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By Jessica Keath
September 16, 2013

Super Discount – Back to Back Theatre and Sydney Theatre Co

Part play, part dance piece and part super-heroic triumph.
By Jessica Keath
September 16, 2013

Super Discount is part play, part dance piece and part super-heroic triumph. Under Bruce Gladwin's direction, a cast of six from Geelong's Back to Back Theatre Company survey the escapism of the myth of the superhero, whilst treading some fairly muddy territory about disability as well.

STC's Wharf 1 is left unadorned by designer Mark Cuthbertson, save one remarkable opening tornado, constructed by a team of 'Air Engineers'. A snake of dry ice swirls upwards as we listen to performer and devisor Sarah Mainwaring speak about the impossibility of reaching an 'ever-shifting centre'. And boy do these guys get left of centre in the show that follows.

The first half is a slow pondering of the limits of devising theatre and of disability as the cast tries to decide who should play the role of Mark Deans, a performer with Down's syndrome who they’ve decided can't play himself because he will not be clearly heard. The conversations between the cast as they audition people are revealing and honest. Able-bodied actor David Woods recalls being ignored during a Q&A session after a performance in Vienna and complains that he is dismissible because he doesn’t have a disability.

He reads out definitions of different intellectual disabilities from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and Simon Laherty gently explains that he finds it offensive. Then Woods says the word retard. It's awkward, and fantastically so. Any tensions about allowable terms are addressed directly in this first section before we head out in to the wild world of what performer and devisor Scott Price calls 'post-disability'. The tension between mockery and comedy never goes away though, much as German director Christoph Schlingensief achieved in his reality TV style show Freakstars, with its cast of people with an intellectual disability.

Actor and devisor Brian Tilley has brought his encyclopaedic knowledge of superheroes to the piece and his bravado is a powerful match to Woods's relentless challenges to everyone around him. As the pair get dressed for a showdown, Woods takes Tilley to task on his love of superheroes, explaining that we'd all be better off if we realised that no one will save us and we should just get on with our lives. Nevertheless, Woods cuts a fine form in Shio Otani's puffy super hero outfits and performs an electric duet with Tilley. Marco Cher-Gibard's music here is excellent, and combined with Andrew Livingston’s lovely fluoro panels, it’ll have you wishing you could join in, as Mark Deans does from his seat upstage.

Deans makes the transformation from peripheral participant to the subject of Woods' mimicry of him, to a kapowing boss with a calm that is pretty funny. His performance in the final sequence is completely captivating.

Image by Jeff Busby.

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