It’s a bit odd watching a theatre adaptation of an episode of The Bachelor without ever having seen the original TV show. It is like being dropped on an alien planet where, as you witness the horror, exploitation and heteronormative trash that is television’s The Bachelor, you silently congratulate yourself and feel irrepressibly smug for having dodged a bullet – even if you don’t quite get some of the inside jokes. But at its heart this show is full of empathy, compassion and good humour that is totally absent in reality television – it is refreshing, fun, and heart-warming.
Playing at The Mechanic’s Institute as part of La Mama’s ongoing season, ‘The Bachelor S17 E5’ is a verbatim episode of the US version of ‘The Bachelor’ created by Katrina Cornwell and Morgan Rose. It is clever, funny and heartfelt theatre that exposes the revolting underbelly of reality television while still allowing its human participants dignity and souls. By staging an episode of ‘The Bachelor’ live on stage, the structures which usually strip the human participants of their agency – editing, recaps, scripting – are exposed and put in the mouths and bodies of real, living, breathing people. No longer are the women who fight for the heart of a single man one-dimension, easily-dismissed bimbos. We see their unedited reactions, their human feelings, and their heartbreak is given weight and respect. The flipside of this is that, by staging the episode in front of us, the idiocy underneath reality television is exposed and gutted, and the festering pustule that is ‘The Bachelor’ is left leaking all over the stage – in the form of copious rose petals – in the best possible way.
Cornwall and Rose have cast an admirably diverse cast of actors to portray the women vying for the guy. There is a man, an older women, women of colour, a gender non-binary actor, and overweight women. As the company says in their show description, this is about highlighting the fact that “love is not just for the young, white, thin and hetero.” The whole cast put in compassionate yet funny performances filled with (non-literal) knowing winks to the audience, all the while allowing the women their own hearts and souls which are stripped from them in the television version.
Cornwell’s direction is excellent, with beautifully choreographed scenes which allow glimpses into the feelings of the women as they leap through the reality television hoops set before them. Lighting design by Georgie Wolfe and sound design by Harry Covill blend beautifully to both exploit the fact that this is theatre – where light and sound combined with bodies onstage can do so much to our thoughts and feelings – while still evoking the trashy tropes of reality television.
The most impressive balance achieved in this production is the fact that it does not fully take the piss out of ‘The Bachelor.’ It feels like everyone involved secretly loves to snuggle up on the couch with a glass of wine and watch the trials and tribulations on-screen, and lovers of the show are not made to feel ashamed for loving it. This show comes from a place of empathy and respect, which is so lovely to witness onstage in a political climate which uses shame as its most trusted weapon. ‘The Bachelor S17 E5’ is a great night out that engages you with politics without bashing you over the head, while still redirecting the light, flirty, slightly silly Bachelor-ness while wrapping it up in big-hearted and well-executed theatre.