Multiple Bad Things – Theatre Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When you see a blow up flamingo on the stage as you walk into a theatre, you know you’re in for a bizarre show. Added to that is the cluster of scaffolding in the middle of the stage, the gaming computer with solitaire set up and stormy clouds projected onto a giant screen. What mayhem awaits?

This is a workplace at the end of the world as we know it. In a dark warehouse in a location which could be anywhere, several people work at a seemingly futile task. With varying disabilities, these three workers attempt to coexist and push forward in their lives, but it is a struggle. Two women (Bron Batten and Sarah Mainwaring) attempt to build a structure while a man (Scott Price) seems content to relax, only interjecting his opinions sporadically. A fourth individual, a man (Simon Laherty), acts to introduce us to the show but seems completely disinterested otherwise. Spending his time staring into a computer screen only stopping for snacks.

As the three workers proceed, various subjects are raised and discussed. They go back and forward on points which range from the climate, globalism, to marketplace oddities. However, there is an underlying intensity to their interactions and things seem ready to boil over. Physical disabilities, gender discrimination and privilege become the focus, and our workers begin to turn on each other. This is just theatre and while what is portrayed may not be real, the issues talked about definitely are.

Multiple Bad Things is the latest production from the Geelong based but internationally recognised company, Back to Back Theatre. For over 30 years the group have sought to push the boundaries of what people think is possible in theatre and to answer questions raised in their previous works. More than that, the troupe provide voices to the often voiceless with an ensemble identifying as differently abled or neurodivergent, exploring societal prejudices.

Their plays are often extremely abstract and filled with symbolism. Provocative scenarios and stylish portrayals of ideas which encourage discussion and reflection on the work afterwards. This makes a show such as Multiple Bad Things, one which can have 10 different takeaways from 10 different audience members. Just like the lives of the characters in the show itself, all of these experiences are valid.

For my part, Multiple Bad Things is a play about the clashing of egos and the effects oppression have on us all. As a movie fan, I couldn’t help but feel that the play has a distinctly David Lynch-like feel to it. Sometimes, this is a plus and at others during the protracted dialogue-free periods, it can be a negative. But there is an oppressive aura permeating the entire hour like something from a nightmare. Recognisable as a reflection of our own world, but completely absurd and even comical at times.

The actors do a fantastic job with Batten and Mainwaring being the standouts. Mainwaring portraying the most sympathetic character repeatedly asking, “What is happening?” and not wishing evils on anyone. Batten‘s character, at times, being spiteful in her poor treatment of those around her. Yet as the only non-outwardly presenting disabled character, also highlighting that when it comes to afflictions, some hardships are more than skin deep, a part of the play which may spark some debate as the audience independently choose how to take that assertion.

Technical aspects of Multiple Bad Things were fascinating across the board with lighting design by Richard Vabre adding to that mysterious dreamlike feeling. The set design by Anna Cordingley has created a stage which is constantly evolving, requiring the cast to co-operate in changing their environment together.

The highlight, however, would be the haunting sound design and scoring by Zoë Barry. For the majority of the production, this is where the disconcerting and almost upsetting sensation I felt during the entire play came from. The sarcastic trigger warning at the opening of Multiple Bad Things tells us that this is all fake, yet Barry‘s score is what made the play so emotional for me.

To say that Multiple Bad Things is not a play for everyone would be a gross understatement. The ambiguity of its presentation might even lead some to feel it is too open ended for its own good. Yet directors Tamara Searle and Ingrid Voorendt have crafted a brave and thought provoking work which is sure to spark much conversation. Whether you agree with what is said by the characters or not, it makes for an interesting night of theatre.

Multiple Bad Things is currently playing at the Malthouse Theatre until June 9.
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Photography by Ferne Millen.

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