The monster in this show is very different from those you might have seen haunting the city for Halloween. This clever show from director Robert Chuter explores the self-sabotage of affluent Aussie millennials and the dangers they face in idolising their heroes. If that wasn't already enough to identify with, die-hard fans of The Smiths will delight in the seminal band's lyrics that are brought to life. This is the sequel of the highly-successful Half A Person: My Life As Told By The Smiths so, if you (like me) didn't see it, be prepared for Morrissey to meet Broadway on stage.
As well as general generational concerns, Alex Broun's script reflects on the concept of 'disability' through its two main characters: William and Felice. Though Felice is confined to a wheelchair with cystic fibrosis and only present in William's reenactments, it's William's life choices that incite the most thought. Making us laugh and cringe, his performance eventually makes us question 'is it actually this fully-abled guy who keeps shunning happiness who's really disabled?'
The joy is in the details of this production, like the 'Wonka' shirt William wears, suggesting a kind of Peter Pan Syndrome — a commentary on the 21+ dependency common to Gen Y? I saw more charisma in Wright’s improv due to a botched sound cue and his underhanded asides than in some of the scripted narration. It would be wonderful to see him play more as the season progresses and infuse his natural charm/cheekiness into the script and songs. As it is, Wright nails the balance of nostalgia AND connection to the audience, allowing William to energetically impersonate the people in his life, and unwittingly reveal his own ignorance and privilege.
Having missed its prequel, I found the crossbreeding of The Smiths with a Broadway musical style sometimes jarring from the story — made worse by the thin, karaoke feel of some backing tracks. When William finds himself actually singing in a karaoke bar, the effect is great. Perhaps this is Chuter's intention all along: to reflect a young man’s delusions of grandeur and infatuation with fame. The presence of live music in this show would greatly enhance it. At the very least, the sound team should crank up the speakers and Wright's microphone for the songs.
Benjamin Brockman’s set and lighting design creates a stylised, yet private space for William's memories. It simply, but effectively maintains the feel of a young man’s bedroom, even when it’s jumping from wealthy Toorak to debaucherous Chapel street. Brockman works closely with the script; his lighting creating the 'glows' that underpin much of Broun's writing. Mortality hangs over the stage, thanks to Brockman’s ghostly neons and the black soil crunching underfoot. His pièce de résistance is the use of vertical space: a cluster of fluffy clouds utilised for moments of epiphany, at once wonderfully magical and kitsch.
November Spawned a Monster runs as part of a double bill at the Old Fitz. You shouldn't miss the second act: the hilarious one-woman show V.D.