I am not ashamed to admit that when I exited the theatre, after the opening performance of Apocatypical, I had no idea what I had just sat through:
An actor playing an actor playing a king in royal blue satin attire, two audience members shouting abuse, the supposed end of the word, hopeless conversation and arguments over a mint, an obsession with rehearsal and direction, nut allergies, strangers in gas masks, and spiritual cleansing.
It was absurd and expressive, with many laugh-out-loud moments, and despite my ignorance of the subject matter, I was engaged and entertained for the duration of the performance.
Directed by Dustin Liebelt, Apocatypical begins with an over-the-top monologue recited by Bourke (Matt Bolger-Hobson) taken from Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II. It is intentionally appalling, and ‘audience members’ Townsend (Sarah Breen) and Klein (Darren Lever) demonstrate a complete disregard for basic theatre etiquette by talking on a mobile phone, loudly mocking the performance, and eventually storming onto the stage and requesting a refund. Bourke unwillingly obliges. What follows is a series of events that relate to an apparent apocalypse, where all human life disappears, and the characters find odd and futile ways to handle it.
Townsend and Klein spend a decent chunk of the show attempting to direct Bourke, with no success. Then two strangers in gas masks (Paul Brown as Balthazar and Tilly Legge as Murphy) enter the performance space, and manage to manipulate the three characters to follow their orders without question. This blind submission leads to a chain of events that results in the eventual destruction of every action and relationship created on stage.
The plot itself wasn’t entirely captivating, but what the actors did with the smaller moments within the main story was what held my attention. They worked off of each other very well, and their physicality was the most impressive aspects of the play. They didn’t hold back at all when it came to their exaggerated movements—from clambering all over each other, to hilarious fight sequences, to an intense spiritual cleansing process not unlike that of an exorcism, with floating limbs and screams included. The choreography was exceptional and served as the main source of humour for the performance, meshing with the spoken text into a semi-slapstick, intelligent comedic display.
The script was written nicely with many clever one-liners, and although most scenes were well-rehearsed and engaging, they were sometimes confusing and messy and would have benefited from further work-shopping. The lighting design could have been better, and the occasional blackouts were unnecessary.
Highlights of Apocatypical definitely revolved around the quirky, entertaining relationship between Klein and Bourke. Lever and Bolger-Hobson are natural comics and their banter certainly carried the show—Lever’s ability to throw himself around on stage with ease (at one point hanging off a ladder by his foot), and Bolger-Hobson’s droll remarks, were what made Apocatypical a comedy, and not just a play with a few funny moments.
Made up of dark themes, complex and absurd narrative, outrageous choreography, and a desire for breaking the rules, Apocatypical is a play worth seeing.
Apocatypical is in its last week as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It’s on at Northcote Town Hall until Sunday 22 April. To book tickets or to find out more information, visit northcotetownhall.com.au.