Saturday, 1 February 2020

Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation - Theatre Review

What: Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation
When: 23 January - 6 February 2020
Where: The Kew Courthouse
Written by: Michael Gray Griffith
Performed by: Rebecca Ann Bentley, Rohanna Hayes, Angelique Malcom, and Yvonne Matthew
Rohanna Hayes, Rebecca Ann Bentley, and Yvonne Matthew
Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation. A powerful yet somewhat uncomfortable title for what is a powerful, yet somewhat uncomfortable play. By that I mean the play is incisive, insightful and erupts in a soggy mess at our feet showing us all what we have been eating lately. It's only on for a few more days at The Kew Courthouse so grab your tickets now while you still have the chance.

Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation is a story which centres around 3 generations of women. Diane (Hayes) is about to lose her house because she just lost her job as a cleaner. Her boarder and best friend Magnolia (Malcolm) is not helping because she is 2 months behind in her rent, and her 25 year old daughter Taylor (Bentley) is unemployed and uninterested in changing that status.

Diane is so desperate she decides to demand that her indecently rich mother, Margaret (Matthew), hand over her inheritence. She can't just ask for help from her mum because the answer has always been "no" and is undoubtedly the response she will get this time too. She is right, but not for the reasons she expects!

Griffith has written an emotionally taught and terrifying play which tells the truth about female poverty and disenfranchisement. I think he meant to write a comedy but Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation is too close to the truth for that to work although there are a whole lot of hilarious moments if you understand the absurdity and desperation of poverty. Comedy needs exaggeration and hyperbole. This play is just too real.

Having said that, there are absurdities. The story of Margaret's enlightenment and voluntary poverty is as ridiculous as it is frustrating and played with a perfect innocence by Matthew. The arrogance of indentured wealth leads her to a folly which provides her with no safety net - something the rest of the characters know only too well. I did enjoy the moment she comes to that realisation at the same time as the horror of what has just happened was settling into the bottom of my gut.

Coldwave artist Dimitar Voev, who created the cult band New Generation in 1982, wrote the lyrics 'We are the New Generation forever/with eyes bleeding from pain and torment/we know that there is no compensaton/and we vomit over hope for better days.' In the end this play is all about vomiting over hope for better days.

I should mention this is not where the title comes from - not directly at least. Margaret's new mission in life is to drive around Australia and clean up the beaches clogged with litter washed up from the sea. Her epiphany came after a false cancer scare and finding a piece of plastic washed up on the beach with the words 'we are the vomit generation' written on them.

Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation looks at what potential women - particularly women over the age of 40 - have to secure an income in order to find safety and stability (which, for Diane, is home ownership). Diane has slid down the employment ladder from a stable job to casual cleaning, to being a part of the competitive gig market, and finally being sacked because she wouldn't work for below award wages.

Magnolia was a rich man's wife but when he died all he left her were lies and debt and no job skills. She can't even get a job as a waitress.

Taylor has a Master's degree in photography but there is no viable photography industry left because everyone can take their own great pictures now. She isn't even prepared to try and get a menial job even though she is only 25.

Margaret has come to set them free, but not in the way anyone expects. I mentioned Coldwave earlier, but what is that? Coldwave was a split off faction of Punk which understood that revolt needed to be anti-systemic and were called gravediggers because their intention was to bury the old system. It was the movement which dominated the post-socialist era in eastern Europe, but Griffith's play points to the reality that this is the only way real change can occur for the 'economic refugees' we are creating in our own society - older women.

As I said earlier, Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation is a funny play but not a comedy and I think Griffith tries a bit to hard in the writing to make it so. The humour generally comes through the characters of Margaret and Magnolia and to that end both Malcolm and Matthew do an excellent job of playing their charicatures and getting the laugh.

Hayes and Bentley, on the other hand, have serious content and they have no choice but to be realistic - which they do with immense skill. It is impossible for them to hide the pain and difficulty they find themselves in. Bentley's is a particularly intriguing journey but I wonder if the gender of either Taylor or Magnolia were changed whether we would be quite as accepting of the outcomes Griffith has given them.

There is a natural ending in the play which is powerful and dramatic, and would leave the audiences going home in shock to ruminate over the just how far a person can fall in their life. (Griffith uses the metaphor of falling across the play). His efforts to make this a comedy lead him to continue the story and whilst the real ending provides a light hearted release, it did dispel some of the power of the messages within.

Regardless, this is a strong, important, and quite funny play. It is a part of our society we don't want to see or deal with - perhaps because there is no neon lit ism in it. There actually is an ism but it has wrinkles underneath the makeup. Come and see how tightly you are holding on to a system which doesn't work for anyone.

 4 Stars

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