Photo - Sebastien Arnold
I'm not sure when satirical self-reference became a genre in its own right, or for how long it will be fashionable, but for the moment at least it's a dramatic device that seems firmly entrenched. Scan YouTube and you'll find legions of 'literal' music videos to popular songs in which the words have been overdubbed with new lyrics describing the action taking place in the film clip. Or videos like the trailer for every Oscar-winning movie ever which picks apart Hollywood's narrative formula and explains it in the form of a Hollywood movie trailer.
[title of show] is about two guys trying to write a musical to enter in a festival - we quickly realise the musical we're watching them write is the musical we're now watching. That's the central element of the whole thing and it's played for laughs in as many ways as possible over the course of 90 minutes.
Now before you get me wrong, let me say that I liked it. This is the first production of [title of show] outside of the US and it was well staged with energetic performances and great timing. I laughed on cue along with the rest of the audience and smiled knowingly at the clever references. It was good and I can't fault it for what it was.
It's just something about what it was that bugs me. I wanted more.
It seems almost too easy to throw something like this together and call it art. The YouTube clips I mentioned earlier are great, but they're made by people in their bedrooms for the sheer fun of it and only a few minutes long anyway. The now-famous movie Adaptation - an orgy of mindbending self-reference - only happened because the writer genuinely couldn't work out how to adapt a certain book for a screenplay and instead wrote a screenplay about his difficulty in adapting the book. Singing In The Rain, the much-loved musical about making a musical, is, for all its Hollywood conformity, still incredibly original and full of charming moments that aren't strictly in service of the core narrative.
The problem with [title of show] is it's clever, it knows it's clever and it basks in its own cleverness. To borrow a line from The History Boys, the sheer competence of it is staggering. The writers of [title of show] have even been clever enough to get around negative reviews by working them into the show. But at some point, once you've broken everything down to a formula and everything that happens becomes fodder for that formula, what you're left with is something rather empty. Rather than a celebration of life with its richness and everyday insanities, or a warning jolt that challenges perceptions, you end up with a pale imitation of life that can only mock what it itself wants to be.
I enjoyed [title of show] while I was watching it, but afterwards I felt tired. Similarly, while I enjoy the company of friends who employ razor-sharp sarcasm and only razor-sharp sarcasm, I quickly find it draining. So while [title of show] is a state-of-the-art specimen of a certain kind of entertainment, for me, life's too short. Tonight I might watch Singing In The Rain again.
[title of show]
Music & Lyrics by Jeff Bowen | Book by Hunter Bell
Director Aaron Joyner
Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda
Dates: May 3 - 15, 2010
Bookings: www.magtix.com | (03) 9534 3388