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Living in a satirical world

With rehearsals for our next full-length Education production, Beached, well underway at MTC HQ, Paul Galloway spoke to Director Petra Kalive about the play.

‘I think teenagers live in satire,’ says Petra. ‘It’s the way they occupy the space in the world they live in. They’re always standing outside themselves; they have that ability to take an ironic stance. They are completely hip to irony and comedy, especially black humour. They get all that completely.’

Written by Melissa Bubnic, “Beached”: is for an audience who like that satisfying Swiftian kick of exaggeration. The central character is Arty, a teenager trapped in a massive body, Rabelaisian in its obesity. He’s a couch potato who has outgrown the couch. (In fact, one of the exaggerated design ideas for the show is that he is the couch, an immobile mountain of plump upholstery.) Imprisoned in his body, his mind runs free in fantasies of lithe and muscular adventure. Meanwhile, the reality television series Shocking Fat Stories! plans to make his tragedy into light entertainment for the tut-tutting masses.

‘Obviously, Melissa has written a play about our obsession with fat and our demonization of fat people,’ Petra says. ‘But it’s a strong satirical take on that. The satire allows an audience to put themselves at arms length, so they can reflect on their own behaviour and attitudes when it comes to how we treat those who have an addiction to food.’

Another key aspect of young people’s lives is their blasé acceptance of modern technological life. As Petra
reminds me, every new-fangled invention from Facebook to the iPhone is old hat to them, around for as long as they can remember. Worrisome innovations, such as reality television, are a mundane aspect of the contemporary teenager’s moral universe. This is where satire becomes valuable, because it questions the commonplace.

Fighting fire with fire, Petra will send up our media-saturated world by saturating her production with multi-media. Working with the designer Andrew Bailey, Petra plans to involve the live action with filmed sections, pre-recorded inserts, video screens and puppetry.

‘The play exists in three worlds,’ Petra explains. ‘We’ve got Arty’s home life, we’ve got the world of Artie’s mind as he imagines an alternate reality, and we’ve got the world constructed by reality television. To tell the story, we will flip between media and realities. What I’m envisaging at this point is that Arty’s imaginary world is animated.

The world of reality television and the manipulation that that involves will be projected on screens, and this will contrast with the actual reality of Arty’s life. The idea is that modern reality is layered, and the production design will expose those layers, to show how artificial much of it is.’

Petra, who is still a jobbing actor and came to directing out of creating her own independent theatre projects, doesn’t think that directing a show for youth is any different from any other directing gig.

‘I don’t think there is any need to make allowances for young people, no’, she says. ‘I’m just going to make a really good piece of theatre with the expectation that they will follow. As with any other piece of theatre, whether we are adults or are children, some things we miss, some things we get. It is the impression that stays with us having seen the whole piece that matters, I think. It’s never a good thing to pander. I expect a lot of them, and I hope they come expecting a lot of me.’

“Beached”: is playing at Southbank Theatre, The Lawler from 22 April to 10 May.

This article first appeared in Scenes, MTC’s quarterly subscriber newsletter.

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