Review: AutoCannibal

Dark human habits on stage

By Lois Maskiell

The show kicks off with a voice over of a television reporter who announces the latest news. He speaks of poisoned livestock, catastrophic natural disasters and a perilous water shortage.

Next, a man is hanging upside-down by one foot. He takes a handsaw and slashes at the rope that suspends him. He crashes to the floor and you wonder ‘why did he hang himself? Why did he free himself?’ Struck with the dilemma of extreme thirst, the man attempts to quench his craving. With rigorous activity he works up such a sweat that he can wring dry his soaking sweatband into a glass. His face contorts as he gulps down the liquid.

Teetering with starvation this desperate man is propelled into all manner of absurdities. Desperate for release, he has sex with a bag of rubbish shaped as a female figure. Desperate for food, he eats a fly. As he faces starvation, the man can’t shake the possibility of eating his own flesh. The large, rusty saws that dangle from the ceiling entice him to eat.

AutoCannibal throws in your face the question of human will and its desire for self-destruction. Australian performer Mitch Jones, who has carved his name with Circus Oz and as the daredevil Captain Ruin, explores the darker corners of the psyche through enchanting physical theatre. Jones is able to take his character’s anguish to dark yet funny extremes in a smokey atmosphere of industrial ruin designed by Michael Baxter.

Masha Terentieva, a talented artist in her own right who has toured with Cirque du Soleil and won five awards at Cirque de Demain 2017 (arguably the highest accolades in contemporary circus), turns her creativity to directing. Here, Terentieva showcases a keen directorial eye. In AutoCannibal each moment logically fits into the larger narrative despite how surreal it is. Bonnie Knight and Marco Cher-Gibard’s sound design and Paul Lim’s lighting generate heightened effects, creating powerful images.

The over-arching story of a man pushed to his limits is engrossing, and Jones’ ability to find comedy lurking in the darkness of this vision is superb. Original, bold and disturbingly amusing, AutoCannibal is must-see physical theatre.

AutoCannibal runs until 21 July at Theatre Works, St Kilda. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on (03) 9534 3388.

Photograph: Jacinta Oaten