Chrissie Parrott Arts
Review: Kate Prendergast
Imagine that all the moral indignities and crises of contemporary Australia- our appalling treatment of asylum seekers, the sorry state of our health care, our ageing population - are curled into a gigantic fist. Now imagine that fist punching you in your intolerant face for just under an hour. This is The Disorder.
With all the angry, untrammelled passion of a high-school production, the science-fiction medical horror play tries (rather hard) to be satirical, dark and edgy- and on a level, it does alright. Mostly however, it just ends up being pretty ugly in its cynicism.
In the production's bleakly imagined future, Barnakism is the new superbug terrorizing humanity. Its symptoms are many, but include limb disintegration, expressive kidneys and necrophilia. Ma- an old, squawking crone of a bigot- is its latest victim. (And no, in case you're wondering, we don't see her visit the morgue as regards that last symptom).
Undergoing treatment in a vile cesspit of a hospital overseen by a sadistically bubbly nurse, Ma stubbornly refuses to die. She clings onto life and suffering, aided through the emotional support of one daughter, and the financial support of another. These roles are not shared, and as Ma's health gruesomely disintegrates, we see the many costs of unnaturally extending a life accrue. Antagonisms build up. Denial clashes with unconcern. The whole system is figured as a bizarre pathology; a disorder.
There's one person who recognizes this, and that's an unnamed refugee carer who works at the hospital. She watches, scowling from the sidelines as the family drama unfolds. Abused and de-humanised at every turn- to the hyperbolic extent that the government is calling for 'her lot's' compulsory euthanasia- she spits out her outrage in bitter asides to the audience.
Unfortunately, the performer's concern that her character doesn't attract pity in her victimhood has meant that the carer isn't someone you can easily warm to. The result of this, ironically or not, is that the audience is made to feel guilty for struggling to empathize with the play's much-maligned 'other'.
Other performances are largely middling, although Sophie Joske- playing Ma- is the standout, doing a very good crotchety.
The drama is periodically intercut by a screen-projected montage, which serves to reinforce the idea that mankind is rapidly lowering itself into its very own manufactured hell. Against an electro-jangle signifying doom, we are beamed with all the familiar images of the apocalypse-virulent cells in fission, a factory churning out endless pills and people teeming and scuttling over every surface of the once-pure earth.
There’s no denying the bare concept behind the story is quite brilliant, and that it has something important to say. Indeed, the political issues it grapples with and the questions it demands we confront should right now be at the burning forefront of the nation’s consciousness.
It’s just the play asks these questions too forcefully, and tries to say too much at once. There is such an urgency to convey its message, subtlety has been sacrificed in the execution. This is nowhere as clear as in the play’s end.
More a sarcastic enactment of Australian society at its most horrible, The Disorder takes issue with everything wrong in our country at the moment, wearing it’s agenda too much on its blood-spotted sleeve.