Whether controversy is enough
By Myron My
Led by Daniel Gough, The Suicide Ensemble presented an evening of ‘fun and death’ for the 2015 Melbourne Fringe Festival. Their work The Reality Event is divided up in two halves: GAME and SUICIDE. GAME aims to put its audience in the driver seats of theatre creation, whereas in SUICIDE we are forced to confront the idea of ‘safe’ theatre and its boundaries between art and life.
In GAME, we are divided into five teams with one of The Suicide Ensemble (Pavle Banovic, Esther Dougherty, Finley Kube, Remi Roehrs or Sampson Smith) as the team captain. If the team loses a challenge, the team captain is publicly “shamed” and sent away. The “shamings” range from a public “dacking” to eating a tablespoon of wasabi. There is a pack mentality to the proceedings as we are encouraged to laugh and cheer while this is happening and despite its title, there is still a deliberately and grimly dark element to GAME.
The outlined purpose of GAME is to give audiences the opportunity to be in charge of theatre, yet I found myself questioning what exactly this theatre we were supposed to be making was? The team captains were the ones who generally competed in the challenges and in the shamings, except for a few “brave” audience members. While the performance was a somewhat fun experience, I never once felt like I was in control of this experience. The abrupt ending and lack of explanation did not help clarify any of these ideas either.
However, it is in the second half of The Reality Event, SUICIDE, that things take a distinct turn for the worse. The five performers explain they are each going to be killing themselves and we will vote on who commits suicide and what method they will use. They explain that this is not a show to talk about suicide but to blur the lines between what is real and what is theatre. For the next forty minutes therefore, we sit and watch as each person graphically depicts ending their life, through stabbing, suffocation and hanging, to name a few. It is harrowing to watch, with a number of people walking out the evening I attended.
SUICIDE wants to make theatre “unsafe”, but I feel there are much better ways of eliciting and exciting these feelings than by showing extreme and distressful scenes of people committing suicide. There is no entertainment, no enjoyment and nothing to learn in watching these scenes unfold. There is no discernible purpose or art here, just gratuitous shock-value scenes of violence.
The Reality Event attempts to turn theatre around and have the audience – traditionally the watcher – be the creator and instigator. However, to achieve this successfully I feel more care and thought is needed to ensure that this work’s intended messages are conveyed in an effective and responsible manner. The Reality Event seems to be more focused on creating something that people will talk about – rather than creating good theatre that people will talk about.
The Reality Event was performed at The Tuxedo Cat as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival on 24 – 29 September.