Kids Killing Kids | MKA and Q Theatre

Kids Killing Kids | MKA and Q TheatreIn 2012, Sipat Lawin Ensemble in the Philippines put on a piece of theatre that would prove to be ground-breaking, incredibly popular, and, eventually, notorious. The show was Battalia Royale, an adaptation of Koushun Takami’s 1999 cult classic novel Battle Royale. The show was written by four Australian playwrights – David Finnigan, Georgie McAuley, Sam Burns-Warr and Jordan Prosser – and was performed by over 40 Filipino artists. The plot was relatively simple: a class of high school students is kidnapped and forced into a kind of dystopian arena where they are forced to fight each other to the death. Forty kids enter. One kid leaves. Welcome to Battalia.  

This show is not that show. Instead, Kids Killing Kids is the story behind the show (it is “a play about plays and the Pinoy people”, as the subtitle states). Performed by the four writers, it is the story of the creation of Battalia Royale: its performance, its incredible popularity, and its critical reception. Battalia’s transmedia presence resulted in the establishment of an avid fan community, participating in and expanding the imaginative realm it created. Audiences grew and grew and grew, with many people returning on multiple nights to follow the journeys of different Battalia characters. An invited academic (a member of the UN subcommittee for the Victims of Torture) left, aghast, halfway through the show, and consequently argued that it normalised and merchandised the conditions of brutality. This is the story of a show that spiralled out of control: audiences baying for blood, cheering for the death of these school children, while concerned critics lobbied for the show to be shut down and actors struggled to deal with the pressures of performing in this pseudo-gladiatorial spectacle. Kids Killing Kids is an absolutely fascinating piece of meta-theatre. It turns out it is possible to tell a scintillating story about storytelling.

One of the most fascinating questions raised in this show is the question of political context. The writers themselves were quite firm about their refusal to situate it, and their realisation that this might have been a crucial mistake is discussed openly here. They outline the colonial and revolutionary history of the Philippines for us, information they themselves did not have when creating this show. Against this hyper-violent background, it is understandable how concerns were raised over the normalisation (and perhaps glorification) of gore and death in the show. But the immense popularity of the show also demonstrates how deeply the show resonated with Filipino audiences, and thinking that fan practices exist outside a political context would be very foolish indeed. Kids Killing Kids includes filmed testimonials from audience members which reveal that the show was an important outlet for emotional catharsis and expression of rage, both on an individual and cultural level. And yet the question remains – how far can you go with the kids-killing-kids trope before it is too far?

This show offers no answers, and this is one of the main reasons it is so deeply interesting. It is not a defence of Battalia Royale, but rather a sincere exploration of what it means to make art and what happens when art assumes its own life. Does the artist have a duty to make sure their art is moral? How do you know when art becomes actively harmful? What is the role of the artist in a work like this, which has spawned a fandom so far out of their domain of control? The fact that questions like these can be raised – questions which are fascinating in the critical sphere – in something which is itself art, is something I find truly amazing. I’m not normally a huge fan of meta-theatre, which I generally find self-indulgent, but Kids Killing Kids is genuinely exhilarating. It’s the kind of theatre which leaves you slightly breathless, the kind of theatre that gives you an adrenaline rush. It’s viscerally, as well as intellectually, exciting.

MKA: Theatre of new writing and the Q Theatre Company present
Kids Killing Kids
by David Finnigan, Sam Burns-Warr, Georgie McAuley and Jordan Prosser
Venue: Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre | 597 High Street, Penrith  
Dates: 17 – 19 October, 2013
Times: 8pm 17 October, 12 noon & 8pm Friday 18 October, 8pm Saturday 19 October
Tickets: $20 - $25
Bookings: 4723 7600 |

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