Richard Watts

Set in the near future, pvi collective’s latest work is part game, part participatory street performance.

Photo by James Brown

Famed for their guerrilla-style interventions in public spaces, Perth’s pvi collective evoke a dystopian near future in their latest work, in which participants are cast as members of an illicit, desperate, underground economy.

Flitting through shadows along Subiaco side streets, the hustlers of blackmarket search one another out to trade commodities for services – from street-smart decoding skills and camouflage techniques, to more abstract concepts like compassion and tenderness.


Earpods and smart devices provide details of the post-crisis world of the game, as well as guidelines to follow when meeting contacts for tense exchanges played out under the noses of an often-oblivious public.

Each participant arrives with five objects with which to barter (two tea bags, a condom and lube sachet, a box of matches, a Mars bar, and earplugs in my instance) and after a brief induction, begins to trade – assuming the contact in question doesn’t reject your offer outright. If an offer is accepted, players must then track down the relevant dealer via a smartphone map in the short time allocated – no easy feat on the streets of an unfamiliar suburb – and touch phones together to complete the trade.

Key interactions play out with actors, who bring an unsettling intensity to their roles; at other times one’s transactions are conducted with fellow audience members, which can result in unusual, even amusing interactions – such as receiving a kiss on the forehead from a slightly bashful 20-something while kneeling together in a darkened alleyway.

Wandering strange streets at night already evokes a sense of risk, which an industrial soundtrack, and urgent narration about the western world’s selective blindness to economic injustice and imminent social collapse, only emphasises. The ticking clock further enhances a sense of tension.

As a participatory exploration of economics and the potential future realities facing a planet with finite resources, blackmarket certainly engages; though as a game it becomes slightly repetitive. Less time looking at a smart-screen and more real life interactions, as well as a more nuanced explanation of game rules and mechanics at the start of proceedings would help enrich the experience. Nonetheless, the game provided a unique interaction with Perth which this Melbourne visitor won't quickly forget.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Devised by pvi collective – Kelli McCluskey & Steve Bull with Steve Berrick & Chris Williams
Economic Consultancy: Michael Chappell
Sound Pieces: Jason Sweeney
Voice Overs: Kate Neylon
Designed By pvi collective
Development and Programming: Steve Berrick & Chris McCormick
Branding and Visual Design: Chris Nixon
The streets of Subiaco
16-27 February

Perth International Arts Festival
11 February – 6 March 2016

Richard Watts travelled to Perth as a guest of PIAF.

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves on the Committee of Management for La Mama Theatre, on the board of literary journal Going Down Swinging, and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel. He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts