Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Flawed____like a b_y - Theatre Review

What: Flawed____like a b_y
When: 23 - 27 January 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written by: Bj McNeill
Performed by: Bj McNeill, Rebecca Montalti and Mitchell Wilson
Choreographed by: Claudia Subiela Ferre
Sound by: Seb Attebury
Stage managed by: Laura Barnes
Bj McNeill - photo by Darren Black
La Mama opens it's doors this year straight into the arms of the Midsumma Festival. Kicking off the 2019 program is a remount of Flawed____like a b_y written by Bj McNiell, an ex-patriot Sydney-sider who finds alphabet life more inclusive in his heritage country, the UK.

Flawed is a really clever idea. It looks at how a young male can find himself growing up in a world with a set of rules which don't fit. He rebels against all the stereotypes he is taught make him a man.

His mother tells him a man doesn't call another man handsome. He plays rugby to fit in - but doesn't. He goes on a family fishing trip and hates it even though his sister loves it...? This is where I start to disconnect.

I suspect I will get a lot of flak for this review, but here it goes. Firstly, McNeill is an intriguing writer with a poetic edge and a post truth aesthetic but in my view he failed to truly reveal himself and this left me with little little more than an appreciation of the theatre making skills of the team.

I suspect even the rape story is not his. It felt lacking and I have found a review in Miro which suggests to me the story McNeill tells in this version of the show is not his at all, but that of the reviewer in Miro. I have no doubt he has consent to tell the story, but the telling lacked a sense of authenticity for me and I think this may be why. He also embodies a suicide attempt as a physical motif but I failed to really feel the lead up so then I wonder if it is just a piece of beautiful art?

Flawed is beautiful. McNeill has striking features and the aesthetic in the show is black with a little hint of kink and bondage (like huge, pink, fluffy dildos). Ferre's choreography is fun and fluid and McNeill, Montalti and Wilson perform it with excellent timing and sharp attitude.

Flawed is billed as cabaret style and it is. Where, in a cabaret there would be a song there are dances, but in effect the journey is of that form.

And here comes my next critique. This show and this story is McNeill's and in it's current construction the other two performers are merely back up dancers. This cast is not the original, and I did find a clip of the original London show which is far more energetic and generally messier. I suspect it is also more affective than this very glossy, polished work presented in Melbourne. It is billed as experimental but to be honest, in Melbourne it is kind of standard fare theatrically speaking. Better dancing, perhaps?

I also find myself questioning why the show has a cys-female character in it. Montalti's performance is perfect but she doesn't fit the narrative of male gender roles and how to find your place as a man in a fluid spectrum. I found myself wishing McNeill had created a cys-male hetero-normative character to share the space with him and Wilson. The commentary would have been so much more layered and nuanced, and the tension and the stakes would have been so much higher.

There are some great and powerful images in the show. The orgy scene with the dildoes and silly string is brilliant. The Jesus on the Cross image was powerfully done too, if somewhat cliche.

There is a particularly poignant moment when McNeill begins a story speaking with one person in the audience and expands the story to have the 'you' in his writing expand from the singular to the plural. This was perhaps my favourite part of the show.

My quandary with Flawed is not whether it has been difficult for McNeill to find his place as a sexual being and social identity in this world. My reserve comes from the feeling he is using cliches and not telling us the real, painful, important moments of learning in his life.

I also feel there is confusion about what are general teenage angst/not belonging/rebellion moments and what is key to this particular conversation. For example, he doesn't like fishing trips with his family, but his sister does. If his sister is there it doesn't seem to me the excursion is a 'being a man' lesson - especially as she seems to like it.

This kind of story dilutes the real pain and the real family tensions and this is what needs to be revealed to make us care. It is the real and raw moments which motivate us to work to change the world. It is also that real pain and rawness which will make those of us on the 'g__l' side of the equation open up and share our humanity as well.

Flawed____like a b_y is fun and fabulous and I suspect it will have more impact in Adelaide (where it is headed next) than here, because I think the 'you' in the show is more likely to attend in that festival, rather than the already sympathetic Midsumma audiences.

3.5 Stars

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