As much as I wanted to, I simply didn't like it. I often think the best state for a critic is ignorance. That is, an ignorance not of their field (one wants a critic who knows who Shakespeare was, for instance), but of what they are about to experience. So often, you see, can preconceptions alter an experience for the worse; sometimes better. (Then again, every audience member will have a preconception of what they are about to see, so one might argue that it is a necessity of the theatrical experience, but this is not the place.) It is an "open mind", basically, that I try to inculcate in myself, and if ever there was a production to show just how ignorant I can make myself in regards to what I'm about to witness, it was Super Discount.
The first revelation was that this was theatre made by people with a disability. It is part of the Sydney Theatre Company season, but the play is made by a company who, as the program tells us, has a bit of critical buzz behind them; a company called "Back to Back". This was my first experience with their work. Leaving the theatre, I was left with the urge – that always unfulfillable urge in the theatre – to see their other work, not because I was so enamoured by what I had just seen, but because I wanted to know if the company's style was just not to my taste.
Photo by Jeff Busby.
Having thought on the play for a day or two afterwards (and thus sitting down to write this review), I've come to the conclusion that I didn't like the play mainly because it was about disability. Which sounds like a horrid statement to make, certainly, but let me explain: it is because the play explores an "idea", whatever that idea may be (in this case, for the most part, disability). One has come to know one's own biases over the years, and one of them is any play that tries to make a political point, or explore an issue, and so on. While Super Discount wasn't political per se, much of the dialogue, and many of the interplay between the characters, was based on society's reaction to disability, among other things. Many times it felt like a mere discussion was taking place; the only difference from it being a forum or panel being that the characters moved around the stage. It felt dialectic, and this critic didn't like it. (Another theatre company, version 1.0, does plays that 'explore' stuff too – they are about the only theatre company I've seen who have successfully devised an entertaining evening in such a fashion – their play The Table of Knowledge, about corruption in local councils in Australia, being one good example.)
The set up was that we were in a rehearsal room, and the fourth wall was quite thin, even if the characters never spoke directly to the audience. The ensemble was rehearsing a play about a superhero, and various issues would arise. Should the superhero, based on a disabled person, be played by someone without a disability, and if he was, was he therefore being mocked or degraded by the other actor trying to imitate him? Should critics, for instance, treat productions such as these any differently, or is it an insult to do so? (Hopefully I have not fallen into that trap.) These were but a couple among the many.
There were moments of mirth throughout the evening – though only once did this critic crack a smile. (Many of the audience, however, laughed quite a lot, so perhaps one is merely a grumpy and shrivelled old soul who takes no pleasure in anything in life, even cute kittens on the internet.) But nothing could save me from the boredom, unfortunately. One has fond memories of the STC's earlier production of Never Did Me Any Harm in 2012, a piece of dance theatre that explored (oh how I hate the word "explored") parenting and the relationship between children and their parents. That production was moderately entertaining, this one was not.