Theatre review: Democracy Repair Services, Blue Room Theatre, WA

This subversive play challenges concepts of democracy by exploring the dark side of general consensus.
Democracy Repair Services. Image is of four actors on a black stage that can barely be seen, but each has a head torch

Democracy Repair Services, written by Noemie Huttner-Koros and directed by Andrew Sutherland, is a play about youth, rage, systems and change. This thought-provoking journey delves into the complexities of democracy through the perspectives of rebellious changemakers.

Viv, Fin, Elena and Billy (played by Rali Maynard, Gabriel Critti-schnaars, Zoe Garciano and Phoebe Eames respectively) are disenfranchised individuals who come together to create cultural change. Viv, recognisable by her long hair and Birkenstocks, is dealing with the futility of living in a broken system designed to withstand dissenting voices. Ambitious and intelligent, she founds a political group for teens, but is frustrated when those who join aren’t the perfect people she hoped for. 

Character depictions lean lightly into stereotypes, despite clear efforts having been made towards ensuring diverse representation. And yet a degree of raw authenticity is revealed through the characters’ expressions of individuality. This is partially attributable to a well-written script, but is also due to the youthful combination of rage and enthusiasm channelled by a well-rehearsed and dedicated cast.

Fin is a 14-year-old hacker, artfully portrayed by Critti-schnaars. Billy is an irreverent comic relief who is smarter than they look. Elena suffers social anxiety, and is angry at being stuck within an inherently flawed system. All four characters are frustrated by the illusion of choice inherent to a two-party system in which CEOs and lobbyists hold the real seats of power. Viv wants to improve the system of democracy from within the system, but the other three see it as a structure that must be torn down and rebuilt from scratch in order to create something new from the rubble. 

Viv and her fledgling group become increasingly radicalised through continued political involvement. Small acts of rebellion lead the group to discover a hidden disaster, which leads to a vague online virality for their attempts at political activism. Gradually, their futile but legally-sanctioned acts of protest escalate (by consensus) into acts of civil disobedience, much to Viv’s resigned chagrin and Elena’s anarchic excitement. An unexpected environmental disaster turns the quartet from trespassers into social media heroes. Spurred on by a modicum of exposure, they push themselves to create more drastic impact.

Democracy Repair Services explores democracy as a political macrocosm and democratic action as a microcosm, via a politically-oriented plot and the actions of four rebellious changemakers, respectively. From starting a flash mob to outlining the difficulties of trying to engage youth on a political level with outdated engagement strategies, various conflicts between the characters mirror societal perspectives. The world is heating up, both figuratively and literally, as election day creeps closer and the weather ceases to be merely a subject of meaningless small talk.

Conversations between the characters highlight important points – politically, environmentally and socially – positioning politics as a lived experience, as opposed to being an ambiguous puddle of political potentiality. Rather than blaming the banality of evil, this production toys with the mundanity of heroism. Recurring themes of anger, disempowerment and collective action mingle with various dichotomies, including individualism versus collectivism, light versus dark, and left versus the other left. The content cleverly contrasts illegal non-violent protest against legalised violence within contexts of colonial oppression and corporate greed. 

The second act deals with the aftermath of disruption, comprising many small movements made in multiplicity. Characters unpack the challenge of freedom and the relative ease of enforced captivity, dealing both subtly and overtly with discrimination against divergent thinking. A series of interwoven monologues measure the temperature of democracy, both as a political system and as an act of evolutionary collaboration. 

Democracy Repair Services loses its tight structure towards the end or, rather, the structure changes from linear to abstract in order to expand on some valid, albeit meandering, points. It expands fixed time into infinity, removing chronological action and replacing it with undiluted allegory. The last half hour feels like a chaotic addendum, or a metaphoric illustration of embedded meaning, drawing insightful parallels through imagery, action and dialogue. 

The unlikely inclusion of a musical performance seems paradoxically appropriate. After all, what could be more punk than consciously deciding which kind of apocalypse to rebelliously revolt against? The lyrics are mostly indecipherable, but the youthful energy and electric guitar combine to form an aural silhouette shaped like a post-apocalyptic Sex Pistol, singular. 

Jasmine Lifford’s understated lighting design is complemented by fog, projections and the scent of sulphur dioxide. Warm yellows cast heat across an implied world impacted by climate change. There are moments in which the footlights cast dramatic character shadows, as if to underline the potentially magnified consequences of individual action. At times, music overwhelms the intimate studio space. Overlapping speech occurs on several occasions, which adds tension to the atmosphere, but can make the dialogue difficult to follow. 

Huttner-Koros’ lyrical script contrasts functional democratic processes against democracy as a political system. This play is topical, subversive and intelligent. It challenges concepts of democracy by exploring the dark side of consensus in action. Aware of its own medium as a potential activist vehicle, this work participates in (and reflects upon) multiple layers of social change. 

Read: Book review: Unfinished Woman, Robyn Davidson

Top-down systems are hard to change from the bottom-up, and this is reflected in both the content and tone of the production. A community engagement program is running in conjunction with the season, making space for direct action in addition to cerebral engagement. 

Democracy Repair Services will resonate strongly with teenagers, activists and those who aren’t fooled by illusions of choice. 

Democracy Repair Services
Blue Room Theatre, WA
Writer: Noemie Huttner-Koros
Director: Andrew Sutherland
Creative Producer: Briannah Davis
Assistant Director: Makaela Rowe-Fox
Dramaturg: Emily McLean
Lighting Designer: Jasmine Lifford

Set and Costume Designer: Molly Werne
AV Designer: Edwin Sitt
Stage Manager: Catherine O’Donoghue
Sound Designer: David Stewart
Cast: Rali Maynard, Gabriel Critti-schnaars, Zoe Garciano, Phoebe Eames

Tickets $27 – $32

Democracy Repair Services will be performed until 25 November 2023.

Nanci Nott is a nerdy creative with particular passions for philosophy and the arts. She has completed a BA in Philosophy, and postgraduate studies in digital and social media. Nanci is currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing, and is working on a variety of projects ranging from novels to video games. Nanci loves reviewing books, exhibitions, and performances for ArtsHub, and is creative director at Defy Reality Entertainment.