If the mode and medium of theatrical storytelling were cut into tiny pieces, jammed into a blender till overflowing and then whizzed up full blast without the lid, the result would be The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm’s production for the Queensland Theatre Company and the Brisbane Festival, I Feel Awful. It’s an organised chaotic rollercoaster ride past the sights and sounds of a bloody dissection of theatrical process and presentation.
This fast paced performance piece jumped in and out of theatre, TV and film vignettes and was layered with smatterings of pop culture references. The beginning of the show played as the audience entered the Bille Brown Studio, the set up is a banal office space full of workers at their desks while a man vacuumed the floor. After the cleaner finished, silence ensued and the audience waited for action. A direct address introduction to the performance from one of the actors played out and soon jumped from the prosaic to the absurd. He played a video recording of himself speaking about The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm and then began to interact with himself on the screen, a fight quickly escalated, a co-worker intervened simultaneously on stage and on screen and before long each actor took a gun and killed their respective on-screen personas.
The mood plunged and the stage went to black and large doors opened at the rear of the stage to reveal 9 actors in blacks and balaclavas. As they marched out militantly the audience were informed that ‘Black Lung’ had recruited our youth and we became witness to a theatrical boot camp of sorts. After the introductions were finished the house lights came up and the action returned to the business of making theatre inside the dreary and defined limitation of white gaffer taped office spaces.
There were tiffs and hierarchical enforcements, sexual harassment and bullying as the ‘recruits’ fulfilled the commands of the management in a robotic fashion. An irreverent homage was paid to Michael Gow as the pace increased and the audience were provided with some previously rehearsed excerpts completely ripped out of context each scene containing increasing ‘girl on girl’ action. The moment was abruptly called to a halt and directions to change the scene were yelled across the stage with a megaphone, flats, portable clothes rack, props trolley and plastic potted plants were rushed across the stage. A large flat fell forward toward the audience to reveal a garden setting with a moon and an actor clinging to a large tree. Wave after wave of pandemonium continued, complete with the actors convulsing to Lady Gaga and then settling momentarily into clichéd scenes of warfare and sitcom – the denouement was the final straw being reached by the management aka The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm and they stormed off the stage one by one. The young recruits were left to work it out on their own, until eventually there was nothing left for them to explore either. Stage in complete disarray, fully lit and empty of actors except one of the managers who had returned to try his luck again with one of the female recruits, the cleaner returned to the stage, and even he left peeved at working conditions and treatment.
If you’re not part of the ‘theatre crowd’ then there might be sections of this show that will fly over the top of your head like an F-111 and make you feel like you haven’t been part of the ‘in joke’ that’s just been shoved down your throat. However, don’t despair because this is your once in a life time ticket to witness the inner machinations of how you as the audience can be manipulated and blatantly sucked into the viewing vortex that is the gamut of theatre, movie and TV making. I Feel Awful is a witty, entertaining, confusing and alluring black postmodern cacophony of all that we love to love and love to hate about the theatre and its storytelling cousins. It’s completely what you make of it, so expect nothing and expect everything.
The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm
I Feel Awful
by Thomas M Wright
Director Thomas M Wright
Venue: Bille Brown Studio, 78 Montague Rd South Brisbane
Dates: 31 August - 10 September, 2011
Commissioned by Queensland Theatre Company