Originally published on A Younger Theatre
Animal behaviour has long been studied through live experiments – put a rat in a maze, apply a stimulus and see how it reacts. The Truman Show is a 1990s film whereby Jim Carrey finds himself living inside a reality television show, watched and ultimately studied by billions of viewers around the world. These viewers too are monitoring his reaction to various events that he believes he is in control of. All Your Wants & Needs Fulfilled Forever by The Playground Collective, is a theatrical adaptation of this premise – Simon Simon (Eli Kent) lives his life inside a TV set into which the producers introduce events to provoke a desired reaction. Ultimately the TV crew (Victoria Abbott, Hamish Parkinson and Joel Baxendale) seem to be driving him to a single goal under the direction of an inanimate robotic voice that emanates from a filament lamp above the set. What is this goal? Who is the voice, this Wizard of Oz character that can be heard and not seen? Can they break the cycle of Simon’s life, drive him to the apex and see what lies beyond? So many questions become the ultimate experiment framing Simon’s existence.
Designer Sam Trubridge creates a blank canvas in which Simon is confined, using imaginative lighting and music to appropriately colour each scene as needed. Director, Robin Kerr cleverly uses rudimentary props to act as influential characters in Simon’s life; the TV crew breathe life into these inanimate objects with great effect. Abbott’s voiceover of Simon’s girlfriend Alice is particularly powerful – a somewhat dishevelled mannequin suddenly has a personality of its own and conveys some really intense emotional dialogue with Simon, simultaneously comical and realistic. Combined with the backing music, Kerr transforms what visually seems ridiculous into a tender and touching relationship.
As the plot progresses, there is a well-conceived build-up of tension that looks set to reach a truly poignant climax. Writer Eli Kent cleverly unveils the lack of control that Simon has over his existence and the influence that the other actors can exert upon his daily activity. From live scene pauses to the pavlova/ Pavlov connection to the black bin bag interaction, key subtext is intrinsically woven into the storyline and produces some wonderful emotional colouring. The point at which even the TV producers effectively lose control over Simon’s story catapults the show into unchartered territory, with the thrill of the unexpected really captivating to watch. But, the result of this perceived improvisation is not a convincing apex; the well-trodden line between ridiculous and impactful is missed and suddenly the whole scenario is too fantastical. The ultimate conclusion is therefore a bit flat, a shame considering all the hard work done to build to this point.
“The solution lies in the conclusion” announces the disembodied voice to the TV crew. If it does, then this production needs to re-analyse its calculation because the conclusion simply doesn’t fit with the initial premise. What starts as a contemporary, alternative and imaginative piece of theatre, ends slightly too farcical to deliver a home-run. But the potential is most definitely there.
All Your Wants & Needs Fulfilled Forever is playing Brick Hall, The Vaults Festival until 6 March 2016. For more information and tickets, see www.vaultfestival.com/all-your-wants-and-needs-fulfilled-forever