Before I went to see the newest production by Aphids, A Singular Phenomenon, at Malthouse Theatre, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know what kind of show it was, or what it was about; I simply walked in, sat down and waited to see what would happen. I was not prepared for what came next, but I believe that this contributed to my enjoyment. If you like contemporary performance art, and you’re the kind of person who enjoys surprises and absurdity, I recommend that you go and see A Singular Phenomenon. Don’t read the rest of the review, just get tickets and go (although it’s only running on May 21,22 and 23). You’ll have a ball.
A Singular Phenomenon was not so much a play as it was an hourglass trickle of audience members from seats to stage over the period of ninety minutes. The whole show was moved along by a woman with a clipboard and microphone, calling people out of the audience by the names assigned to them by cards waiting on their seats. The names used were derived from true stories, all relating back to one iconic Australian song and the man who wrote it. It was up to us as an audience to guess the song and the celebrity. There was no hand holding, or explanation for what was about to happen, we were given the pieces of a puzzle and expected to solve it. Highlights from this man’s career were also reenacted occasionally, reintroducing more of the traditional performance aspects of theatre to the show.
The icon we were trying to identify was mysteriously referred to only as ‘Joe’. Some of the stories about his life that surfaced during the performance caused me to doubt that this could possibly be a real person, such was the surreal quality of the narrative. This made the comedic payload all the better when, at the end, Joe himself took the stage and confirmed that it was all true.
I found that even though I was not always certain what was happening, I enjoyed the ride. It was a unique experience to watch the neat rows of audience members grow sparse while the stage swelled with groups of people sitting at tables; eating pasta and drinking wine as the show went on. There were times when I simply could not grasp the point of the events occurring on stage, but that was part of the humour of the show.
I imagine that a huge amount of effort went into the research and planning of A Singular Phenomenon. It can’t have been a small task to take a man’s life and spin it out in such an interesting and unusual way. I’m glad I got to witness it, and I’ll definitely be watching out for productions by both Aphids and Malthouse in the future.
Written by Ella Salome