The Economist

Of all the topics and themes you would think are off-limits to comedy, politically motivated mass murder seems a likely candidate.
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Of all the topics and themes you would think are off-limits to comedy, politically motivated mass murder seems a likely candidate. However, with their staging of The Economist, Melbourne company MKA: Theatre of New Writing have managed to infuse a number of darkly amusing moments into a play that recounts the events leading up to the horrific terrorist attacks in Norway in 2011.

When the work was first performed two years ago, some media outlets misleadingly labelled it a sympathetic portrayal of mass murder Anders Behring Breivik. Sympathetic it certainly is not. Here, humour is used for a purpose: to punctuate the shocking nature of the attacks, and to remind us that these were acts perpetrated by a human being – not an otherworldly monster whose motives can never be understood.

Rejected by the Norwegian Army despite its policy of conscription, Breivik, the son of an economist (hence the play’s title) spent years planning the attacks which have since seen him sentenced to the maximum 21 years in jail. Borrowing heavily from Breivik’s own writing, including his diaries and manifesto, playwright Tobias Manderson-Galvin provides us with a background for the killer, telling the story of a man with an unhappy childhood, a fondness for guns, plastic surgery and local folk music, with an addictive personality and an ugly and extreme ideological bent informed by prejudice.

Told in short, non-chronologically presented ‘chapters’, the narrative jumps back and forth to before, after and during the two-pronged attack which killed 77 people via the bombing of government buildings in Oslo and the later massacre of teenagers on Utoya Island.

The main character (who here is called Andrew Berwick, the name Breivik used on his manifesto) is played with increasing force as the story progresses by Zoey Dawson. She is supported by a strong ensemble cast who are literally part of every scene – either as performers, musicians, or the walls of the farmhouse where Breivik stockpiled chemicals for his bombs.    

A compact production with a lo-fi, small scale feel, for the most part The Economist overcomes its lack of budget with creative and well-designed moments that draw its separate elements together. The entire cast are dressed in red jumpers and beige pants (reportedly the attire Breivik was wearing when he was arrested – a detail that may be lost on people who have not researched the case) which provides a nice visual touch, while the performance is heightened by the use of music, played live by members of the cast to good effect.

While the performances are uniformly good and each ‘snapshot’ of Breivik’s life provides an interesting piece of the overall puzzle, what lets The Economist down is that it doesn’t quite deliver what it promises. While it might aim to highlight the discrepancy of how this attack was reported when compared to a ‘Muslim terrorist attack’ – Breivik as a ‘lone psycho’ despite his far-right outlook being influenced by a number of conservative pundits – it doesn’t really explore this theme in enough detail, or the rise of right-wing extremist politics in Europe in general. The play really is all about him. The ideas are definitely in there, but by sticking too closely to the source material, the play fails to explore such themes in detail, especially given the production’s relatively short 65 minute duration.

Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5


The Economist
MKA: Theatre of New Writing
Written by: Tobias Manderson-Galvin
Directed and Dramaturgy by: Van Badham
Rehearsal Director: Daniel Czech
Performed by: Marcus McKenzie, Conor Gallacher, Peter Paltos, James Deeth and Zoey Dawson

Brisbane Powerhouse

13 – 17 February


World Theatre Festival

13 – 24 February


Colleen Edwards
About the Author
Colleen Edwards is a Brisbane-based reviewer for ArtsHub.