Review by Emma Green
The two plays in the double bill written by Fred Pryce both draw us deep into the worlds of two marginalised, deeply unstable characters, taking us on a deep dive into their inner worlds and the links with broader social systems and built environment.
First up, is Alison Goes to Aldi for her Aunt, a nightmarish surreal piece with generous lacings of satire. The sluggish horrors of the unemployment system, late capitalism, social disconnection all weave an impenetrable web of dehumanisation as we follow Alison through her quest to get her sickness diagnosed, treated, accomodated, acknowledged….just anything.
Pryce’s script is made up of a seemingly endless chain of character drive vignettes- while they are all driven by Alison’s search for any kind of relief with her illness, midway through the piece I found myself surrendering to their onslaught - like Alison’s existence the scenes and characters arrive relentlessly, randomly, with no discernable way forward.
There are pockets of well needed humour created through slivers of insightful social critique and a kind of burlesque skits where the performance style plays draws out the unexplored underbelly of the situation. This is cleverly drawn on in particular in the scenes with Alison and her Doctor. Playing the medical dialogue through a melodramatic burgeoning love affair, Alison’s depth of longing for her undiagnosed chronic illness to be seen and attended to is highlighted.
The ensemble cast have fun working through an array of zany yet callous characters and bringing them to life. The performances were solid across the board, but the most notable ones were the ones where the performers found the greatest specificity and physical embodiment of their characters- the lollypop conductor and masked aunt were a couple of examples of this.
Costume, lighting and visual projections all add great texture to the bizarre and callous dreamstate of the piece, insert moments of dry humour and create some meta-theatrical distance with the story spluttering out onstage.
Next up in the bill, ‘'Notes from the Moonee Ponds Canal' opens with Pryce alone onstage, greeting us with the freshly composed pages of his incel’s manifesto and party snacks.
It’s a wonderful, energised performance that has us from the get go, endearing us with his barely contained manic energy and solid comedic timing. The character’s enthusiasm for the reality that he is creating, combined with the vivid DIY aesthetic of the video projections, bring us squarely into his inner world that is a petri dish of densely connected ideas that can only form under conditions of extreme isolation. Like many an internet conspiracy theorist there’s an unsettling level of self-consciousness in the narrative he presents of himself- that self-consciousness dances us between the voice of the character and Pryce the playwright and keeps us with one foot in and one foot outside of the protagonist’s world.
The piece is described itself as a satire- and there are certainly many moments of biting observations around a range of society’s faultlines and hypocrisies- but the astute performances and the (very clever) three act structure, ensure that the satire doesn’t ride too roughshod over the real grief and isolation that lie beneath the story.
Through the three acts, each which shift the form and the lens through which we enter the protagonist’s reality, the depth of the desperation that fuels the height of the escapism is revealed. The second act is a standout: there is a masterful use of rhythm, cumulation and razor-sharp observation into social dynamics that is equally evident in both the writing and the performances.
All up, it’s a night of theatre that does what Fringe does best: bold new writing, experimental design and form, confident and playful performances.