Review by Naomi Cardwell.
We’re a rowdy crowd, waiting for the opening performance of A Lovely Day to be Online at Melbourne Fringe. The queue, which snakes all the way down the Trades Hall’s wide concrete staircase papered with fliers, has all the buzz of a rock concert crowd impatient to be let into a gig. Once inside the upstairs Common Rooms, we’re treated to a cosy hour of music, comedy, crisis, biting commentary and even an extended flash of undies. Robert Brown’s excellent lighting turns the mood of the drafty hall into that of an intimate, pub-like setting with cheerful twinkle lights, before amping it up as the show takes off into rock concert overtones with strobes and flashing colours cutting through rock-god smoke.
Writer and frontman Connor Morel tells the story we’re all too familiar with: the spiralling experience of dependence on social media and its crippling death grip on our sense of identity. Through a raucous parade of numbers, he struts, jitters, obsesses, and yells into the void with all the conviction of an addict who just can’t climb out of the hole. Like an Australian answer to Bo Burnham, he keeps the audience laughing loudly while skewering us all, questioning just who the cunts really are in warring online factions and endless social media blasts.
The performance is sadly let down by the PA system, which distorts Morel’s voice into near unintelligibility at times, and chews up the sound of his Fender Telecaster during one song toward the end. When we can hear Morel’s lyrics, they’re witty, gritty and hilarious - but frustratingly, during the loud points, they’re often swallowed into the mix by a system that just can’t cope with the load.
The high point of the set is a riveting pared-down percussion-and-voice freakout which almost feels like beat poetry. It escalates through Morel’s account of the terrifying existential ramifications of identity theft for a generation so terminally over-invested in crafting our online personas. On drums and backing vocals, musical director William Conway is a force of nature whose deep feeling and connection to the work shines in his thoughtful and considered playing. Kat Adés’ performance recalls legendary Pixies bassist Kim Deal, with her solid bass chops and pitch-perfect, hilarious vocal interjections. Director Casey Gould reconciles the elements into a polished act which capably crafts the rolling highs and crashing lows of addiction, with no small debt to musical theatre and classic cabaret peeking out from within.
Morel contends that theatre (with its strict phones-off conventions) is our last bastion of unfettered reality. As the crowd spills out into the vibrant Fringe Hub bar downstairs after the show, a sense of performance-ception makes me pause. Is Morel right? Is theatre - the home of actors, costume, and pretend - actually the only “real” place left to us all, because it’s screen-free? Switching my phone back on gives me a hit not unlike that first cigarette after a really great rock gig. As I swallow down the horror and begin scrolling, I have to concede that Morel might just have a point.