In the year 2000 when I was a teenager, games developer Maxis, the creators of the popular Sim City released The Sims.
As a fan of Sim City, I was easily hooked on this so called ‘people simulator’. Here you were not in control of building and maintaining a city but a simple household. While there was basic AI to the characters, it was your job to guide them to pursue career and relationship goals, being able to use the money they earned in the universe to expand their homes or buy them more lavish expensive items.
The Sims naturally became an instant success and went on to spawn many expansions and sequels, selling nearly 200 million copies combined. It is easy to see why it was such a runaway hit as a fan of the earliest iteration of the game. Before any expansions, before there were pets, before you could even leave the property, I was enthralled. I would stay up late on school nights addicted to this wacky cartoonish simulation of real life.
So, when I walked into the new play MOTHERLOD_^E (Motherlode), it immediately resonated with me. This new play by Frenzy Theatre Co took me back all those years with its performances, its humour, and its wit.
Upon entry several recognisable songs play over the speakers, although the lyrics are in gibberish. This nonsense ‘Simlish’ language was created for the games and while the characters speak in English in MOTHERLOD_^E, it puts us in the right frame of mind. We watch several Sims go about their existence, oblivious that they are merely the puppets of an omnipotent force behind a keyboard playing God.
What hit me straight away was the authenticity to the cast’s movements and interactions with each other and the world around them. The recognisable over the top acting from the games is faithfully recreated here in real life. Sims get jobs, lose jobs, practice skills, prepare meals and awkwardly complain when they can’t carry out a task they’ve been assigned. Throughout the play, this pantomime never grows old as new and hilarious ways of translating the game to the stage are achieved. From the Sims’ “WooHoo-ing” under the bed sheets to the arrival of The Grim Reaper, it all plays out in a hilarious fashion.
Stage manager Brigette Jennings and their team have done an amazing job. The set and props are as faithful a recreation of The Sims, as are the performances. The stage is transformed into a full house with the walls down much like the game, so that we can see every single character in each room as they go about their tasks. From kitchen to bathroom, all of it comes to life. Also impressive is the lighting design by Sidney Younger. At times, breathtaking with moments throughout enhanced thanks to the smart mood the lighting he evokes.
The story of MOTHERLOD_^E is somewhat complex. On one hand, we are watching these sims interact. But on the other, we know it is all at the whim of a player. We see the player as if through a webcam as she oversees her game. She harmlessly acts out her sexuality and experiments through the game as many gamers did. However, the game also portrays her frustrations with life as she cheats to get the reality she wants.
Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the strongest element of MOTHERLOD_^E. Perhaps had the player been portrayed as a Twitch gaming streamer talking to her audience, we could have gotten into her head more. Also, it doesn’t help that some of her story is told via instant messages. The text for which is just far too small to be read from rear seating, let alone by those with poor vision.
Despite this, in all other ways possible, MOTHERLOD_^E blew me away. With audio/visual, multiple screens, and lighting effects synced to the many cast members on stage. At times, there are so many plates spinning, I forgot that this was not a major theatre show!
Sometimes morbid and often insightful, MOTHERLOD_^E is an uproarious trip for anybody who has ever played The Sims. Some in-jokes may be lost on the uninitiated, however even then, there is much to be appreciated in this bold and impressive production.
Frenzy Theatre Co’s MOTHERLOD_^E is now playing at Theatre Works in St Kilda (Melbourne) until the 14th of January 2023.
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Photography by Daniel Rabin.