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Review: #KWANDA: A Play at Melbourne Town Hall

By Flora Norton

Tom Ballard’s scathing new play #KWANDA is painful to watch, not because of poor writing or weak performers but because of the terrifying accuracy with which it portrays the real show, Q&A, which is cringe-worthy at the best of times.

At the end of the show the man sitting beside me in the audience remarked half-jokingly, ‘I can’t even sit through the show at home, why would I pay to see it live?’

Given that the play ends with the liberal representative unconscious on the floor having been beaten up by a would-be Pauline Hanson, the labour representative miming being sexually assaulted by her superior and Tony Jones sitting with his legs up on the desk smoking a cigarette, it’s concerning that ‘accurate’ is the first word that comes to mind.

Yet I think that the palpable discomfort felt by most of the audience, who I should add, also laughed their way through the hour, is testament to Ballard’s clever script and the high level of talent displayed by the actors.

The first thirty minutes of the play runs much like a real episode of Q&A, with Tony Jones attempting and failing to elicit meaningful responses from any of his panellists. The mock panel consists of equally articulate and restrained labour and liberal representatives, an inarticulate independent, an emotionless statistics nerd and an idealistic people’s panellist; in short, an exact representation of the types who would typically appear on Q&A.

While it’s amusing for a short while to have the incompetence and hypocrisy of your politicians shoved unapologetically in your face, the gag quickly gets old and becomes mildly depressing. While I commend Ballard for his effective and realistic script, I have to agree with my neighbour that watching politicians waffle on about ‘visions’ and ‘Australia’s future’ without naming a single policy and refusing to say anything off-script is a form of torture we are forced to endure enough already at home. The same result could probably have been achieved in five minutes instead of thirty and more time dedicated to the second half of the play, which was ultimately where the real comedy began.

Half way through the play the realism starts to deteriorate as a breaking news announcement regarding a leadership spill forces the panellists to start answering questions, they haven’t prepared responses to. They are asked for their personal opinions and this throws them off guard. Unsure of how to respond honestly whilst staying loyal to their parties their facades begin to crack and the show quickly descends into chaos.

The script is brutally targeted and darkly humorous as the panellists all start screaming and swearing and admitting the extent to which they hate their leaders and ‘couldn’t actually give a single f**k’ about half the issues they pretend care about. As questions are asked by well-meaning audience members about refugee treatment, climate change and indigenous rights the panellists roll their eyes and give up the pretence of giving scripted, obsequious and meaningless replies.

Both terrifying in its implications and hilarious in its delivery, the scene unravels and becomes more and more absurd and dramatic leaving the entire audience literally gasping for breath. But it’s when Tony Jones (Ballard) finally cracks and delivers an erratic and uninhibited monologue about his role on the show and his disdain for the panellists that Ballard’s true opinions seep through. Despite his own political affiliation, he does not discriminate with his criticism and tears apart every single person in the room, including the audience.

The tension in the room when he finally finishes and slumps back down in his chair, defeated, and lights up a cigarette is profound and the absurdity of what we’ve just witnessed suddenly becomes apparent.

Ultimately, I thought the show was cleverly written, funny and perfect if you’re in the mood to have the dysfunctional, morally corrupt and embarrassing reality of Australian politics performed in front of you.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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