To the Extreme: Review of Unhappen’s Kill the PM
Andrew Bolt recently took exception to Unhappen and Fregmonto Stokes’ production of Kill the PM (2014), claiming that the left is the ‘natural home of the closet totalitarian – and the barbarian.’ Well, in typical Boltian fashion he’s missed the point, undoubtedly because the title acted as the nip to his cat. In truth Kill the PM is about far more than this: it is a study of extremism, and not just extremism from the left, but in every facet of life.
We meet our quartet of conspirators atop a building, awaiting the Prime Minister’s motorcade. They’ve managed to obtain a gun through some back channels and are gearing themselves up to do the deed. This is an extreme action; however, we are led to believe that they have been compelled to this last resort by a government which is itself pursuing extreme and anti-humanistic policies. Does one form of extremism justify another? The play doesn’t rest here, because in each of the character’s lives exists a tendency that could be described as excessive. Drug addiction, intense spiritualism, conspiracy theories, even good old fashion religion gets a nod towards the end. When any one ideology is favored to the exclusion of all others the result can only be conflict – and no one wins there.
This highly strung tale rests on the shoulders of four young adults, attempting to find their way through a world of rules and white collars. We first meet Pete (Michael McStay), a tall, imposing radical, who has masterminded this fatal plan; he is soon joined by Naomi, a pill-popping student, played by Lily Newbury-Freeman. Both actors focus the audience well, grounding themselves in this difficult-to-move piece of heightened realism. McStay is particularly fascinating to watch; he has great stage presence (at times mesmerising) and effortlessly draws you into the space. Newbury-Freeman is similarly easy to watch, as she tackles this rather foreboding situation with gusto.
We are subsequently introduced to Zoe Jensen as Flick, an idealist and well-meaning addition to the outfit. Jensen impressively finds clarity in a script where it is so easy to lose your way. She is suitably subdued, though fiery when required. Finally, the zany Rowan (Nicholas Hiatt) springs into action as this delusional and dangerous gunman. Hiatt really takes the stage and lifts the energy on every entrance. He was a much needed counterbalance to scenes which threatened to stagnate.
In only sixty minutes Kill the PM is cramming a lot in. Unfortunately the script doesn’t quite manage to pull all of its threads together. The show also struggles to create an air of believability when it comes to these individuals and what they plan to do. This is largely a scripting problem, as the show’s production values are undoubtedly high.
The Old 505 theatre is incredibly malleable, as one will learn upon entering the space. The production team lead by director, James Dalton (with Dylan James Tomkin for set and Benjamin Brockman for lighting) have created a wonderfully eerie atmosphere, with sheets of plastic hanging from the roof, sending one’s mind to the chilling disquiet of a slaughterhouse. The roof is also rigged with worker lights which spot the room and add mystery. This is followed up by a hallucinogenic green which floods the stage and transports the audience to a different dimension. This, plus a smoke machine used to brilliant effect, creates a tantalising world for these young idealists to exist in and it perfectly suites the setting of the piece. Likewise, when things take a surreal turn two thirds of the way through it becomes evident that Dalton is in his element, using smoke, lights, sounds and screens to creating a series of visually striking images.
Longtime fans of Unhappen will probably recognize that this piece falls a little short of their best work, but nevertheless, it raises some interesting ideas and encourages us to take off our blinkers and see situations not in the black and white of a single ideology but as complex and nuanced.
Kill the PM is playing at the Old 505 theatre Wednesday through Saturday until the 26th of October. For more information see: http://unhappen.org/kill/