Big Ben Versus the Void Review
ATYP’s reviewing program was created to give young people a platform to voice their opinions and experiences while developing skills in critical reflection. The views expressed are those of the writer and do not reflect the views of ATYP or its staff.
In the downstairs theatre at the Motley Bauhaus, you’ll be greeted by a brick wall, a goldfish bowl (is there a real fish in there?) and a hidden figure under a blue blanket. I must commend the team of Big Ben versus The Void on their use of space, props were thoughtfully placed to give the set that ‘haven’t left the house in a month’ feel without it being overdone. An intimate performance as Ben (Paris Balla) begins right under your nose and the post-apocalyptic world told through Ben’s sour eyes comes to life. His only friend, his digital home assistant Alexa… and a few Doritos left at the bottom of a packet.
Ben’s only real purpose in this lonely existence is to search the internet for people willing to donate to a not-for-profit organisation helping Orangutans. His clinical call centre voice is joyfully cringeworthy and we get the scary sense that Ben may really be all that’s left of mankind… god help us if he is. Paris’ performance is comedically on point nuanced with a deep desperation that any one human can relate to. Intermittently, Ben
speaks directly to the audience and the mention of greenhouse gases makes me squirm in my seat. We experience Ben’s vulnerability in these monologues and the only thing wrong with them is that they are too short, he had us in his palm and we could have stayed there longer.
Alexa (Emily Shelmerdine), Ben’s home assistant comes to life in human form at the midpoint of the show, a dramatic shift that causes the audience to lean in. A scary prospect, not too far from reality, that is utterly chilling and Alexa is straight out of a dystopian film. Ben, faced with a beautiful woman for the first time in who knows how long, initially sees sex, but you’ll have to excuse him because it’s probably been a while. Over the second half of the show, Alexa and Ben develop a beautiful and volatile relationship that sets the rest of the play in motion.
Writer Callum Cheah has approached quite the task to ponder what life might look like after humankind reaps the consequences of its abuse of the planet. It sounds bleak, but the comedy is so cleverly balanced with important social undertones and an overall satirical view of the world, all the ingredients for a fun night at the theatre. In fact, some references are all too real in a post-COVID world, leaving us in cackles over a string of toilet paper used as a tool to enlist personal space.
Alexa’s bright-eyed energy is refreshing alongside Ben’s lethargy and half-eaten pizza. She is the beacon of hope and the light that the play needs, a fascinating thing to ponder despite her complete lack of humanity. And just while we are stuck in that thought… the lights fade to black, leaving no room to trail off and wonder what’s for dinner. The ending is snappy and lights are called at just the right moment, Director Olivia Staaf knows exactly how to end a show.
The cast and crew of Big Ben versus The Void have taken on a huge and important task with this play and they ought to be commended for their wildly funny and all too relevant take on the world. The venue is the perfect space to see this play with all the action happening right under your nose. It’s a not-to-be-missed event, not just for the theatre, but for any lover of the arts and persons concerned for the planet. It’s creative and alive, it’s confusing and shocking, it’s Big Ben versus The Void.
Georgia, 22 [she/her]
Big Ben vs The Void plays at The Motley Bauhaus until the 6th May. Buy tickets here.