Peacock Theatre, Hobart
April 28th, 2023
“You said you were angry. I wish I was angry; I could do something with anger. But all I feel is shame. Ashamed. And that’s fucked up.”
Sydney based production company Powersuit Productions’ first trip to Tasmania, saw the touring production of Laura Jackson’s strikingly relevant play The Culture, grace the beautiful Peacock Theatre stage last April. The Culture is an acutely accurate examination of the ever-present power imbalances that exists in our modern “Culture,” most notably the uncomfortable topics of consent and domestic violence, where these imbalances rear their ugly heads more than most.
The Culture follows best friends Will Archer and Katie Monroe, two twenty-somethings utilizing the modern social media landscape to give a “voice to the voiceless;” entrenching themselves in “Influencer Culture.” The two record their own Podcast “Don’t even get me started!” and use the platform they have created via social media to talk about the issues that really matter. Katie is a “Marketing Genius” and works for a female lingerie company and this marketing prowess is adopted to create content for their many followers. Will, her gay best friend and co-host, openly discusses his dating life and supports Katie in her pleas for female empowerment and equality. When man mountain Kale Brown arrives at Katie's work, an uncomfortable relationship begins to form, highlighting the many imbalances of power experienced by women in our current climate, and consequently, we see her strong moral fibre be tested and weakened as she falls into the trap she's been trying to avoid.
The major highlight to Jackson's writing is its confidence to be outrageously funny and devastatingly uncomfortable within the space of a single scene. While there are still some slightly stereotypical representations throughout the play, what elevates this play to remarkable poignancy is the way it is able to subvert our expectations. I had concerns after the first scene that the script would find itself succumbing to the similarities of many others of the genre; works that consistently preach the same thing but without representation of the human moments of fallibility. Yet what is entirely unique about The Culture, is that these notions of perfectionism and liberation are virtually parodied through a satirist lens, and once they are subverted by situating Katie’s character in a circumstance of direct comparison to that which she has been judging; it turns what is an increasingly important subject matter into a meaningful and necessary social commentary on recognising the imperfections in all elements of our culture, and the steps needed to take in order to enable a healthy and safe shift towards a better one.
I tend to have trepidations when I see a playwright performing in their own play, as quite often their performances come with an inability to react to or hear different perspectives or reads from other members of the team; however, Jackson's performance as Katie felt like she had made new discoveries about her character while working in the rehearsal room and in performance. This capability to adapt throughout the process, a character that had been so lived in for longer than usual, showed the signs of an extremely capable actor at the top of their game. Mina Asfour had such a profound authenticity as Katie’s partner in crime, Will, that seemed almost effortless. His comic timing was flawless and had a natural compassion and empathetic nature that enamoured the audience into riding every obstacle with him. Jackson’s role as Katie was enhanced thanks to Asfour’s exemplary performance.
Bethany Caputo’s direction served the piece effectively and had clearly been successful at drawing new ideas out of the script, however I would have loved to have seen how the show may have changed at each stop during their tour. This wasn’t show breaking, but the Peacock Theatre is one of my favourite Tasmanian Theatres, and I would have loved to see tour director Carly Fish, have the ability to utilise each space further and show off the stunning theatre’s they were using more.
The use of screen and social media throughout the show was a key element in discussing the other major challenge of our current culture, the dangers, or benefits of viral media. While we can sometimes get caught up in the discussion surrounding whether social media is a dangerous platform for free thought, we sometimes miss that that platform can also stand as our most significant ability for change, and in this case, how viral videos could end up saving someone’s life. Overall, The Culture was a poignant reminder of how far we still have to go in order to see change in a culture overrun by unrealistic expectations of perfectionism and over inflated ideas of entitlement.
Also, keep an eye out for the hilarious costume design mid show. It had the biggest laugh of the night.
Review By Matt Taylor