Sunday 26 March 2023

TRASH POP BUTTERFLIES, DANCE DANCE PARADISE: Theatre Review

WHAT: Trash Pop Butterflies, Dance Dance Paradise
WHEN: 22 May - 1 April 2023
WHERE: Theatre Works
WRITTEN BY: Maki Morita
DIRECTED BY: Amelia Burke
DESIGN BY: Jessamine Moffett
LIGHTING BY: Tessa Atkinson and Giovanna Yate Gonzales
SOUND BY: Laura Strobech
PERFORMED BY: Hayley Edwards, Myfanwy Hocking, Alana Louise, Margot Morales and Vivian Nguyen 
CHOREOGRAPHY BY: Alec Katsourakis
Myfanwy Hocking and Margot Morales - photo by Oscar Shaw

Expressionist surrealism with a healthy dose of agitprop. Yes, let your mind expand and then explode as you watch Trash Pop Butterflies, Dance Dance Paradise at Theatre Works this week. It's pop, it's punk, it's a high energy onslaught looking for something better as the world decomposes around us.

Trash Pop Butterflies, Dance Dance Paradise is a dystopian outcry written by Maki Morita as part of her VCA Masters (Writing) program in 2020. It was originally meant to be presented in 2022 by MKA but was cancelled. In 2023 it gets its moment in the sun at Theatre Works.

Trying to riff off the energy of Pussy Riot, Morita's Trash Pop Butterflies, Dance Dance Paradise is in your face, no breaths, anger and confusion. Morita shows us a world which is a poster child for cognitive dissonance and in imminent arrival at the dystopian train station humanity has built for itself. Three young women bounce around a graffiti covered rubbish dump on an adrenaline high trying to visualise an alternate utopia. Meanwhile, around them, bees are dying, ants are exhausted, and tadpoles are eating each other. And yes, there are dance breaks.

Watching Trash Pop Butterflies I find myself thinking this play stretches the definition of that word. The scenes occur as a series of long form sketches and whilst they are conceptually related and the characters are consistent, they all can and do occur in isolation broken up by brilliant vignettes of dying nature.

In fact, the best parts of Trash Pop Butterflies is those visits by bees, ants, tadpoles etc. They border closely on twee but some really precision movement skills and telling facial expressions by Margot Morales raise them to art and incisive humour. Myfanwy Hocking does a good job too.

Whilst I love the main body of Trash Pop Butterflies - and I have to say Hayley Edwards, Alana Louise, and Vivian Nguyen are amazing - I feel it is just too long with too many causes. In the end, all of that angry rebellious energy gets lost in a myriad of things going wrong in the world. It is exhausting for the audience to follow. 

This isn't helped by Amelia Burke (director) having the actors speak at a breakneck pace for the whole show. Yes, it needs it because otherwise the audience would be stuck there for way to long, but it gives us no chance to process what we are hearing - or care. I admit I came from work so I was tired anyway, but by the end I was struggling to stay awake because I worn down and I just stopped caring about any of it. In my experience you can use this technique for around 50 minutes and the audience stay with you. Longer than that and you need to incorporate dynamics because the brain starts processing the constant noise as background sound and the awareness and attention modes stop activating. 

Having said that, you can activate those states through visuals and other things, but neither the blocking nor design worked to create change - which is ironic because the entire play is a yearning for change. For some reason Jessamine Moffett's set closes off most of the space with a big graffiti wall. There is a sad little trash pile behind it, but it is woeful and unutilised. Downstage left is a little sitting room and right is a garden. With nowhere to move the cast just keep bouncing left to right like a tennis match and there is nothing there for them to explore physically in any interesting way. The dance routines (Alec Katsourakis) are too few and too banal to do anything for the show.

Apart from the incredible performers, it is the sound design which keeps the show alive for as long as it can. Laura Strobech has created an aural landscape which reflects the anger, sorrow, freneticism and desperation of the world being reflected to us.

I think I like Trash Pop Butterflies, Dance Dance Paradise. I definitely like the idea of Trash Pop Butterflies, Dance Dance Paradise. On the whole though, I think Morita needs to give it a bloody good edit. It is never going to work until she finds her target. One play can't do everything, and in trying I have to wonder whether this play ends up doing nothing. 

2.5 Stars

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