Theatre review: Famished Future Feeders, New Benner Theatre, Metro Arts

Exploring diverse elements of a darkly dystopian future, this well-staged production features promising new talent. 
Two men dressed casually in hoodies stand between another man who is stuck inside a tall, caged structure.

Metro Arts’ mission is to serve as an incubator of new theatrical productions, providing a stage for innovative works and showcasing contemporary stories and fresh talent. For this production of Jules Broun’s Famished Future Feeders, the company has collaborated with the theatre collective, Robert the Cat (RTC).

Headed up by Lisa O’Neill and Anatoly Frusin, RTC works with apprentice actors and graduate artists at TAFE Queensland, providing opportunities to develop and stage new works for performers, writers and makers. The 2024 premier of Famished Future Feeders is the latest in a string of recent annual productions. 

Described as a black and mildly bleak comedy set in a dystopian future and dealing with themes of social inequality, climate collapse, famine, artificial intelligence and family conflict, Broun’s play is so all-encompassing in scope that, at least in the first half, it is hard to understand where it is taking us.

Offering all the hallmarks of absurdist theatre, the script has its moments of wisdom, but is often confusing and unnecessarily verbose, offering neither witty irony nor black humour. Given the large number of themes the work explores, the examination of important key issues is often superficial, leaving the characters with limited opportunities to engage our interest and empathy. 

The play commences with three distinct and very different scenes on stage, each lit separately while the others remain dark. The first shows a man locked in a cage – we later learn he is Fuge (Milan Bjelajac), being preyed on by Iggy (Jules Broun) and Ham (John Ford) who want to eat him. Apparently, in this world of obvious food shortages, cannibalism is allowed. It is a grisly theme pursued throughout the play, the Iggy and Ham characters being deeply unpleasant.

The second scene in an apartment shows us two men, presumably a couple, discussing their world and feelings. We learn more in due course about Byte (Aaron Whitney) and Lynx (Lachlan Orton), the latter displaying a highly anguished state of mind with suicidal tendencies.

The third scene introduces two women, Dove (Georgina Sawyer) and Doe (Peta Kishawi), the latter frightened and breathless, as if in shock. Across all of this emotion, Leo (Peter Hatton) rushes on and off stage shouting indecipherably into a megaphone. It’s a sombre, perplexing opening that offers few clues about the direction the story will take.   

Gradually, the Orwellian plot emerges emphasising a world of restricted freedoms, environmental and energy crises and food shortages. The over-explained issues the characters endure often make it difficult to comprehend their individual personalities and problems. We learn about them in a piecemeal fashion, while the opening scenes are only understood as the play reaches its conclusion. The ending gives no real sense of what the future holds.  

Broun’s quirky writing style includes an interesting pattern. Interjections and one-liners from actors are used to break up the wordy passages of another speaker, offering an opportunity for humour. Alas, this does not happen – perhaps these asides could have been used more effectively to advance the story? However, this device is well-managed by the actors, lending a rhythmic ebb and flow to the script. 

Under the direction of O’Neill and Frusin, the production offers a polished staging and flows well. The text is often spoken at a breakneck pace making the actors’ well-prepared delivery a little difficult to follow. 

An economic set, constructed by Hamish Chappell, with minimal furnishings and props, helps to keep the action moving during the constantly changing scenes. Geoff Squires’ lighting design is exemplary in delineating the various scenes and adding atmospheric cues to interactions between two or more characters. He is assisted by a well-crafted sound design and original music from Drew Crawford, used throughout the many scene changes. The sound cue of the saw, which imitates the cutting off of Fuge’s limbs, is cleverly utilised.  

The actors work hard to bring this script and its meaning to life, adding depth to their fairly one-dimensional characters. Bjelajac is excellent as the hapless Fuge, giving a strong socialist statement on the class system alongside a ferocious defence of human life when he anticipates his death. Hatton’s upright Leo is suitably penitent about his responsibility in allowing human deaths in Brazil, choosing to make amends in a most selfless way. His character is perhaps the only decent person in the play.

Both Orton’s Lynx and Kishawi’s Doe give impressive performances in their heightened emotional roles, without being over the top. Whitney’s Byte and Sawyer’s Dove, more pragmatic characters, are beautifully nuanced and delivered. Unfortunately, the somewhat thinly-drawn characters of Iggy and Ham give Broun and Ford limited scope to show any depth in their performances. 

Read: Book review: The Cautious Traveller’s Guide to the Wastelands, Sarah Brooks

All credit to the direction and production values of Famished Future Feeders with its solid and committed cast. The play itself attempts to explore too many complex themes, offering a jumble of ideas and unsympathetic characters. It seems to be neither a serious examination of the subject matter, nor a play that sits within an absurdist comic framework. Despite some interesting ideas, ultimately it lacks any real resolution. 

Famished Future Feeders by Jules Broun 
Presented by Metro Arts and Robert the Cat

New Benner Theatre, Metro Arts, Brisbane
Co-Directors: Lisa O’Neill and Anatoly Frusin 
Lighting Designer: Geoff Squires 
Set Construction: Hamish Chappell 
Original Music: Joe Glynn 
RTC Marketing Coordinator: Michaeal Faux

RTC Photography: Jasmine Prasser  
Trailer Voice Recording: Miles O’Leary  
Trailer Editing: Georgina Sawyer 
Original Music: Drew Crawford  
Video Documentation and Live Photography: Liam Kishawi

Cast: TAFE Queensland acting alumni, Jules Broun, Milan Bjelajac, John Ford, Peter Hatton, Aaron Whitney, Peta Kishawi, Lachlan Orton, Georgina Sawyer

Famished Future Feeders will be performed until 13 July 2024.

Suzannah Conway is an experienced arts administrator, having been CEO of Opera Queensland, the Brisbane Riverfestival and the Centenary of Federation celebrations for Queensland. She is a freelance arts writer and has been writing reviews and articles for over 20 years, regularly reviewing classical music, opera and musical theatre in particular for The Australian and Limelight magazine as well as other journals. Most recently she was Arts Hub's Brisbane-based Arts Feature Writer.