Review by Megan Mitchell
The Execution Will Not Be Televised is the latest offering from Impending Storm Productions and is showing until the 8th of May at Chapel off Chapel in Prahran. Director, writer, producer extraordinaire Kieran Gould-Down has been busy during the 2019 lockdown period reworking his original script since it’s debut at MC Showroom in 2018.
In a dystopian future where the world is run by an organisation called ‘The Social Network’, we see an episode of ‘Judge Your Neighbour’, a reality game show where 5 prisoners on death row become unwilling participants in a competition to win their freedom. As tensions rise and cracks begin to appear, the audience is integrated into the show as the ‘jury’, actively deciding whom to punish and whom to forgive. Facilitated by a two eccentric hosts and a judge, the mockery and commercialisation of a court of law was a brilliant premise , and while there was a lot to like about this production, but there was also quite a bit that got lost along the way.
The real strength of this production was in the premise and the investment from cast and crew. The thoughtfulness that had been put into set construction, props, sound and the audience experience was highly impressive. The ‘camera person’ was a beautiful addition and the variety of sound effects was a highlight. Additionally, costuming and hair and makeup were spot on, giving real ‘hunger games’ vibes with the hosts Annabel and Charlie.
However, where I really felt this production needed to dedicate more time was to the script. It felt like characters had been slotted into an exciting premise and then sort of forgotten, while the complex game show rules were being explained. But people don’t watch reality TV for the ‘games and challenges’, they watch it for the real, unpredictable people, and I felt a lot of the time that could have been invested in their agency and growth was taken away by host monologues and plot reveals. Each of the characters spoke with the same ‘voice’, there was a lot of exposition that was difficult to follow and plot devices seemed to spring out of nowhere. While the actors did a good job trying to differentiate themselves, none of the contestants or hosts seemed to actually learn anything or change as people, making it very difficult to empathise with them.
Additionally, the online voting didn’t quite live up to the promise, as it only minimally affected the outcome, and the direct audience vote wasn’t quite as powerful as it could have been because none of the characters were actually morally grey – they were clearly set up to be either good or bad, and the audience voted accordingly.
The other aspect of the writing that felt undercooked was the handling of topical issues. There was some anti-police brutality and what I think was pro-sex worker sentiment woven in, but it felt under-researched and very ham-fisted in execution. There was clear confusion and conflation of sex workers automatically being lumped in with ‘sluts’, and the presentation of this whole sexual assault issue was such that the playwright’s position was unclear. I also took issue with the lack of curtain call - I understand that it was to prove the point that we need to take action, but I would have liked to give the performers’ at the end their due applause. The cast and crew worked incredibly hard on the show, and I think they deserved to have their creativity and commitment acknowledged.
This show is a spectacle, and engaging to watch. A lot of work has been put into it by a lot of talented people. But a show doesn’t have to deal with every issue at once, and not every character needs to triple-cross everyone else or have layers of secrets. Because ultimately, the production was never really about the game show, it was about how the screwed up world affected the people. And the writing seemed set up this incredible narrative and then get bogged down in details. If there is a third rewrite with some serious editing, research and collaboration (I know Gould-Down is a prolific writer) I would love to see what has changed again.