Prickly but Succulent Theatre
Words by Riley Treisman
“All I can see are memes.”
So reads the very first note I made on SUDS’ original production “The Luscious Con Submarine”. A white backdrop spreads across the stage, filled with red and blue scrawls of Vine references galore. Notable phrases include “Look at all those chickens”, “Sah dude” and “I can’t believe you’ve done this”. The air is filled with the guttural laughter of a businesswoman, her eyes glued to her phone, and various corporate employees lounge around the space.
Directed by William York, the play follows Nick, played by Harry Charlesworth, a pragmatic flower vase salesman who, having been fired and broken up with, finds himself inexplicably lost in the desert, encountering a plethora of eccentric characters. We meet the flirtatious Lord Alfred Byron, complete with coattails and knee-high lace-up boots; Stephen, seemingly demure but sporadically screaming of corporation conspiracies; and the high-as-a-kite Bag Woman, thoughtfully munching on Sakata rice crackers throughout her scenes. Last is Mort, a talking dead man, his lilting intonation and unhurried delivery a hilarious foil to a frustrated Nick; and Chelsea, glamorous housewife of the desert, clad in leopard-print and gold.
Narrating (and live-tweeting) all of this is Tom Wilson as The Cactus, his solemn Shakespearean rhyming couplets of dreams and deception, “duty or amor”, are intertwined with a kind of stand-up-comedy routine encompassing Seinfeld and the Bee Movie, Marisa from The OC, and Kung Fu Panda 4. This mixing of cultural forms creates a strange but alluring cocktail of sophistication and simplicity, clearly written for an internet-savvy, Netflix-fluent audience.
Such dynamic personas threaten to outshine the protagonist, who wanders through the desert reacting to all eccentricity with a mixture of exasperation and indignation, often stating the obvious with unanimated lines such as “You two really are a strange couple”. There was little sense of character progression, and moments of authentic emotion are scarce. Commenting on Byron’s sexual exploits, the poet replies, “Critique my lifestyle, but I existed to fulfil my dreams.” It remains unsaid what Nick’s aspirations are: all we know from his boss is that his resume “went blank” after high school. However, this leaves the audience to come to their own conclusion. Are our dreams profound? Do they say anything about us? Is a knowledge of American sitcoms any less valued than a knowledge of 18th-century poetry?
Metatheatre is a huge part of the show. Stammering on a particular rant, Stephen turns to the Cactus, who chuckles, “Oh, dude, I don’t know, we are way off script,” and proceeds to hold up a sign reading “THIS IS IMPROV”. Wilson also acts as a stagehand, moving furniture around the stage and flashing the audience a charming smile as characters bicker and argue around him. Later, Chelsea tells Nick, “Darling, fourth wall is so last season,” waving a gloved hand to a crowd he cannot see. However, the audience is often mocked for spending money on “amateur theatre”, rendering this device more of a humorous than a conceptual tool. Self-reference should also be used sparingly: the first appearance of the “THIS IS IMPROV” sign was clever, the second superfluous.
My qualms are tiny spines in something that quenches a thirst for quality entertainment. Full of dreams, memes, and everything in between, “The Luscious Con Submarine” is unlike anything you’ve seen before: a playful and outrageous chronicle of the 21st century subconscious.