Mere steps from the serene St Kilda oceanfront, a man dangles by his leg from a high ceiling, clutching a hand saw. It is a striking opening image, making early promises of further death-defying theatrical insanity. It is AUTOCANNIBAL, playing at Theatre Works on Acland St.

The piece stands at a stark 45 minutes. Clearly, its message was to be burning and precise. Already this deviation from a more typical running time has the audience’s ears pricking up before they’ve even found their seats. The haze is dense, the set nearly imperceptible.

We meet our protagonist – a silent, disheveled news reporter from a time gone by. We do not know his name. We may glean clues from his torn up suit, his darkened eyes, his crazed, desperate demeanour. But we are allowed nothing further. We follow The Hanged Man as he descends into a desperate hunger, clawing and pleading with his apathetic environment and receiving no answer.

This is a story of consumption, of devastation. The inescapable pull of human need and desire hangs heavy over the starving man. He is starved in all senses – food, water, company, stimuli. He finds momentary comfort in a Shibari-d garbage bag; bones and plastic falling away with every futile thrust.

There are 8 billion tonnes of plastic in the world. In this dystopian picture painted by Mitch Jones and Masha Terentieva, it is all we have left.

The Theatre Works space is used expertly here – the performer utilizes all of the stage, both on the ground and in the air. The fly crew must also be commended for the beat-perfect manoeuvring of a pair of rusty scissors. The scene seems to be alive. A one-man-show it may be, the many expertly moving parts means the space always feels full.

Sound and lighting design (Bonnie Knight, Marco Cher-Gibard and Paul Lim) are incredible, allowing the piece the cutting edge it requires. From thrumming house music to striking light trickery – there is much for an audience member to be enraptured by.

Mitch Jones is a skilled and impressive performer, with a background in circus and physical theatre. He climbs, jumps, tumbles and somersaults his way through the performance with apparent ease. His commitment to the role is commendable, asked to twist and contort himself into all manner of wild and ugly caricatures. He is vulnerable, funny and engrossing. Jones shows no fear in the manipulation of many complex props, and never once fumbles.

The narrative is a quick and dirty one. The ending is a foregone conclusion – it’s in the name, after all. Driven insane by hunger, The Hanged Man turns inward, a product of his cold and unfeeling surrounds. He begins to devour himself. It is a thrilling lead-up, though the payoff was perhaps slightly lacking. For all the pre-show warnings of gore and horror, there was very little in the way of the explicit. Some may see this as a promise not delivered on, others may be glad to be spared the visual.

The story ends sharply, and perhaps unexpectedly. Much like The Hanged Man’s limbs, there seemed to be something missing. This is regrettable, considering the dramatic and compelling setup. However, this minor grievance with the narrative had little impact on the overall enjoyment and execution of the piece.

AUTOCANNIBAL is a love letter to the impending climate-ravaged apocalypse, and our place within it as base, desire-driven materialists. When all is lost, all we have is ourselves. Eat up.

AUTOCANNIBAL runs 10-21 July at Theatre Works, St Kilda.

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