By Michelle Sutton
We Are The (end of the) World is a light-hearted musical comedy that seeks to hold up a mirror to “do-gooder” culture in Australia. The title references the ‘We Are The World’ (1985) charity single that raised money for Africa. The show depicts a group of people who hold a concert to raise funds for farmers, with alarming outcomes that ricochet around Australia. The new Australian musical is produced by Supply Evolution at the New Theatre and part of the 2019 Sydney Fringe Festival. The musical is written by Edan McGovern and Aaron Robuck who are also in the cast ensemble of ten performers.
Comedic stand out goes to Billie Palin, who immerses herself in the delightfully sarcastic and self-interested news presenter. The best one-liners and references to Australian pop culture are all hers. One highlight is when she states she wants classy fireworks like “Nicky Webster at the Sydney Olympics, not Ricky Lee at Vivid”. Palin expertly milks every opportunity in the material and shines in a number where her interview with a farmer essentially turns into one-woman cabaret act as she bemoans his totally made-up tragic past for viewer sympathy. The power of the media to shed light on real issues, yet also its capacity to construct entirely new self-serving issues is reflected well in this dynamic character.
The opening number explores social class in Australia, and upper class people’s desire to dip in and out of it, according to what suits them. Behind the cast is a cardboard ship that reads “S.S Privilege”. This number is clever and catchy, setting a high bar that the rest of the show struggles to reach. Although it is easy to see the show is aiming to discuss the ethics of charity, it gets a bit lost in the middle, bogged down by egg puns and an awkwardly long scene where a producer (Prudence Holloway) and choreographer (Aaron Robuck) cast performers for the charity concert. Many jokes are misfired in an attempt to subvert the biases of the media and reality television’s incessant need to manufacture diversity and sob stories. The intention is clear, however the racial and hyper sexualised jokes come off as more offensive than subversive. Edan Mcgovern’s solo is in the form of a rap, and exposes the contradictions of building an identity around donating to those ‘less fortunate’. It is the wittiest and most provocative song in the musical and best showcases McGovern and Robuck’s writing. The closing number imparts the final admirable message that our intentions are what matter, and that working on one’s own character is more important than giving cash away to a trendy cause. Determined to remind the audience that the show is coming from a place of humour and not preaching, this song is performed by the ensemble in chicken suits.
Cast members take turns to play piano and guitar on stage for each song. In one number an egg-shaker is added, played by a very compliant audience member. To the horror of some and delight of others, there is a hefty amount of upfront audience involvement in this show. A screen is used to play a short 60-minutes-style news clip of the egg-breaking epidemic that has put a strain on Australian farmers. The clip is entertaining and serves a dual purpose explaining the root of the crisis, and setting the tone for the show. The narrative is non-linear, involving flashbacks and an interrogation of the news presenter who witnessed the chaos. A voice-over is used for the interrogator, whose identity is never made clear. Is it the voice of God, a law enforcement officer, or a television network boss? The structure of the musical is a touch muddled and some plot points vague, but perhaps that is the intended effect as it is a satirical, somewhat dystopian show.
Audiences will find lots to laugh at in this goofy, self-aware, self-deprecating musical. The show does feel timely, and its attempt to explore the dark motivations of people to use charitable giving as a status symbol is noble. It certainly does capture elements of Australian culture accurately however this feels scattered and is definitely overshadowed by repetitive jokes that begin to drag halfway into the show. We Are The (end of the) World is a great addition to this year’s Sydney Fringe Festival as it offers a fresh perspective, however the musical would benefit from further refinement and refocussing to really make an impact.
Image Credit: OStiene Photography
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.