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June 16, 2014 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever [Review]

It’s been a while since Wellington audiences have had a chance to see The PlayGround Collective, and their return to Bats is triumphant.

All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever is, the programme notes tell us, a re-worked version of Tinderbox, first staged with the help of a STAB commission in 2011. The new version is nearly unrecognisable from that first season. The original Tinderbox was based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, set in a Wild West-style wasteland. The new version is set in a very contemporary Aro Valley flat, its main character a game design student struggling to cope with bereavement. The main reference point for the new story is not an old fairytale, but that very contemporary genre the video game.

Audience members familiar with The PlayGround Collective and playwright Eli Kent’s work will recognise a number of themes from previous works, including their acclaimed The Intricate Art of Actually Caring. Depression, alienation, being a young person coping with grief and coming to terms with mortality, they’re all there.

The key to the whole is the video game metaphor; the messiness and incomprehensibility of life is set against the rigid structure and pre-set pathways of a side-scrolling video game. In the game, you know where you’re going, and how to get there. There are obstacles you need to get past, and in the end there will be a final boss. The player character is thoroughly at the mercy of the player, and will do the player’s bidding without question. Real people, like the play’s main character Simon, however, have minds and wills of their own. They don’t necessarily do the expected thing, and the real world doesn’t behave cleanly and predictably like a game. The play is a process of unravelling – any sense of a narrative, or of predictability, or distinction between reality and the fantasy of a game world.

The whole performance is a seamless totality, acting and design and set flawlessly integrated, the whole letting us into Simon’s mind as he tries to navigate his feelings of grief and loss without any clear pathway, attempting unsuccessfully to take refuge in distraction. A disembodied voice appears to be in control – perhaps the player, or the game software itself, but loses control, generating much of the comedy of the play. The other actors perform from a kind of backstage that isn’t a backstage, similarly trying to guide Simon through the narrative, but also losing control.

The whole is a kind of dark comedy, with so much packed in it’s difficult to convey a sense of after the fact. This is a highly original, carefully-wrought production deserving of high praise. It has grown enormously from that first season at Bats in 2011, where for all its inventiveness the narrative underpinning it was not developed enough to fully engage my interest. Hopefully we will get to see this play again, in this or another iteration.

 

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