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.
La Mama is without a doubt my favourite Melbourne venue for independent theatre. A long-time beating heart of the city’s art scene, it feels like community is built into its DNA, a home for emerging theatre-makers and supporters who’ve been around for decades alike. It’s iconic trademark? The La Mama raffle, where patrons are given a raffle ticket at the box office, and before the show starts a lucky winner is drawn at random to receive a gift connected to the show.
On Celebrity’s opening night, a one-woman performance lecture searching to navigate (in its director’s words) the “looming beast of celebrity”, a disco ball was up for grabs. The winner was announced, Orange C-04, an elderly gentleman who enthusiastically exclaimed “This is the fourth time I’ve won this!”
Unfortunately, for a work that sets out to scrutinise and challenge the celebrity phenomenon but falls sadly flat, his winning statement felt more like a proclamation of the show to come — we’ve been here before.
Young audience members like myself know celebrities intimately, having grown up as digital natives immersed in their unique 21st-century form. The show’s quips around ‘designer pets, private jets’, #KanyeWestforPresident or influencers booking acting work off their follower count don’t offer anything to an audience already steps ahead of its ideas. As my partner glumly remarked to me on the way home, ‘I think I’d figured that all out by the time I turned 16’.
That’s not to say older audiences with more distance from the subject won’t learn something, and there are certainly inspired theatrical choices at play. Performer and Writer Suzie J. Jarmain shines in character work, and her alter-ego Thatcher Christian is a remarkable creation. Fame-hungry but talentless, red-lipped and hiding behind oversized sunnies, she’s the highlight of the show when interviewed by the celeb-journo Dominic Star-Dom (A hilariously straight-faced Jim Daly). Filmmaker Jackson and director Emma Gough are to be commended for the seamless and creative use of two-channel video projection, and minimalist but clever set which saw the black theatre transformed into a lecturer’s whiteboard.
In one of my favourite moments of the show, deep in a cycle of shame, Suzie self-admonishes — who would ever want to watch a show about a single 50-year-old woman who hasn’t made it? ‘Me!’ I thought. ‘Me!’ Celebrity was at its most alive when it dared to venture into that scary territory and allow us to see the pain of what it might mean to fail at your own aspirations, to have to suffer with being a ‘no-one’. I only wish it was brave enough to trust that pain at its heart, rather than trying to outsmart it.
Emmanuelle, 22 [she/they]
Celebrity plays at La Mama Theatre from 20 Sep–1 Oct. See details here.