We Get It (Elbow Room)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre
June 15 – 25
To oblige an individual to represent – merely by their existence – any group smaller than the human species is, in itself, an act of oppression. Their actions, however, are another matter.
The quote projected as backdrop in the Visy Theatre as patrons enter the space for opening night of Elbow Room’s “We Get It” evokes much pre-show discussion… can you oblige anyone to do anything? What about the notion of free will? It is all very intellectual for a Thursday night but entirely appropriate given the weighty themes tackled by the subversive satire of theatre’s double standards.
It is not all heavy going though. There is much humour, particularly in early segments where the familiar concept of a reality TV contest drives the action. Five actors Tamiah Bantum, Amy Ingram, Kasia Kaczmarek, Maurial Spearim and Sonya Suares – are competing to play classic roles from the theatrical cannon. And after a bump and grind opening number from the initially lycra-clad ladies, the competition begins at direction of the slick compare (co-creator, with Marcel Dorney, Emily Tomlins)
Wearing label sashes to identify them each by type (funny bitch, token, Muslim doctor etc), the actors must rank themselves on graded platforms in response to a number of statements. They begin innocently enough but soon become discomforting in their confrontation. There is even a diary room for not-so-private honest confessionals about what women go through in order to make it in the industry, including what is expected of them when auditioning.
The premise of this early part is obviously crafted towards establishing an ambiguity between actor and character. And the term ‘part’ is used very deliberately, for this is a show of a number of distinct parts. The next section of the clash sees the actors discussing the essentially unlikeablity of the monstrous great heroines of Western drama: This is interesting given that all have been seen in some way on Brisbane stages in recent years, Lady Macbeth in QTC’s 2014 take, Antigone as part of their 2015 “Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”, Medea at La Boite last year too, Nora there in 2014’s “A Doll’s House” and Blanche Dubois later this year in La Boite’s “A Streetcar Named Desire”.
Knowing their stories is certainly helpful and it often seems that this is a show for theatre folk rather than everyday patrons to whom it perhaps should instead be pitched. There are moments of Brechtian discomfort to its experience, including its length, with a number of scenes going on for far too long past when we’ve got it already. In this regard, it appears that the show suffers from its own ambition in attempt to tackle both sexism and racism within the entertainment industry.
Still, despite its lack of conciseness, “We Get It’ is thought-provoking in its stimulation of consideration and conversation about its issues. And its talented cast all give outstanding performances. Of particular note is Kaczmarek’s performance of Lady Macbeth’s ‘unsex me’ soliloquy in Polish. And Amy Ingram’s dry humour is a highlight within early sections.
“We Get It” is a landmark theatrical work that will surely continue to do great things. With more judicious editing of its later parts its message may effectively reach the general public in need of contemplation of its important ideas.
Photo c/o – http://brisbanepowerhouse.org/