Big Ben Versus the Void Review
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Forget depressing, the end of the world has never been this depressed – or domestic – in climate-existentialism dramedy Big Ben versus The Void, playing at Carlton’s Motley Bauhaus until the 6th of May.
“Alexa, set climate control to post-apocalyptic”. There might be corpses burning outside in the 400-degree heat, but Ben (Paris Balla ft. an excellent sharpie moustache) lives a simple, reclusive existence in his one-bedroom apartment. His days are spent ordering supplies online, feeding his dead fish and eating the last of his Doritos, all whilst working the phones for Charicare, a not-for-profit organisation fighting deforestation.
But his calls never go through, and as he’s stuck giving his donation spiel to another answering machine, it becomes clear he’s not spoken to another human – if there are even any left alive – in some time. It’s no wonder that his closest friendship is with his Alexa Smart Home.
So when Alexa suddenly appears in human form (Emily Shelmerdine) he finally has someone to keep him company. Not in that way, the show repeatedly emphasises, “I cannot stress this enough, the robot will never want to fuck you”. Instead, the two unpack how it feels to be human in the end-days and try to fight the apathy that comes from being taught when you were young that you could change the world with short showers and recycling, only to realise its futility as an adult.
Callum Cheah’s writing balances its bleakness with wit and humour and is inhabited with ease and playfulness by Balla, who marvellously appears deadpan and vividly expressive all at once. Big Ben shines in its moments of non-naturalism as performers clearly relish in dance sequences, spoken-word-experimental-theatre-parodies and a Bo Burnham-esque sock puppet interlude.
There are charming design touches aplenty, including Danny the delivery drone with feelings who flies in through the window, and said window, which glows and screams with feverish horror movie intensity every time the curtains are parted. Lighting design is expertly realised through practical lights by lighting designer Kyra Ryan, and sound design by Justin Gardam is layered and evocative in heavier scenes, whilst providing key moments of levity in the top half of the show. The recorded answering machine messages that Ben reaches on his telemarketing crusades are a particular highlight of the show, most notably the verbal sparring match that ensues when Ben encounters a prankster with a deceptive voicemail.
Big Ben versus The Void is an exciting show tackling increasingly relevant climate concerns with a measured balance of humour and existential horror. Helmed by a vibrant team of emerging creatives and with a pacey one-hour run time, it’s well worth braving the Melbourne weather to get to. Just be thankful there’s not an apocalyptic storm outside… yet.
Emmanuelle, 22 [she/they]
Big Ben vs The Void plays at The Motley Bauhaus until the 6th May. Buy tickets here.