Humanity is laid bare on the stage with beautiful performances and clever lighting in Super Discount, Back to Back Theatre’s latest offering to Melbourne audiences. After their international hit Ganesh versus the Third Reich last year, this time their subject for exploration is the realm of the superhero. The piece used cast member Brian Tilly’s obsession with cape crusaders and x-ray vision as a springboard into conveying messages which easily held the audiences attention for the 60-minute duration of the play.
The five full-time actors, who each live with a disability, make up Back to Back. They are Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Simon Laherty, Mark Deans and Brian Tilley. Guest actor, David Woods, who doesn’t, joins them for this production. They all showed immense concentration and determination to deliver a piece with little more on stage than a bare table, a microphone stand and a few chairs to help them. Plus, hanging upstage on the back wall was a symbolic moral compass in the guise of a basketball electronic scoreboard. The ‘light’ team scoring points when goodness prevails throughout the dialogue and the ‘dark’ team gaining scoreboard points when evil gets in the way of kindness and empathy. On one level, Super Discount is a tale of the fight between good and evil, between superficiality and depth of character.
Artistic director, Bruce Galdwin says in the program notes, “The way Brian (Tilley) sees it, superheroes are outsiders shunned by society and Brian can relate to that.” So the cast gives us a performance that wants to say something about society’s preoccupation with outer appearance, biceps and Hollywood smiles. Is it this that we really crave in our heroes or is it their capacity to live by undying convictions, good moral codes and their display of kindness towards other human beings? To be superhuman, we need to be profoundly human showing our vulnerabilities, our need to love and be loved, to know our strengths and weaknesses. Through their characters, the six players on stage explore this territory.
In a nutshell, Super Discount is a play within a play, showing the process a theatre company has to go through to cast a superhero. What attributes constitute one? Through improvisation and the use of actual recorded dialogue over time between actors on and off stage, this script was devised and reworked over the last two years by the actors themselves. Because the actors have experienced life very different to most, they bring to the stage a unique and very refreshing view of the world. This is the pure joy of Back to Back and its stories on stage.
The other idea presented within their piece is how do you represent disability on stage and who should do it? The moral dilemma of able-bodied actors playing disabled characters is argued intensely but with humour. David Woods is used to provoke the characters on stage and the members of the audience – the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. He raises the ire of the characters when he tries to interpose and place his take on how the auditions should run and what is the desired aesthetic for the character of Mark that they should try to cast. All the while, Mark Deans sits patiently upstage on a chair in his superhero costume, resplendent in its canary yellow colour, waiting for his chance to audition for the part, the part of himself. The piece unfolds and the ending to it is heart warming and exhilarating for two reasons – the first being Mark Deans’ acting ability and the second is the excellent special effects and lighting that bring the play to its climax.
It is a thrill to see new Australian work at the best of times, conveying meaningful subject matter. It is even more thrilling to watch the Back to Back company do it with their own unique voice. Gladwin’s steerage of this gem of a company is again to be congratulated. Great ideas explored in effective ways. Go see and find your true superhuman qualities and assess what you admire in your heroes.