Mum, Me and the IED – Theatre represents simulation. (Theatre Review)
Mum, Me and the IED
Collaborations Theatre Group with The Depot Theatre
From 15 August – 1 September.
You can grab your tickets here.
Images: James Balian
In ‘On Exactitude in Science,’ Jorge Luis Borges writes a one-paragraph short story about an empire where the science of cartography becomes so exact that only a map on the same scale as the empire itself will suffice. For Jean Baudrillard, this concept becomes embroiled in a modern abstraction which is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. It is now the map which precedes the territory. We see this come to full life in Mum, Me, and the IED as written by Roger Vickery and James Balian. An imperialism of personhood is evoked as a battle for definitions (What is a man?) ensues between a military machine and a mother of a sensitive boy. Inside the play, both Mother and Military machine evoke present day simulators that try to make the real, all the real, coincide with their simulation models. But it is no longer a question of maps and territory. For Roger Vickery and James Balian, the mirror of being and appearances, of the real and its concept lies with Rob’s (Philippe Klaus) mum (Elaine Hudson) while the military’s relation to the formation of masculinity is nuclear and genetic rather than specular and discursive. The real of the military is produced miniaturised units, from matrices, memory banks and command models – and from these it can be produced thousands of times. Sensitivity is random and conditional (showed to a drunk abusive officer but withheld from a sufferer of PTSD). The military ‘real’ no longer has to be rational since it is no longer measured against some ideal or negative instance. It is nothing more than operational.
As the writers of Mum, Me and IED reveal, it is an oversimplification to consider an ideological conflict regarding something as powerful as a countries military position as mere oppositional perspectives. The military machine employs tactics Baudrillard might consider duplicitous. It simulates its care response to victims of PTSD without addressing the complication as a Real. To explain this, imagine someone who feigns an illness can go to bed and make believe he is ill. Someone who simulates an illness produces some of the symptoms. Therefore, feigning leaves the reality principle intact; the difference is always clear, just masked. But simulation threatens the difference between “true” and “false” between “real” and “imaginary.” It is upon this basis that proponents of false news are able to appeal to those immersed in simulated realities. The Military itself moves more and more into the technological simulation to blur the difference between training and drone wars. Perhaps this is their answer to the problem of PTSD? To give the soldier a way of simulating real life in order to cope with the very real of his own imaginary. But this backwards step forces the territory to be sublimated to the map. It hides the real of casualties from those who may be able to prevent them, and it produces a preferred result upon which the actual landscape can be mapped.
It is inside this investigation that the play finds its legs. PTDS is the real manifestation of a confusion between an ideological real and a lived experience on the ground. A Mothers warning based on experience align with her ideological position but they conflict with her preferred representation of masculinity. The argument presented is that her boy, raised to be different from his military father, is made vulnerable when he has to go to war. The Military, in its lack of recognition, prefers its map to the real territory. In the middle is the soldier, with no possibility of preparing for that about which he is unaware. For Roger Vickery and James Balian, the dilemma of real v’s simulation is played out upon the body of the soldier, and this wounds in a way no weapon can. Eventually, The Real inserts itself in the troubled boy almost in order to protect the military machine from its own real. While this may not be an intention, it is a happy consequence. When Melodie (Matilda Brodie) offers psychotherapy to Rob, the intention is to ‘heal’ Rob, not deal with cause. It is Rob’s Mum who fears the consequences before they appear.
Mum, Me and the IED is a strong, astute work that has been carefully crafted through its entire journey from the thought bubble of Roger Vickery through to performance. Story goes Kevin Jackson was drawn to the writing due to its approach of subject matter. He clearly has an affinity and uses this to direct the play confidently toward its strengths. Characters sit along side the stage, baring witness or turning away according to ideology, and a couple of cast double up’s imply clever mental cross overs that provide valuable insight into Rob’s frame of mind. Martin Kinnane’s lighting draws the audience into the experience of a sufferer of PTSD, particularly posited against Ben Pierpoitn’s sounds which are horribly real. Rachel Scane’s costumes are understated yet beautifully wielded, and her set design is an internal war-horror nightmare that absorbs the audience through the story’s trajectory.
Kevin Jackson has successfully called forth wonderful performances from his cast, particularly Philippe Klaus as Rob and Elaine Hudson as his Mother. All the periphery performances are strong and cohesive, providing interesting nuances that connect the audience to Rob’s internal struggles. This is a fine production, another at The Depot Theatre, that encourages us yet again to make the march to Marrickville part of our theatre rounds.
 Please note: I’ve relied heavily on a reading of Jean Baudrillard’s ‘Simulations’ for this review, as Translated by Paul Floss, Paul Patton and Philip Beitchman. Baudrillard does not speak about the Military Machine, that is my extrapolation alone. His work on Simulation verses The Real is well worth a read.