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. Poisoned livestock, catastrophic natural disasters and a perilous water shortage welcome you to the near dystopic future of AutoCannibal.

Hanging upside-down from one foot is a man. He takes a large handsaw and slashes at the rope which 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 poor, desperate man is propelled into all manner of absurdities. Desperate for release, he has sex with a bag of rubbish shaped into a female figure. Desperate for food, he eats a fly. In an environment of collapse and scarcity, he can’t shake the possibility of eating his own flesh. Large, rusty saws dangle from the ceiling enticing 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 takes his character’s anguish to devastating and often grimly humorous extremes in a fantastically 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. AutoCannibal is continuous, each moment logically fits into the larger narrative despite how surreal it may be. Bonnie Knight and Marco Cher-Gibard’s sound design and Paul Lim’s lighting generate heightened effects, creating powerful images and strong sensations.

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