Sunday 8 January 2023

MOTHERLOD_^E - Theatre Review

When: 4 - 14th January 2023
Where: Theatre Works
Created by: Matilda Gibbs, Belle Hansen, Amelia Newman
Directed by: Belle Hansen
Composition by: Jack Burmeister
Performed by: Brandon Armstrong, Bugs Baschera, Jorje Bently, Xanthe Blaise, Gabriel Cali, Hattie Elliot, Matilda Gibbs, Anna Fujihara, Mila Lawson, Anna Louey, Isabella Patane, Nicola Pohl, Lila Summers-Dixon, and Liam Trumble
Lighting by: Sidney Younger
Cinematography by: Hannah Jennings
Stage Managed by: Brigette Jennings

Jorja Bently, Xanthe Blaise and Gabriel Cali - photo by Daniel Rabin

2023 kicks off with an entertaining bang in Frenzy Theatre's physical theatre creation, MOTHERLOD_^E. being presented at Theatre Works. Are you an old school gamer? Did you move into 'The Sims' neighbourhood? Are you still a resident now? Then buy your ticket and take the virtual/reality ride of the summer with MOTHERLOD_^E.

MOTHERLOD_^E is an amazingly authentic real-life version of 'The Sims'. As you walk into the theatre you will be gob-smacked with the incredibly detailed recreation of a 'The Sims' house. A second later you will be tittering and then laughing out loud at NPCs (Non Player Characters) bustling around in a repetitive loop of activity, exactly like video games do when they are in standby mode until you hit 'play'. The specificity will blow you away, including the bookshelf full of books titled in Simlish ('The Sims' official language). 

I suspect there are no set and costume designer credits for this show because they have literally recreated what already exists. The lighting design (Sidney Younger) is perfection and Jack Burmeister's sound design is full of subtley and detail as we have come to expect from this talented artist.

For those of you who don't know 'The Sims', it is a video game platform which was first released in 2000 and became a worldwide hit in a short space of time. In the game you create characters, decorate their homes, develop their skills, get them jobs, build social relationships etc. I personally blame 'The Sims' for the tragic TV content we now call reality TV!

'The Sims' allows you to live alternative life. It allows you to make yourself into who you wish you were and try living life the way want without all those real-world annoyances and expectations, and it gives you an insight into consequences you may not want to learn the hard way. The real genius of the game is that characters continue to live their lives when you are not online which means you are not totally in control of everything.

The other interesting thing about 'The Sims' is that it is purported to have been a valuable outlet for non-binary and experimental folk to explore other social and sexual identities in what is (was?) a safe environment. It is this important social role which made 'The Sims' an intriguing theatre exploration for Frenzy Theatre Co and if there ever was such a time for a theatrical acknowledgement of 'The Sims', it is now.

One of the mind-blowing aspects of MOTHERLOD_^E is the physical authenticity of the movement of the avatars. This is what physical theatre is about. Every movement, every nuance, every shape/form/encounter, is outrageously authentic to the game - in particular the earlier releases. Their heads bobble, their feet shuffle, their eyes blink, all in that endearing animated way and nobody falters for even a second. They are 'The Sims'. They are not human beings!

Of course, theatre is not about imitation and there is clever meta commentary from the very start. 'The Sims' are live on stage, but the 'real' humans are only ever seen on a screen looking in. Shoo flee! My only regret is that the 'real world' lacks a deeper dramaturgy and script finesse (Amelia Newman). So much more could be done in that other world which could reflect so nicely on what happens on stage.

There is another layer of meta commentary about the game itself too, though, which is intriguing and brings most of the tension, raising the biggest questions about both the game, its safety, and the humans who play. In particular, there are new capabilities in 'The Sims 4' and these do not go unmentioned in MOTHERLOD_^E

One important NPC is Grim Reaper (Nicola Pohl). In early iterations of 'The Sims' characters can and do, die. The Grim Reaper is there to take them to their resting place and can sometimes hang around and cook or play on the computer etc. MOTHERLOD_^E plays with this and many full-lthroated chuckles are brought about by this character. 

There are a surprising number of ways for characters to die in the game and as each release came out, they became easier for players to control and inflict. Eventually even the Grim Reaper must lose control of death in this environment. How can a world which is not safe for the Grim Reaper possibly be safe for human beings?

Despite this dark commentary, MOTHERLOD_^E is intensely funny. It includes 'builder' moments and a 'create your character' montage which is the stuff of belly-laughs. Yes, there is sex in 'The Sims' and we all get to enjoy it along with the game player (Jorja Bently). 

For those who are wondering about the title, motherlode is a cheat in the game which allows you to get 50,000 Simoleons ('The Sims' currency) without earning it. Again, this is beautiful meta commentary about how playing the game is a cheat, allowing us to live lives we haven't earnt.

MOTHERLOD_^E is a whole lot of fun and I can think of very few things better to do this summer then go and have a laugh with Frenzy Theatre Co. at Theatre Works. I hope they do produce another iteration of the show after having explored the dramaturgy of the 'real' people in a bit more depth. So much fun. Go and see it. You won't regret it.

4 Stars.

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