‘Action Hero’, made up of acting duo Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse, come together in this 65-minute play in which a male photographer takes photos of a female celebrity who is trying to reinvent herself. It explores how we each see things differently and how we treat each other in our everyday relationships. Wrecking Ball asks us to question what we are really seeing and what something might symbolise. Is that really a pineapple or is it a mushroom cloud? Who knows?
The pair from Bristol, England are known for involving their audience in their work and Wrecking Ball is no different. The play starts with Stenhouse’s character interacting with everyone in the room as you sit down. He then takes a seat himself in the middle of the small auditorium while drinking a pink cocktail. At first I assumed he was a rather confident and overly merry audience member, not one of the actors! We were then asked to imagine that we were in his apartment or studio – a device which plays with the unspoken role of the audience as the invisible spectator. This act of make believe, a feature of traditional theatre, is now indirectly explained to us. The audience soon come to realise that they are playing a number of roles themselves throughout the production, from the camera to a moment where an audience member is asked to play the narrator and read directly from the script, highlighting both the predictability and constructed nature of dialogue in a play.
Gemma plays the role of a celebrity who has come to a photo-shoot in order to produce album artwork which will presumably make it successful. Their partnership in this seemingly mutual task is not straight forward – there is frustration, confusion and resistant compromise. The way both Paintin and Stenhouse have put this together makes it clear why they have been exclusively collaborating for over 10 years with their wit and technique combining nicely.
The message which comes across in the play is established largely through Gemma’s character, who is learning what is real and what is not. By the time we reach the middle of the piece it is clear that there is not always a distinctive answer and all is not as it seems. The ice cream which Gemma is asked to pose with by James for some photos illustrates how people can take something presented to them at face-value, unless they are given reason to think otherwise. It also presents us with a darker side to an unquestioning posture.
The use of limited props such as an ice cream and a pineapple is used to demonstrate the constructed nature of meaning, making us in the audience question our own ideology and thought patterns – including whether that ice cream is really strawberry flavoured or instead pink dyed mash potato in a cone.
It’s a play which makes you question yourself and your actions while at the same time making you laugh. If you’re after a show which will make you see the world in a different light this is for you. If you want a light show which doesn’t require mental effort and to interrogate the meanings behind certain objects and speech maybe give it a miss. Wrecking Ball gives a powerful look into how things should or can be questioned and might be other than they appear to us.
Arts House, North Melbourne, Wednesday 31st May 2017.