Years ago, Stephen King wrote a short story called, Survivor Type. In it, a drug-smuggling surgeon crash lands on barely an island with no reliable source of food or fresh water. His hunger and thirst fuel his desperation and he slowly goes mad, eventually developing a taste for his own flesh.
Last week, Mitch Jones presented his solo work, Autocannibal. In it, a corporate newsreader type in a dingy dystopian future has reached the nadir of his spirit. There is no food but what he gnaws from old animal bones, or insects he flings knives at. There isn’t any water but the sweat he syphons off his own skin.
Like the cartoon trope of a hungry person looking at another and seeing them change into a rotisserie chicken, Mitch’s character looks into a mirror and has a similar hallucination, turning his saws and blades on himself.
The opening image is a stark one, Mitch suspended by one foot, presumably caught in a trap laid for other animals or people that have long since moved on or already been eaten. It’s a lovely image as the rope frays, before Mitch drops into a sudden blackout and the show begins in earnest.
Mitch and his Director, Masha Terentieva have a much larger scope than the setting in King’s story. Here, the island is the world, the context a nebulous outcome where global food supplies have been devastated, leaving human flesh as a legal and viable alternative.
The narrative is admittedly thin, and, after a prelude compilation of news reports and expositional alerts getting the audience up to speed, it loses impetus and shuffles to its absurd punchline ending rather that drive and surge to it.
To be sure, Mitch puts a range of circus skills on display throughout the piece. However, we tend to lurch from stunt-moment to character-moment and back again, instead of the various physical daring-dos being woven in more organically with the other business.
Sound, lighting and set design (respectively Bonnie Knight & Marco Cher-Gibard, Paul Lim, Michael Baxter) were terrific. A shame then that the opportunity to witness some of Mitch’s character’s decent was set aside for this less compelling diorama of madness.
Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda
Performance: Thursday 11 July 2019 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 21 July 2019
Information and Bookings: www.theatreworks.org.au
Image: Mitch Jones – photo by Chris Bennett
Review: David Collins