All the Difference – Sydney Fringe Festival (Theatre review)
All The Difference
Old 505 Theatre at The Sydney Fringe Festival
According to Bertolt Brecht, the temptation to rationalise the contemporary human condition falls too easily into an association with the forces at odds with humanization. “Even those writers who are conscious of the fact that capitalism impoverishes, dehumanizes, mechanizes human beings, and who fight against it, seem to be part of the same process of impoverishment: for they too in their writing appear to be less concerned with elevating man, they rush him through events, treat his inner life as a quantité négligeable and so on.” (Bertolt Brecht against Georg Lukacs) It is this problem, posed by Brecht, that Paul Gilchrist specifically deals with in All The Difference, refusing to fall prey to the accusations of Brecht through an elevation of the inner workings of the individual, even as they are situated within the stultifying effects of an oppressive society. It is a modern perversion that Margaret Thatcher can declare there is no society, just when society has all but replaced the individual in every quantifiable way. Today the individual is the tax payer, part of the Facebook community, the demographic, and of course, the audience. Paul Gilchrist seeks to return the individual human creature as causal nexus, even within the midst of a persuasive and dominating society. In the very clever play All The Difference, Gilchrist stages a deceptively light-hearted battle between the voice of the other as large statistical group (the audience) and the individual (actor alone on stage).
Flick stands before her audience and tells her story. Her narrative is disarmingly simple, as is the dramatic and staging structures of the play. She encounters her life as we all do, as a series of highs and lows, problems and battles. However, signposted as key moments in her life, are her choices, the examination and exercise of her free will. Yet Flick is part of a society. Part of a play. Part of a room filled with a judging, calculating, assessing audience. As if her life is an adventure novel, Flick appeals in a light-hearted manner to the audience to vote on the alternate trajectories of her life’s narrative. However, within the seemingly light-hearted framework lies the complex modern questioning of Flick the individual sharing an existence with Flick the member of broader society. The plays structure falls in line with the progress of physics, relating the issues of strict causality (even adopting Schrödinger’s uncertainty principle) as it occurs in the nature of our free will, against statistical causality that comes out in the audience judgement. However, it never makes the error of appealing to the ‘physics’ as a progressive thought process advancing purely subjective propositions. This subtle distinction makes it possible for the audience to retain the authority of the individual observer within the confines of the statistical mass we call society.
What makes All The Difference so very interesting, is the almost impossible nature of the audience to choose outside of the boundary of statistical causality. To have one’s herd mentality exposed is a shocking experience. Flick’s choices are different for her, yet they are obliterated and replaced by obedience when the audience is asked to decide. By connecting this process to that of the old ‘Choose your own Adventure’ books of the 1960’s and 70’s, we begin to see the way societies assessment stymies adventure and choice. Society is the inhibitor. The prohibiter. Flicks attempts at an exercise of free will are interrupted by the observers authority and in this way mobilize her against herself as the author of her own narrative.
This is heterogeneous theatre wrapped up in light weight story telling that provides a delightful experience but almost loses itself in its appeal to the more complex aspect of the nature of the individual in the audience. In the very act of turning the audience into society, Paul Gilchrist and Daniela Georgie run the risk of having the complex issues they beautifully present becoming lost in the act of judgement they invite. They pepper the narrative with clues (physics, roulette, chance, Schrödinger) but make no mistake, this is theatre appealing to a very high level of intellectual engagement, asking questions of an audience who need to stand outside of themselves in order to gain the full weight of what is offered in the play’s assertion. It is, however, the most intellectually satisfying piece of theatre I have seen in Sydney this year, and the most thought-provoking and complicated impact I have experienced as an audience member.
A shout out to Kathryn Schuback who is our lone protagonist, our individual and our self. Kathryn does a wonderful job with this important and challenging script, riding the waves of its audience interaction with intelligent poise and rather astonishing navigational skills. Subtlenuance live up to their name in every way through this astonishing declarative statement and pay their audience an enormous compliment in the assumption of our capacity for deep and intellectual engagement. Don’t let them down!
You can grab your tickets to All The Difference here.