Shut Up and Drive; or Sex, Liberty and the Automobile – Love and Lust with our cars. (Theatre Review)


Shut Up And Drive; or Sex, Liberty and the Automobile

Subtlenuance in associatin with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company.

9-23 April, King Cross Theatre. You can grab your tickets here.


 “After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident.” Crash (J.G. Ballard)

Shut Up And Drive is nothing like J.G. Ballard’s iconic 1973 novel, and yet it evokes the same disturbing awareness of the erotic tension between human creatures and our automobiles. Shut Up And Drive is all Daniela Giorgi and Paul Gilchrist, a commentary from the two great writers about Sydney’s, and our broader culture’s love affair with cars. Yet in a poignant and surreal moment at the climax of the play, Bonnie Kellett writhes about on the floor in a fevered sexual day-dream about her lover and what they will get up to in their car. This moment preempts a very Ballard plot twist that unlike Ballard is reduced, not emphasised, to an almost nothingness in the face of our wish to keep our cars on the road. Giorgi and Gilchrist play to a more modern theme subsuming the dangerous rush of the vehicle to the anemic symbol of conformity it has become. If Ballard wanted to associate our passion for the automobile with a Freudian death drive obsessed love of technology, Giorgi and Gilchrist suggest the modern day relationship with the car has become one of compliance, acts of nanny-state like control and a petty confrontation with cyclists. The car’s triumph is in assimilation and like fat-free milk, sugar free sweeteners and electronic cigarettes, anaesthetised away from its dangers into the backgrounds of our lives where its potential to harm is relegated to that most absent and feeble of all daily concerns – the environment.

And yet, existing still is that Ballard moment in Shut Up And Drive; chillingly reduced to a mere mention and only revealed in the sorrow of a sibling. Are we tricking ourselves into thinking we’ve conquered the automobile away from Ballard’s fears? Is our contemporary relationship to the car a little like the margarine of the 90’s – you think it’s safer than the original only to find its ten times worse? Statistically, air bags kill more people than they protect. The airbag is more useful in enfeebling the thrill and the rush of the drive rather than saving lives. We’ve tricked ourselves into imagining an increase in safety features will impact liberties. Insurance is higher for young men. You need 120 hours on your trip sheet before you can apply for a P license and once you have it, a zero tolerance policy on alcohol and groups of friends intends to invoke safety. Yet with all this, automobiles kill more people than they used to, ninety percent of those deaths are in the fifteen to twenty-two years age bracket and in low socio-economic groups. As Shut Up And Drive makes so clear, Ballard’s reality exists. Only now, stripped of its glamour and appropriated by the uncool tenets of Capitalism we’re able to trick ourselves into thinking we control our vehicles and we’ve reduced our use. Down in the “trouble areas” of each of our cities, our beautiful youth are sacrificing themselves on Ballard’s altar and unless action is taken, road deaths are expected to become the fifth leading cause of death in the world by 2030. Shut Up And Drive incorporates this enormity into its hour and a half, reminding us how far off the ball our eyes have strayed in honour of refusing to take action.


The interlacing vignettes in Shut Up And Drive are spliced with snippets of gorgeously performed popular songs, such as Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Fire’ and Meatloaf’s ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light.’ These injections of pop culture serve as enigmatic signposts of our constant attempts to romance the vehicle and bathe it in nostalgia. The tone and pace of Shut Up And Drive is light and kept ephemeral by these quirky musical interludes while always retaining the darkness of its shadows through an iconic front end of a vehicle pressing its nose into the action as if it forced its way through the wall or crashed there. Using Liam O’Keefe’s potent lighting, the car transitions swiftly from object of yearning to a transportation toward death as the cast move joyfully and easily between their various scenes. As with many Subtlenuance productions, costuming is kept natural and to a minimum, playing second fiddle to performance and writing. Paul Gilchrist’s direction is light but sharp. He keeps the movement high and energetic, even when the performance is soft and soulful. Group scenes are well choreographed in the intimate theatre naturally evoking the mood and feel of the complex scenes. The cast includes Robert Roworth, Kit Bennett, Bonnie Kellett, Eli Saad, Jordie MacKinnon, Tom Nauta, Maddy McWilliam, Sonja Kerr Sam Glissan and Michael Smith. Everyone is on point, but a special joy exists in watching a Paul Gilchrist directed Sonja Kerr and Shut Up And Drive delivers this pleasure in spades. With the event tidily and seamlessly produced by Daniela Giorgi, Shut Up And Drive is a standout on the 2016 Sydney calendar, in a year filled with great productions.

Highly recommended.