Nu-Disco! is Melbourne’s nightclub scene. It’s sweaty, it’s vibrant and it’s techno bass thumping in the back of your head.
Ellen Marning performs in a range of personas – the outlandish European club owner (who greeted us with an ‘ABBA hello’), an oversharing drunk girl by the bar and our perceptive protagonist, who remains unknown, and yet so intimately depicted to the audience.
Indeed, this performance exists more as a broad social commentary than anything else, and that is where it falls short. Marning attempts to address a range of topics, ranging from climate change to gentrification, from the situation in Ukraine to sexual assault and women in STEM. Despite these subjects being incredibly important, however, the limitations of a 60-minute performance render the discussions to cursory mentions per issue.
Nonetheless, Marning performs with confidence, never pausing to let you process. Her delivery can seem like a slap to the face before she starts to dance again. It isn’t until after the show that one has a chance to assess the sheer weight of all these hits and whether or not they made an impact.
It’s hard to critique a performance that addresses sexual assault, especially when it’s clear that the fervent dancing afterwards is a form of escapism, an attempt to forget what ruined the night. Yet as a borderline ‘side plot’ to the bigger narrative at play, it loses what commentary it attempted to convey.
This isn’t to say that sexual assault mentions don’t have a place in the performance. The new generation of 20-somethings attending clubs are constantly aware of the anxieties of the world; they are full of existential dread and medicate with self-deprecating humour as they enter adulthood. Going to clubs (and, to an extent, partaking in drugs, as highlighted in the performance) at least provides some temporary relief.
Nu-Disco! isn’t entirely sombre; there are traces of humour in every moment. In one scene, Marning dances to rhythmic sniffing; in another she watches on as two club-goers meet, and crafts an entire future for them. At one point, climbing off the stage to join the audience, she lies on the ‘sticky’ floor in an apparent euphoric haze, crying out as invisible people trample over her body.
The speed at which Marning jumps between topics is enough to cause whiplash, but she never leaves you bored. She has an eye for entertainment – and, indeed, utilises her eyes and other facial features to convey the distortion and unabashed glee in such an environment. Her energy is relentless, with a level of earnestness displayed that you only see in a performer who loves what they’re doing.
Nu-Disco! leaves you exhilarated, with an echo of the music vibrating in your mind and perhaps ready to turn to nightlife to embark on a similar escape from reality.
The Butterfly Club, Melbourne
Created and Performed by: Ellen Marning
In Collaboration with: Bronte Charlotte and Laura McAloney
Music: Robert Downie
Nu-Disco! was performed from 17-23 October as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival