By Eli Kent
Directed by Robin Kerr
Produced by The Playground Collective
BATS Theatre (Out of Site), Wellington | May 20-31
All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever is the latest offering from The Playground Collective, and it is the sort of contemporary theatre that makes Wellington such an exciting place to be. An original devised piece with links to a classic fairytale that utilises some of Wellington’s most inspired young makers, All Your Wants contains much to be excited about. It’s a thrilling, provocative piece, so full of ideas and concepts that it comes perilously close to popping in this iteration.
This work is a massive overhaul of The Tinderbox, Playground Collective’s STAB piece from 2011. The original piece was a close adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson story staged in a darkly comic, lush Wild West world (with nods towards desert warfare) and used the tale to explore modern day heroics. That original production is hardly recognisable in this iteration. Now firmly located in the contemporary (with echoes of video games, Kafka-esque bureaucracy, and sci-fi), All Your Wants takes a cynical swat at humans feeling hopeful or in control of, well, anything.
We meet Simon (Simon Leary), cynically pitched as a typical protagonist with characteristics and circumstance that make him ideal for drama. He’s an everyman with a conflicting decision: to look after his newly widowed mother, or travel overseas with his girlfriend? At the same time Simon must confront his own grief for his father. He runs to clear his head, plays video games with his best friend to pass the time, and looks after his three pet rats. He has quirks, but isn’t quirky.
Simon’s life is played inside a glaring white box, and his world is manipulated by three assistants, who are kept in a small, beautifully designed, chaotic office off to the side of Simon’s world. They are responsible for ensuring Simon has enough catalysts, enough chaos, enough of a story for his life to be worth our watching. They use neat little gestures of costume or props to play the key players in Simon’s life.
Both Simon and his office workers are watched over by an omnipotent light bulb who orchestrates events. Speaking with the voice of Microsoft Sam, the light bulb is the ultimate power in the world of All Your Wants.
When Simon orders ‘The Box’ of a TV infomercial, he sets off a series of events that become harder and harder for his office workers to control. As mistakes pile up and worlds begin to collapse in on each other, it’s inevitable that Simon discovers his own fiction (very Truman Show). When he escapes his white-washed world, he enters a chaotic world of video-game logic; twisted, warped, and distancing.
The beating heart of All Your Wants is the cast’s innocence in the face of a world of murky morality and unknowable scope. Characters are caught in concentric circles of control, each group feeling responsible for someone else, and we have a perfect view of their pathetic attempts to help each other. The play walks a tightrope, asking us to care for Simon and his carers while frequently commenting on the artificiality of his story, which left me wondering if there was anyone or anything I should be rooting for in the play.
Instead of the lithe storytelling and charming characters of The Tinderbox (no Roulette Dan here), we have an unforgiving, cynical, serious world where futility is commonplace. As a complete work, there are some uneven kinks. Some moments—force-feeding ice cream, for instance—feel included to even out stage time rather than feeding into a complete thing. And as the pace ramps up towards the end of the piece, I was left slightly taken aback, wondering if I should still be following any narrative logic or just sit back and take each moment as they come, as little snippets of a complex world.
Bursting with ideas, the work provokes a myriad of responses from its audience; most seem divided between reaching for the tissues and laughing hysterically. Not a piece of theatre that can be boxed up.