In a representative world populated by Fleischer-esque caricatures, God is replaced with Phil, but when he gives his creations what they want, they find themselves totally unfulfilled – much like the audience. This absurd play-with-songs fails to make any original point and suffers from being underperformed and overwritten. Some good performances and design, but all in all a disappointment. At the Space.
A collection of characters are introduced: a fat man, a “chairman”, a man trying to kill himself, a chef, a father, a pair of prostitutes, etc. They’re all sketched very crudely – physically as well, with dark lines accentuating their features into old cartoon-esque caricatures. They all pray to god-figure Phil, but when he realises that all they want from him is complete fulfillment, what he gives them may not be the paradise they wished for.
Writer/director Sebastian Rex has created many a strong vision in the past, but this is a gratuitous misstep on a number of counts. The concept is overwritten – is Phil God, or a madman who has created these characters in his head? Or is Rex implying that both are the same? Even so, the character of Phil has no reason for his actions – the beginning of the second act, when we finally fully meet the character, glosses over why he’s done what he’s done in a convoluted, 10-minute rudderless monologue that would have made Beckett wince. It’s unclear and, in effect, over so quickly that Rex’s message is lost – did Phil want to gratify his creations, or punish them, or is he just bored, or trying to help? All explanations seem to be offered but none settled on.
Then again, maybe that’s the point: the abject cynicism running through the script is depressing and unfounded. Every character marches towards death or fulfillment with no sense of joy or drive beyond base needs, including this universe’s god – thus giving the impression that the writer simply has a depressing worldview rather than a point to make. This unoriginal concept from a negative standpoint generates a wan sense of “what’s the point?”, which seems to have filtered through to the performers as well; the only actor with any energy is Rhys Lawton as Phil, and even he seems more manic (and language-mangling) than genuine.
Rex has clearly tried to find an Expressionist angle for his concept: the white faces and stereotypical characterisations reek of Brecht, as does his play-with-songs set up, but this doesn’t have the kind of wit you’d expect from Expressionism. Also, to call a play a “play-with-songs” implies more than 3-4 songs in an hour-and-a-half, and not all sung by the same character. The design and concept feel like a pastiche of German Expressionism, but the show feels like it’s trying to embody it – an uneasy balance, for the piece as well as the audience.
In short, it’s not a very good play. There are a couple of fun moments, but mostly the whole thing gets bogged down in sluggish metaphysical ramblings that show off Rex’s penchant for words, but don’t tell a meaningful story despite trying desperately to do so.