Empathy – the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and imagine life from their perspective – is a key skill for humans to operate in society … but is it a skill we’re in danger of losing?

When Brendan Black and Martin Chellew heard about an LNP politician being sent off for empathy training, they had a lightbulb moment. Their current work, being performed to tie in with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, is a comic exploration of how an Empathy Training session might play out – and who might be called to attend.

The character they’ve chosen are easily recognised and perfect vehicles to represent the more egotistical elements of modern society: there’s a God-fearing, crusty (ex-) minister accused of nepotism and rorts, a feisty feminist CEO hung out to dry for exploiting overseas workers, a defamatory footy star who was snapped hanging bits of himself out in public, and a young influencer prone to promoting health products that have even less credibility than her anti-vax beliefs.

As they introduce themselves, self-awareness is low, while unapologetic confidence high, and soon friction builds between them; all are excellent at seeing the others’ hypocrisy, but totally blind to their own. It’s all too familiar.

Relationships form then fracture as the players grasp for allies within generations or genders, but ultimately revert to egocentric type.

The psychologist hosting the session is soon getting snappy and struggling to keep control; her only success at teambuilding is when they all turn on her.

But slowly their defences break down and they begin to unravel, with some epic and surprising revelations.

Writers Brendan Black and Martin Chellew have made the most of the material in this rich vein of social comedy: we explore the depths of social media, cancel culture, homophobia, racism, snobbery, political correctness and blindness, socialism vs capitalism, conspiracy theories, the cult of celebrity and, ultimately, personal accountability.

There are some cracker one-liners in among the broader observations, many delivered by ‘blond on the inside’ influencer Maddysyn, played convincingly by Emma Snow. Alex Thomson brings a necessary vulnerability to the role of loud footy player Tucker, while Peter Hatherley is scarily good as MP Winston. Julie Arnold is also brilliantly cast as Cynthia, CEO, and Davita van der Velde as psychologist Sarah is remarkably smooth for someone performing in her second language.

It’s clever comedy, perfect for this narcissistic age, and we can only hope to look back on this era and laugh even louder at our silliness in years to come.

Event details

La Mama presents
Empathy Training
by Brendan Black and Martin Chellew

Director Brendan Black and Martin Chellew

Venue: La Mama Courthouse | 349 Drummond Street, Carlton VIC
Dates: 12/04/2022 – 17/04/2022
Tickets: $30.50 – $20.50
Bookings: 03 9347 6948 | www.comedyfestival.com.au

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