Kill the PM – Fregmonto Stokes and the layers of leftist conspiracies. (Theatre Review)
Kill The PM
Old 505 Theatre
October 8 to 26 – You can grab your tickets here.
Photographs by Lucy Parakhina
Is leftist political passion a poison that rots the brain, a mind-barrel filled with un-absolvable guilt or a conspiracy to destabilise in order to plough fertile soil for an alien conspiracy? If the hard right think all these options are variants on a single profound truth, then that is nothing compared to the struggles of the left to cope with a fundamental amalgam of their disparate ideologies that each require different outcomes. Surely the greatest weapon of the political right is their stupidity, for under that single flag they can unite, think nothing of the problems of existentialism versus nihilism, believe mining magnates when they say they’ll give more to the church so they can meter out charity and unanimously blame the victim when they cry rape, racism or unfair dismissal. The awkward fear that makes them tremble in the night can be doused during the day with cries of “burn the witch” and becomes the glue at the heart of nationalism. “Don’t overthink” could be their mantra – something the left could learn a lot from. The ideological left on the other hand are rendered virtually mute (if it wasn’t for red wine, they’d probably never speak up at all) wrapped around their inner civil war that calls for action, but trembles over the question of which action? When Fregmonto Stokes writes a play called Kill The PM, only the political right in Australia know what that means. Even the ideological characters in the play are struggling to give it a definition.
Roughly based on Dostoevsky’s Demons, Kill The PM is a satire that dares to examine the possibility of political assassination in Australia. In the double-sided A4 program, Stokes has chosen as his writers statement hilarious rebuttals to the deeply silly protestations of right-wingers on Andrew Bolts typically poorly researched announcement about the play. It’s important that Stokes make these statements, but it’s also a bit of a shame because the play itself raises far more interesting and important questions about political activism in this country, the frustrations of guilt-ridden whites and questions the value of the chaos (if we were lucky enough to get chaos) that would ensue if some extremist was willing to kill our current Prime Minister. Like the political group in Demons, Stoke’s group self destruct and fall trembling into a surrealist world that seeks to combat nihilism, not with meaning, but with an extreme distancing from rationality. When existentialism demands we make meaning of our life out of the world around us, nihilism tells us everything is absurd and there is no meaning, then Stokes might be suggesting the problem is inherent in meaning itself, both the search for and the refusal of it. If we can’t kill the Prime Minister, what can we do? How do we break this thing we hate so much? How do we stop a machine we built and accidentally preserve?
In the Old 505 theatre, James Dalton has executed what is probably the best use of a theatre space we’re likely to see in 2014. The room is quarter turned, transformed so that the audience sit alongside the windows, where the Prime Minister is due, in about forty-five minutes to drive in a procession down the street. In the room are Pete (Michael McStay) and Naomi (Lily Newbury-Freeman) who are feverishly discussing their forthcoming plans. Pete is the head of the small group and driven to implement his brand of socialism at any cost, convincing the others of a conspiracy when in reality he knows the only conspiracy exists inside of him. Naomi is the pill popping philosopher, the thinker who has stressed themselves into a corner with no life outside of the fevered desire for change. They’re soon joined by Flick (Zoe Jensen) a christian-greenie who wants to free the right from their oppressive mind-prisons but who is having second thoughts about killing someone. Eventually they will be joined by Rowan (Nicholas Hiatt) a radical who imagines right-wing conspiracies are even worse than we think, and who initially agreed to pull the trigger that will make all the difference. In the small theatre space, decked out as an apartment ready for renovation (scary enough in itself) they will have an ideological battle of wills, work through their justifications, rationalisations and escape plans, until they start to self-combust under our gaze.
The final ten to fifteen minutes of the play is a hyper-surreal journey into an alternate reality that may or may not have us interrupt the political treadmill that insists on the existential/nihilistic battle within, suggesting there may be an alternative and it might be within the individual themselves. It’s a theatrically impressive jarring away from the narrative flow, completely engaging and yet discombobulating at the same time. Unhappen is a collective of talented individuals who all bring their part to the plays climax, with Lucy Parakhina’s video, James Brown’s sound and Benjamin Brockman’s lighting used to great effect against the disarmingly flimsy “protective” plastic sheeting that covers everything Dylan Tonkin uses in his set.
Unhappen typically make challenging theatre works that require an erudite leaning from the audience into the thought-space, but their invitations to do this are always witty and beguiling. They don’t make easy theatre, even if it is enjoyable and Kill The PM is very funny, but their theatrical seductions are always well rewarded with mind-food that keeps you awake long into a fevered night, that can’t be killed (see what I did there?) I have to confess to fantasies of killing our current PM, me being one of those thinking women and all, and if nothing else, it is thrilling to sit for an hour and feel the weight of alienation lift as the safest possible space in the world – independent, semi-underground theatre – wrestles and rolls in the muck of revolution. Vive la différence.