Saturday, 23 August 1997

Mass by Arena Theatre , Aug 23, 1997

Mass by Arena Theatre 
Universal Theatre 1 until Aug 30, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Aug 22, 1997

 If Mass were on TV, it would be preceded by warnings, 'Some violence, Sex scenes, Language, Adult themes.'

It is titillation for teenagers. Director, Rosemary Myers, in the second of Arena Theatre's anthroPOP trilogy, stimulates the senses with huge screen video projection, amplified live techno-music, verbatim Vox-Pops and snap-shot characterisations.

 All elements are designed to key into the sensory and social context of the 90's teenager. One can hear the echo of teenage voices: 'The videos were grouse.' 'A giant inflatable baby. Cool!' 'Excellent techno-music.'  'Sex in a photo booth. That's gross!'

The narrative, thin as it is in a production that focuses on other dynamics, derives from an interviewee's answer to the random survey question, 'When have you most felt like an animal?' She describes a casual sexual encounter with a complete stranger in a photo booth on a railway station.

What follows, we must presume, is intended to demonstrate that random actions have far-reaching consequences. In this case, pregnancy, fraught relationships and a custody battle over an unborn child.

 Daniel Crooks video is a potent, frenetic collage of images, data and text that parallel the dialogue.  Stylish visuals by Myers and funny dialogue from characters portrayed by Fiona Todd and Bruce Gladwin are effective and Band of Hope's music provides an edgy background.

Mass runs at breakneck pace but reaches no clear destination. It proposes to investigate mass communication and conformity but inadvertently celebrates the juvenile communication of two adults behaving like tantrum-throwing children. Perhaps other survey questions, "What is the most important relationship in your life?' and 'When have you felt most alone?' might have provided more substantial content. 

This hack may be hooked on old Theatre-in-Education philosophy but what message is this sending? Younger teens might miss the metaphoric and ironic. Older youth could handle more complex analysis of character and theme.

They may simply hear, "Greed is good. Casual sex is hilarious.  Anything and anyone can be bought.' This is not Arena's intended statement but the primary message is blurred. "What happened?" said the 8-year-old behind me at the end.  I didn't know either.


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