Fight Night | Sydney Theatre Company and The Border Project and Ontroerend Goed
I have no doubt: the personal is political. But who are these “persons” making things of their own politics, and politics of their own person? If we are to examine closely: the politics of me, you, us – would any of us be able to guess how any of our personal politics could steer 90 minutes of entertainment?
The blurb goes a little bit along the lines of:
“Five contenders. Five rounds. You choose. Employing high octane performance and innovative hand-held voting technology, Fight Night is a playful and immersive night of theatre. While your vote may reflect the personalities on stage, the process will be just as revealing about yourself. How fast do you judge or condemn people? Based on what? In a society where beauty prevails and even the world of politics is not safe from the cult of celebrity, director Alexander Devriendt has created a clever political game, treading a fine line between democracy and the tyranny of majority.”
We meet our host. Introduces the devices in our hands, hanging on thick black lanyards around our necks. Introduces the technical crew. Introduces the premise. Introduces five hooded representatives. All caucasian. Tidy. Approachable. Generic. Each with their own appeal, or ability to repulse: visually, vocally, or through attitudes, perspectives or oratory style.
We are about to go through a series of questions about how we want to be represented and by whom – they answer questions, they are asked to speak to us knowing only a statistical figure about the group in the room.
(On opening night at the Sydney Theatre Company Wharf 2 space, we are: aged between 25-44, earning less than $35,000 a year, many of us are single, many are non-religious, many are a little bit racist, many are offended by specific words.)
It’s an interesting exercise on statistics and data collection – especially in this setting, a part of me would prefer to return to another venue or another night to compare reactions…. is the opening night crowd at the STC really that single? Are we really that wealthy? Are we really that mistrusting of the group? Are we really only mildly loyal to the actions of a representative we are loyal to?
I’m not really interested in spoiling the unfolding of our particular night of pushing buttons (and some of us had our political buttons pushed) – because the premise is really what is on show, not the writing or the performances. What is most important about this show is about the individual’s behaviour in response to the group assumption about the group’s behaviour. Is there a main theme? Perhaps. The most simplistic of readings shows how democracy (in at least an Australian context) is flawed.
Yes. I think we knew that.
The more interesting aspect of the show is the personal revelation of where one’s personal attitudinal, moral and ethical values are placed, especially when anonymous voting allows you to reveal where you fit in the spectrum of the room.
The active participation within the system of “Big Brother style” voting off – is, of course, voluntary. At no time are we forced to press a button. But we do. We engage with the format of the show. We are a part of the show’s structure. If we were not to participate there is no repercussion. Except perhaps the show being short or stuck or without significance. In Australia, with compulsory voting, we are well attuned to voting because we have to. A compulsion. Compulsory.
Hypothetical situations are posed. Questions of the audience flip between the general and the specific. For example,
“Which word to you find more offensive? Nigger, Faggot, Cunt, Retard, or none of those words.”
“Are you a little bit Racist, Sexist, Violent or none of these flaws?”
“Are you Religious, Spiritual or Neither?”
As someone who prefers “fair but indecisive” leadership when polled I stayed with the same candidate right to the end of the show. Which is remarkable as I was decisive about this action.
It is an interesting portrait of the political and attitudinal landscape, however as a piece of theatre or art, it lacks conflict, tension or dramatic action. The game changing moments aren’t surprising enough to raise the stakes and at a certain point of the structure – the final point to be made – the stakes aren’t raised sufficiently for us to do anything but to meekly and compliantly either sit in our seats, or quietly dwell in the foyer.
What if this show created an occasion of upheaval? Would the political structure be broken? Could theatre, specifically, could *this* particular piece of theatre change the world, not just represent the flaws of the system that we are already familiar with? Why are we watching it? Are any of us moved to action? Are any of us hope to change the course of the show: to really push the actors through their paces?
No. We are a dull and basic audience to this production, just as we are a dull and basic demographic voting for the latest rehearsed actor to perform the role of politician.
Our politicial system is ineffectual.
Theatre as an artform/agent of change is ineffectual.
We, as an audience, as a population – a majority with ideas, money, influence and community – are ineffectual.
We end as we begin, shrugging and complicit in how things are directed. We are responsible for our actions, their actions, and we despise the machine we feed, and feel powerless to create an alternative structure. And we all eventually walk downstairs.
I look out to the water of Sydney Harbour.
I drink wine.
I listen and engage as those around me remark on the gimmicks of the production.
I engage with the conversation.
I politely smile. (Meanwhile I feel empty, powerless and depressed.)
I don’t say I felt bored. I don’t admit to feeling restless.
I offer alternative dramatic solutions to the flat structure of the performance – not to anyone who could consider them as options.
I walk away.
I am as ineffectual in my theatrical engagement, as much as I am in my political viewpoint. Theatre as a system, mimics the system of politics. And I’m left high and dry.
Perhaps that’s the point.
CREATED BY: The Border Project and Ontroerend Goed
CAST: Sophie Cleary, Valentijn Dhaenens, David Heinrich, Angelo Tijssens, Roman Vaculik, Charlotte Vandermeersch
DIRECTOR: Alexander Devriendt
WHERE: Sydney Theatre Company, Wharf 2 Theatre, Hickson Road, The Rocks
WHEN: Thursday, 20 March 2014 – Sunday, 13 April 2014
TICKETS: $35 – $65 (+ booking fee). Box Office: 02 9250 1777
MORE INFO: http://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/whats-on/productions/2014/fight-night.aspx