Review by Paola Pastura
In an era of social media and influencers, we can be swept away by the promises of success and happiness if we keep achieving. If we keep gaining knowledge or wealth. It's a hustling lifestyle that these influencer gurus spout endlessly, but does this party line deliver on its promises? That is the question that artist Anabelle Mitchell explores in Grass, a one-woman play, which debuted at the Melbourne Fringe Festival this year. In the subversion of the traditional addiction narrative, Grass thoughtfully explores the hustle culture lifestyle and its promises packaged within an easy to swallow pill.
After taking a mysterious pill at a party, Grass follows Ellie's (Anabelle Mitchell) journey throughout life. She soon becomes addicted to the drugs and the success they allow her to achieve. Transforming a shy teenager into a cutthroat lawyer overnight. We see Ellie climb her way up the corporate ladder, cutting out anything that impedes her from succeeding in life. A single question that looms; does any of this success make her happy?
Mitchell expertly devises Grass to enable us to envision ourselves in Ellie's shoes throughout the entertaining 34-minute play. The well-paced script allows audiences to grasp the detrimental effects of hustle culture and the people that sell its placebo promises. The well-framed close-up shots by videographer, Jack Klein, enable the audience to develop a sort of intimacy with Ellie, allowing us to connect with Ellies as she moves throughout her life; we float along with her as she narrates her life. We're there for every win, every loss and realisation, all in 4K.
The repeated utterance of "what next?" and the stream of consciousness ramblings that characterise this play echo our sentiments during periods of uncertainty within our lives. Just as Damien (Ellie's first dealer) was able to tempt Ellie, we too are tempted. But instead of drug dealers, its Instagram influencers and their fantastical lifestyles spouting messages of toxic positivity and hustle culture. It's alluring, their promises. However, Damien, Boris and Karl (Ellie's on-call drug dealers) are mere metaphors for the influencers promoting hustle culture. Always available. Always waiting for when you're at your most vulnerable before hooking their claws into you, and you're hooked for life.
The videography is reminiscent of content that echoes the youtube vlogging style faintly. Raw, unedited; Klein truly outdoes himself in capturing the rawness of Mitchell's performance for the lack of experience that both had in creating the production. The close up shots allow us to fully connect with Ellie and her journey. It beautifully connects the idea of Ellie's addiction to the hustle culture and how it makes her feel with the real-world implications of how these influencers reach their addicts.
My one criticism of Grass would be the odd use of rhyming throughout the play. Though in some places, the use of rhyme was an excellent choice by Mitchell. It kept audiences entertained and was humorous too in some sections of Grass. However, other areas where rhyme was utilized felt forced or akward almost. It took me out of the moment wondering why what Ellie was saying sounded like a limerick instead candidly like throughout the rest of the play. Nonetheless this is a small aspect of what is truly a thought provoking play and shouldn’t discount the incredible work both Mitchell and Klein have achieved with Grass.
Grass dares us to live a life where we feel fulfilled within ourselves instead of seeking external validation. Just as Ellie ticked every task off, the goalposts forever moved further away. Just like Ellie wasn't, we will never be satisfied with our lives if we continue to follow hustle culture until it's too late to change. Yes, it's a hard pill to swallow, but it's a necessary one. Grass is a provocative production that thoughtfully challenges us to reject hustle culture and live a life that we’re able to feel happy.