Sol Rumble, Ari Maza Long, Sam Salem & Jack Palitin in Gonzo. Photograph by Sarah Walker.
St Martin’s production of Gonzo, as part of the Malthouse 2016 season, is recommended for ages 18+. The production while much talked about, doesn’t quite land with the uncomfortable and pertinent edge that you might first think of when putting the verbatim stories of teenage boys and porn on stage.
The cast consisting of Ari Long, Jack Palit, Sam Salem and Sol Rumble are truthfully awkward in their divulging and dissecting of the stories brought forward throughout the piece. This awkwardness is less a willingness to talk about issues of sexuality, sexual identity and porn; and more just the standard teenage awkwardness that accompanies being vulnerable and sharing articulately with others. The shape of the piece is a series of free form discussions that jump from moments of voice-over to monologued intimacy, to group questions and challenges around the big stuff: porn, sexuality, their personal experiences with both, to the microscopically mundane: school, teachers, and jobs. These weave together to highlight perspectives of reality disappointingly stacked up against the glossy, confident, hairless stories they’ve seen played out in porn. The animation and visual design of the show is neat, punchy and places us directly in the world somewhere between the irony of lewd and inappropriate to the risque and daring – all so prevalent yet so unacknowledged.
The discussion of the sexual education given to young men is lacking – in Australia broadly, but not in this play. The cast acknowledge that they have some gaps in their knowledge and that they had expectations around school sex education to complete these, which wasn’t always met. While the headlines around the country recently of boys sharing explicit pictures of young women without consent tend to support this glaring lack of education for young males, the conversation never quite gets to the gory middle of it at all around male responsibility. We’re left to bring our own ideas and questions to the table around how we support young men in their overall education around these issues. Probably a good thing given its the parents, teachers and families – rather than teenagers – that will be coming to see this show and that all have a role to play in raising more discussions around these issues.
The last segment of the evening sees Gala Vanting, a feminist filmmaker and sex worker, take to the stage to join the conversation – at first on the mundane: how many times should you brush your teeth? And then in a kind of a real time private panel, answering the questions the cast have around the porn industry and Vanting’s experiences working in it. It’s a satisfying ending to conclude with a frank and unromanticised discussion of the world in which we’ve been peeping through windows to get a glimpse at. The show doesn’t go out with huge pomp and fireworks, just helps us to close the distance between the discussions on stage and returning to our own lives in the foyer. The show is capped nicely and hilariously with another moment of technology and live performance overlap – we’re directed to complete the show ourselves by taking out our phones. Not wanting to take away from this surprise, I’ll leave it for you to discover when you see this show.
Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5
Concept & Direction: Clare Watson
Created With The St Martins Ensemble: Ari Long, Jack Palit, Sam Salem, Sol Rumble
Based on interviews with the generous teenagers of Melbourne
Performed by Ari Long, Jack Palit, Sam Salem, Sol Rumble, Gala Vanting, Helen Corday
Dramaturg: Gala Vanting
Video Design:/ Michael Carmody
Composer & Sound Design: Russell Goldsmith
Lighting Design: Richard Vabre
Costumes: Maima Massaquoi
Set Design: Clare Watson & Stewart Campbell
Malthouse Theatre, Southbank
21 September – 1 October 2016