** Stars

By Ash Cottrell

I’m not one for slaying content without commenting on at least a handful of positive take-outs. Add to that, I’m particularly hesitant to be overwhelmingly negative when I know just how difficult COVID has been for artists and theatre makers alike. I applaud anyone for jumping right back into the arena, with a desire to entertain. I have to be upfront and honest here though and that leaves me in an awkward position. To be frank, I really didn’t enjoy, We’re Probably Really Really Happy Right Now. One thing was for sure, I wasn’t.  

It was last Thursday night and my best friend and I braved the traffic across to the Southside to see what Theatre Works, post Dan’s oppressive COVID snap shutdown, had to offer. In between excitable conversation, I pondered just how much I used to enjoy going to Theatre Works. In fact, it used to be my favourite place for theatre in Melbourne. Admittedly, this was fifteen years ago. While I’ve found it reasonably hit and miss since its heyday, I have seen some impressive shows there over the past few years and I’ve always marvelled particularly, at the ways in which they transform the space.

With that said and in order to soften the blow, I’ll start with something that did make me really, really happy, because it goes pretty steeply downhill from there. The set design (Bethany J. Fellows) was fantastic. The audience were encased in Perspex and seated more or less, in the round. The structure was reminiscent of a gladiator-esque spectator fight, which I thought was clever, given that the storytelling dealt with the leery nature of the contemporary landscape and its intersection with technology. Design elements that distracted and dazzled me throughout, were LEDs, ornate ceiling lights and expertly incorporated projections, kudos to Gabe Bethune.

With respect to the writing and the story itself however, I was far from impressed. From what I’ve read, the intended vibe was an indictment on the ills of the 21st century. Not uncharted territory by any stretch of the imagination. The characters (portrayed by an ensemble cast), encountered what we are all accustomed to in the workplace and beyond, disconnectedness; social anxiety; rejection; the inability of technology to fulfill us emotionally; misogyny in the office…the list goes on. All worthy of exploration – not done well here. The play was presented under the guise of absurdity, but perhaps a more accurate description would be, art for art’s sake, which has a tendency to infuriate me as an audience member.

The ensemble cast was vast and the actors (in many cases), played more than one character. Story-wise I didn’t connect with any of them. The dance choreography seemed completely random and unimpressive. Call me a cynic, but an onslaught of interpretive dance had me perennially checking my phone for the time.

The performances by and large seemed undercooked and even for a preview night, I was disappointed with the level of polish. Lines were dropped and the actors stomped one another. In their defence, I can only surmise that the snap COVID shutdown and indeed, all of the preceding restrictions prevented the performers from extensive and much needed rehearsal time.

In the interest of not undermining my aforementioned assessment, I’ll stick to my guns about this show. With that said, there seems to be an endless slew of positive critiques online that would indicate I’ve missed something.

I can’t help but think, I haven’t.

Image: Pia Johnson