Long live the new flesh
By Owen James
Citizen Theatre’s new work is a feminist dystopia that playfully dissects the boundaries of gender binary and disrupted social norms under the toxic authoritarian rule of the Mother Administration. The citizens are well-behaved, kept in line with a sturdy regime of disinformation, gaslighting, and conciliation – and as the underlying conspiracy unwraps, an impasse is reached and (spoiler alert) blood is shed.
Writer/Director Jayde Kirchert has concocted a fascinating futuristic landscape, void of gender politics and rife with hierarchical secrecy. It is no small order to deliver a fully-realised alternate world on stage with limited space and settings, but Kirchert’s masterful text achieves this with aplomb. Our language is deliciously twisted into familiar yet absurd new phrases that highlight the nonsensical procedures regulating these tortured residents. My personal favourite: “how luck-filled your basket is, that you fished that group of letters out of your word closet”, which had me giggling for about five minutes.
Akin to popular dystopian literary and cinematic works such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, or 1984, the message is clear: that to dismantle an overbearing hierarchy, we must challenge what we are told – even at the threat of punishment. Blindly obeying orders is obstructing societal growth and promoting inequality, despite the Mother’s drive for conformity. This resonates particularly in light of protests such as those that took place in Hong Kong in 2020; citizens with restricted rights have cause to revolt.
The ensemble of eight are perfectly matched, attuned to a unified sense of storytelling and world-building through the use of significant gestus, and their skilful navigation of Anthony Lyons’ delicious harmonies. Audience favourite Kayla Hamill is a comedic delight as Assistant Hans and Superior Clarence, playfully stealing every scene they are in. Shamita Siva as Assistant Konrad filled every line with ferocity and devout allegiance to The Mother, bursting energy into every scene.
Set Design from Stu Brown sees everyday objects take on a new life as part of The Mother’s new-world evangelism. Atop a rotating platform sat on a larger platform, characters spout their sectarian fealty, elevated by Clare Springett’s bold Lighting Design and Aislinn Naughton’s appropriately uniform Costume Design. Compositions from Anthony Lyons are deep, dark and electronic, and incorporate a Midi ring worn by a performer – responding to each gesture in the moment, creating a fascinating soundscape exclusive to each performance.
Mara Korper has launched with the fortuitous timing of Instagram’s addition of pronouns into a profile’s bio this week. As we enter an age where gender binary is disassembled, Citizen Theatre encourage that conversation with a piece where gender is beautifully irrelevant and “Sie” covers all. It is the personal histories (or lack thereof) and future of these characters we are invested in. They are not defined by gender, nor do they need to be for us to follow their arcs. There is also a fascinating underlying commentary about body image and body positivity, as we see the surface consequences of a people forbidden from “breathlessness or stress”, to keep korpers “round and soft”. We cannot help but consider how our culture may degrade if we continue down as unhealthy a path.
Citizen Theatre are a force to be reckoned with. I adore each new terrain they traverse as they build a catalogue of unique, playful theatre that transcends genre and defines their own thundering style. (See past reviews for Forgotten Places (2019) and Ascent (2018).) Mara Korper takes their creativity to a new level; a pensive remedy amidst a tempestuous world alive with cause for conversation.
At TheatreWorks, St Kilda until 22 May 2021.
170 minutes incl. interval