Review by Greta Doell
Melbourne is a bit desolate this week. The weather is freezing and rainy, and my confused brain is still trying to understand why it’s so damn dark outside by 5:00pm. Now that there’s no escaping the wet and cold wilderness out there, the good news is that La Mama theatre is exactly where you’ll want to be. As I got out of the bitter cold, into the warmly lit undercover foyer of La Mama Courthouse to see Subhumans, there was a cheerful atmosphere. It was fitting that the chaotic comedy that awaited us inside the theatre was set on a similarly dank and dark submarine during World War 2. Although it told the story of a British navy crew on course to Germany as part of a top secret military operation to torpedo Hitler, Subhumans was anything but serious.
The crew - Prescott, Newman, Jones, Smith, Untermensch and the clueless Captain Collins, were an odd bunch to say the least. A lovable odd bunch that had to evade a mysterious killer aboard their submarine- a creature killing them one by one, making their bodies explode before moving to the next victim. The group must overcome their differences and paranoia to survive.
Co-written by James Hazelden and Nicholas Rasche, Subhumans has a lot of fun with genre - dipping from action to horror, but with consistent comedy. It was silly in a very charming way- not afraid to play with the meta-theatrical and take from horror/sci-fi film tropes to paint a comical picture. This was reflected in the lighting and sound design by Allan Hirons, who emulated conventions of classic horror movies.
Stark washes of primary colours flashed during moments of horror, like when characters exploded as the killer creature consumed them. This was accompanied by gruesome sound effects of their splattered blood and guts. This approach was direct and effective, as it gave the cast the chance to comedically shine with their accompanying reactions.
Also in the role of director, Hazelden succeeded in directing the cast to work effectively with Hirons’ design. The use of shadows and darkness in the lighting design built suspense in a classic cinematic way, whilst the cast hilariously stumbled through like a bunch of kids at a sleepover, playing a game of murder-in-the-dark that they didn’t sign up for. Hazeldon said of the show “The audience will be drawn into a dark and shadowy world of suspense and dread, but the characters are funny and don’t belong in this world at all.” This was fantastic to see, as the cast played with the hilarity of old horror/sci-fi film melodrama. And most importantly, the audience got to have fun with them as the cast responded to Hirons’ homage to the unceremonious special effects and gore of splatter films.
Sure, at times the jokes were a little simple, a bit predictable- we had some anti-german jokes from disgruntled characters directed towards the one German ally in the crew’s midst, Untermensch. And poor Prescott, the lone female in the crew, is the protagonist we rooted for when fellow-crewmate Smith was constantly out to get her simply because she is a woman. But the script of Subhumans uses these character tropes to effectively and simultaneously undermine the biases that they present in a witty and lovable way.
Whilst at times the jokes and rhythm of the piece felt a tad slow in pacing, the cast did not waiver. Their commitment to each of their quirky characters and their goofy humour makes the entire show joyfully absurd.
It’s goofy, it’s fun, and it’s a good pick for your International Comedy Festival viewing (especially if you want to make the most of the bad weather by being immersed into another world!)
Subhumans plays at La Mama Courthouse from April 19th - 24th