There’s a constant state of calamity throughout What’s Yours Is Mine. Scenes from a road trip are compressed and unreal, lasting barely a minute before shifting into longer passages of literal and metaphorical mayhem. One part archaeology, one part pathology – the performers dig down, cut into, annihilate, and piece back together myths in modern Australia.
It’s an imperfect work, but some of this is by design. It’s telegraphed at the beginning – the show starting amid the rhubarb of a settling audience – that what will transpire will involve a certain amount of untidiness.
This was a devised work by the cast – Simone French, Hayden Burke, and Tom Halls – that theatrically resembled less a liquorice allsort and more if an earthquake hit Sugar Station.
From the mess comes moments of insight and beauty. Early on, the portrayal of the road trip goes from idealistic to enthusiastic to mundane, the passengers’ expressions looking like something from those final seconds of The Graduate.
Later, at one point it seemed like a collage of various voices was playing under the action on stage. The sound was nearly lost, a collection of quotes that starts off patriotic, then becomes entitled, before ending up xenophobic and racist.
In another scene, Simone French begins to move down the centre aisle, methodically reciting a poem where each percussive stanza ends with, “How’s the serenity?” Fantastic stuff.
There’s little left unturned by the end of the show, whether its environmentalism, capitalism, racism, gay issues, rape culture, nationalism, indigenous rights, altruism, colonialism. All of these and more are explored via a multitude of stylistic approaches and theatrical techniques; through song, for one example, or in other ways, such as when Simone becomes a zombie koala to berate the audience for their destructive behaviours in a curious turn as a belligerent marsupial.
A device used multiple times was to contrast an ugly topic with a pleasant delivery. In an uncomfortable scene, Simone becomes the Every-Girl, moving and behaving according to the whim of the modern Australian male. Yet, while their faces are masked, their directions are delivered sweetly and with encouragement.
Another way was the repeated use of wrapping something unfortunate – e.g. self-worth, or land grabbing – and presenting it as a fun game show. Sufficed to say, there was a lot of business, but even with the framing story, it felt in places as if it lacked focus. The ensemble pull apart Australian myths, stereotypes, and beliefs, but to what end?
For all that noise, what were the stakes? There didn’t seem to be any for the characters – so vaguely defined and rushed into renewed kinship in the beginning – that it was a struggle to believe in the premise of going on the road in the first place, let alone the odd scene of conflict between them near the end.
Speaking of that ending – after over an hour of brutally laying bare the foundations and consequences of entitlement in a country where far too many people voted for One Nation – for the character’s final moments to be of hopeful reconciliation complete with warm jangly guitar and twee sentiment felt discordant with what had come before.
A weaker entry among the Poppy Seed Festival, in a lot of ways this the most intriguing and exciting type of theatre – a flawed-but-raw script delivered by committed performers. Get in on the ground floor (actually it is at The Butterfly Club, so in reality it’s more like the 74th floor amiright?) and experience a work still hot from the oven.
What’s Yours is Mine
The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Lane, Melbourne
Performance: Wednesday 23 November 2016 – 8.30pm
Season continues to 4 December 2016
For more information, visit: www.poppyseedfestival.com for details.
Image: What’s Yours is Mine – photo by Theresa Harrison Photography