Some are more equal than others
By Myron My
This is how we are greeted as we enter the world of Contra for the 2014 Melbourne Fringe Festival. But we are not really cousins – we are comrades in a futuristic dystopia where we are blindingly loyal to our great leader and under the ever-watchful eye of – well – just about everyone.
Presented by Fr!sk Festival at the Victorian College of the Arts, there is an immersive element in the first part of this show that felt like I was in a version of 1984 or The Hunger Games. We are all huddled outside and numbers are read out announcing the winners of a lottery to see who will be chosen to work in a career department, a most honoured position.
Surrounding us are posters with propaganda slogans such as “Report or Regret” and “Equal and Fair”. We are then marched single file through the building, getting fingerprint-scanned and collecting our food ration pill. Various precincts are mentioned and ever since ‘The Great Disaster’, we all serve under the watchful eye of The Conductor.
From here on, it’s a fairly straightforward performance exploring the impossibility of curbing natural instincts and speculating as to where the desire for power and ambition can lead. As the audience, we are oppressed civilians watching these character’s lives begin to crumble as the pressure to conform reaches breaking point. The five performers in the cast do a great job in their respective roles but Simone French and Cait Spiker particularly impressed me with the levels of commitment invested into their portrayals. Moreover, the choreography and soundtrack used in the ‘sexual misconduct’ scene was executed effectively in creating an opportunity for these characters – and for their audience – to experience a moment of real emotional connection.
The plot is a familiar one for this dystopian genre with no real twist or surprise, but the initial immersive experience is what won me over. There are ultimately some interesting messages that Contra offers about life, society and expectations, but I feel the play is summed up best with one character’s proclamation that ‘freedom should not be a privilege’.
Contra was presented by Fr!sk Festival at the Victorian College of the Arts as part of the 2014 Melbourne Fringe Festival.