Review by Taylor Kendal
In this day and age, the boundaries of theatre have expanded to include many styles and subgenres, as well as varying mediums of bringing a performance to life. One of these newer mediums (at least newer in a sense that it is brought to a more mainstream audience), is the Tabletop RPG (role playing game) format. Probably one of, if not the most recognisable example of these would be Dungeons and Dragons, which thanks to the likes of Stranger Things and Critical Role have made their way into the more popular mainstream. It is also, a great medium to use as part of live performance, as demonstrated in Flat White: A Cyberpunk Dystopia in Melbourne, or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Housing Crisis.
Created and directed by William Rotor, who also serves as Game Master for the session, this performance came in two different forms; a series of live shows of actual bespoke game play where a group of performers play a live-version of a 90 minute table top rpg scenario, involving interactive elements including audience participation, voting input, and providing support. The second form, the one that is being reviewed here, is a pre-recorded session without the live interactive elements, and is a viewing of the session as it played out.
Joining the Game Master are four improvisers (Jane Bell, Zac Rose, Dax Carnay and Ritu Chhina), who are thrown into a cyberpunk dystopian version of Melbourne in an alternate future of 2019. There is some introduction to characters and game play, some exploration into how this type of play works. Those who aren’t overly familiar with RPGs might find it a little confusing at first, particularly with certain key terms and phrases, but overall, it’s not vitally crucial to follow the story.
William Rotor is clearly a seasoned Game Master and creator, having created this storyline one shot, as well as countless others, and playing the various NPCs (non-playing characters) throughout the story. The idea takes various elements from the dystopian trope, adhering them to a fictionalised future Melbourne, and while some elements are truly fantastical and of another time, there are a few that hint to a life a little too close to home, like powerful and corrupt magnates trying to take over the city, and issues with Melbourne’s somewhat flawed public transport system. Personally, going in with the expectation of Cyberpunk dystopia, the story could have used a few more elements of this nature. While they weren’t lacking with what they had, and it is difficult to fit so much into a single one-hour session, I found it didn’t quite live up to the name and was woven into the story rather than be the centre focus. I also had a little confusion about the overall relevance of the title, but perhaps that might have been a point of gameplay that I had missed during my viewing.
The cast of players seemed to have a great time playing, which of course is vital to the way that this kind of theatre translates to the audience. They took their characters and their stats seriously and really put some effort into their roles in the story. There were moments where it seemed like some took a little longer to get into it and become their character, but that might have just been my interpretation, and certainly wasn’t that way by the scene’s climactic ending.
Flat White: A Cyberpunk Dystopia in Melbourne, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Housing Crisis is a unique addition to the itinerary for Melbourne Fringe this year, and having the digital aspect provides a larger scope of audience which I believe works well in their favour. It’s a well-planned and played hour that takes you on a wild ride through the city you thought you knew.