because of the audience. For me, it broke with too many of the conventions of the theatre, letting the experience devolve into a rabble… an excuse to for the audience to let all the aspects of selfishness and self-importance (that are usually kept under wraps) out.
And that type of behaviour… well, that’s not why I go to the theatre.
Call me an old fuddy-duddy if you like, but I’m really struggling to figure out what I’m supposed to take away from A Comedy. The audience outcomes are almost pre-determined (and a corollary to the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory) – my group (second for the evening) had watched the first group reluctantly “get involved” towards the end of the first hour via the TV in the bar; as a result, the first tomatoes had been thrown before the second hour had even begun. The closing lineup was bedlam, with the crowd trying to take out the sign, beer bottles on the table, the timer… what’s the point of that? What are those people taking away from the experience?
Because I left knowing that there were a bunch of people on my side of the audience/performer divide that I would never, ever, choose to speak to ever again. I left feeling that I’d just shared a performance with a pack of arseholes.
Lots of people loved A Comedy (see No Plain Jane’s post for the opposite side of the coin); I did not. I appreciate what the Brown Council were trying to achieve, but what actually happened was that I felt like I was sitting amongst a cluster of self-important, arrogant arseholes. I’ve never seen something so divisive; I loved the performance itself, but I hated – nay, loathed – the experience.
The Adelaide ArtBeat post suggests that seeing just one session is not enough, that you should sit through the next session too, if not all four sessions on a given evening; I could not even entertain the idea of doing such a thing. Because it felt like the Brown Council were providing a pulpit for people to demonstrate what a pack of animalistic fuckwits we really are. But you know what? I aspire to more than that. I don’t need reminding of the cesspool I don’t want to be part of.