Emma Hall’s one-woman show, We May Have To Choose, has finally returned to Melbourne after a triumphant national and international tour, collecting a swathe of award nominations and wins along the way. It is only a short season at La Mama this time around, and if the waiting list at the door at Opening Night is anything to go by, tickets will be highly sought after. And rightly so.
The strengths of We May Have To Choose are difficult to capture in words. The tightly packed fifty minute production is simple in design and execution. Hall stands alone on stage and recites a series (over 600, I’m led to believe) of opinions; short, sharp statements. That’s it. Against a stark white backdrop – with Amelia Lever-Davidson’s perfectly measured lighting design gently shaping and supporting the ebb and flow of the performance – Hall faces off with the audience. She wields her words like a fencing champion, swinging effortlessly from thought to thought, leading the audience until she lands a powerful strike right in the guts.
Hall is unstoppable, unflappable. Even an audience member appalled at her assertion that Kylie is better than Danni Minogue doesn’t slow her flood of opinions. As it became clear that the piece would not shift stylistically, that the opinions would keep coming, I did find my attention drifting, but Hall and director Prue Clark have mapped the trajectory of the piece perfectly, hitting each lull with a remarkable new thought that made us laugh, smile or shift uncomfortably with a sense of recognition.
A production like this could easily lose its momentum, it relies almost entirely upon Hall’s ability to wrestle the attention of the audience, to give a simple reeling off of opinions enough to weight to hold us in our seats. Under the direction of Clark, Hall herself is the grounding weight; the cool confidence with which she claims the space is captivating. Beginning in silence, turning the acknowledgement of country into a sharp political statement, Hall is commanding. She lays down the rules (she speaks, we do not), maps out expectations (this show is ‘experimental’) and stares into the audience like someone establishing dominance over their cat. She maintains this dominating presence throughout, with minimal but precise movement, showing only minuscule cracks in the shell of her speech that allows a glimpse at a vulnerability that softens the piece just enough to make the most awkward, harrowing, bitter strikes even more tender for the audience.
But the greatest strength of We May Have To Choose is that it so painfully reflects the way we engage with information, opinion and socio-political issues in the contemporary world of globalized, socialized media. Sitting in the audience to forget, at times, that information being delivered is opinion, when the statement is feasible and structured appropriately enough to be mistaken for fact. You remember, at times, that now more than ever opinion (which everyone has a right to) is being presented, accepted and canonized as fact. You remember that people (often very powerful people) dodge important questions, ideas, issues by stringing together loosely associated statements until the conversation has moved on, forgotten. We May Have To Choose is well-deserving of its accolades: an unflinching depiction of the way we are bogged down, dragged along by information, and how we choose to discard it.