Fringe 2009, BATS Theatre
February 11-19 | Reviewed by Melody Nixon

Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish succeeds in being a rare instance of a sketch of apathy that is moving. (I would say unlike The Intricate Art of Actually Caring, currently playing in another part of the Fringe, which is very moving but is not so much about apathy as fear and the overcoming of fear – two quite separate forms of stasis.) Plummeting Fish taps into the zeitgeist of the disenfranchised teenage spirit, sets this in Wellington, and finds there ambivalence, hopelessness and a barren narcissism. Deciding who or what is to blame for that narcissism and hopelessness is left up to the audience.

The wind machine that opens Plummeting Fish, and immediately identifies the scene as the capital, also makes it a little hard to hear what cast Claire O’Loughlin, Simon Haren and Rachel Baker are saying. The strange and chaotic riot of wasted plastic and shrieking disorientates even the most patient viewer. But this is the way it is supposed to be. The insight production group Binge Culture wants to bring is not tied up neatly in a careful package (unlike the cardboard boxes which are opened and closed on stage and which, incidentally, are frustratingly difficult to read). Rather, Binge Culture is spontaneous and brazen, and seems intent on pushing the audience to reach insight through visceral feeling and emotion, not cerebral analysis – much in the same way as people on drunken nights in Courtney place could be seen to be seeking self-expression and epiphany through feelings of inebriation.

The theatre of cruelty presented in the second scene, “rising water,” (which portentously applies not only to climate change but the torture method Shawn (Simon Haren) is subjected to in this scene) points out that we, the adults/audience, are partly responsible for the ‘suffering’ of the narcissistic generation Y. We condone Facebook “isms” by not stopping them, just as we are shown to condone the abuse of the individual Shawn by not stopping that. We watch as Shawn – just like planet Earth – is destroyed by an apparently pointless raft of human experiences.

Overall the play seems – albeit pleasantly – random and sporadic, until images and words begin to repeat in the final scenes. The sad albatross riddle in the penultimate scene brings together the interwoven mix of themes, feelings and semiotics which form the structural net of the play. The link with the ‘bird’ and ‘drowning’ again points toward environmental themes of rising sea levels and loss of diversification, while the actual content of the riddle, its sadness and despair, builds upon the sense of desolation for which we are encouraged to, and do, feel partly responsible.

Although it presents only a snapshot of a certain, limited time in the lives of most Wellingtonians, or perhaps even most Western teenagers, Drowing Bird, Plummeting Fish brings to the forefront of our minds the pain, seriousness and importance of getting those teenage years ‘right’ – and the conundrum of how this might be achieved when the state of the world, as it is presently perceived to be, is so very uncertain.