Some Dumb Play is as much a work to be admired as it is to be enjoyed.
The central concept of the work is stupidly ambitious. Audiences are invited to bring their smartphones to the show and, through the company's wifi network, vote upon one of three possible directions for each scene – variations ranging from changes in style (Western or Children's Television) to characters (cheating lovers or nervous policemen) to plot (a happy or sad ending). The performers then must adapt to the whims of their audience.
Initially, it's hard not to be skeptical of the device. Audiences are introduced to the concept to great effect when asked to vote upon the pre-show soundtrack but, once the performance itself begins, it grates somewhat. The production consists of only short scenes and each round of voting takes ninety seconds. As the early movements of the piece start and stop from minute-to-minute, Some Dumb Play's novelty grows tedious.
Fortunately, matters improve. Some Dumb Play almost certainly doesn't make the most of its intriguing concept – but it definitely doesn't waste it. Rather than try to craft a narrative complex and substantial enough to accommodate so many variables, director Nathan Sibthorpe and ensemble have fully embraced the chaotic, messy, insane potential of their premise. Indeed, failure is written into the plot of the piece itself.
That's really Some Dumb Play's masterstroke. Already blessed with such an ambitious foundation for their work, Sibthorpe and company wisely avoid trying for anything more sophisticated and over-extending. Quite the opposite – they actively court embarrassment. By way of example; when the audience votes for a musical number, they're treated to a gonzoid, stupendously ridiculous tribute to T.a.T.u.'s All The Things She Said.
Of course, such anarchy wouldn't work without the right performers and Sibthorpe is to be commended on his choice of collaborators. Specifically, Kieran Law and Toby Martin. Law's background as a physical performer is exploited to full effect for the piece's elastic theatrics (few performers can drown so convincingly on an empty stage). Martin's acting skills actually anchor the entire piece.
Charged with the complex task of playing the sole actor-character who, within the multilayered world of the play, is fully committed to the multiple choice concept, Martin's performance is both desperately hilarious and strangely emotional – his character sacrificing all to try and maintain the audience-voting concept; clinging to his audience's wishes even after his fellow performers have completely lost hope. It's amazing.
One does long to see what could be done with the work's premise if it were taken in a more serious direction. The general descent into chaos that is the play's conclusion is becoming a tired trope within Brisbane theatre (see: Monsters Appear's A Tribute of Sorts, The Danger Ensemble's The Hamlet Apocalypse) and the voting options are too often novelties rather than actually interesting variations on character and theme.
Still, Sibthorpe ultimately made the right choice. Given that Some Dumb Play is effectively a testing ground for a particularly risky concept, it's appropriate that its creators focussed their efforts on fun and entertainment over artistry and precision. At the end of the day, it is actually an absurdly fun show. Something to be both admired and enjoyed. You don't know what's going to come next, if it's going to work or if it's all part of some twisted plan.
One could say many things about Some Dumb Play - but you could never call it boring.
Some Dumb Play
by Nathan Sibthorpe
Director Nathan Sibthorpe
Venue: Sue Benner Theatre | 109 Edward Street, Brisbane
Dates: 6 – 17 November, 2012
Tickets: $20 – $16
Bookings: 07 3002 7100 | www.metroarts.com.au