A raised, starkly-lit box reminiscent of a department store window display was the first clue that we were about to see something unique. It’s rare to mention set design in the opening of a review, but Claude Marcos’ ‘shelter’ is so clever that it looked as if it were indeed buried with-in the dark dirt-like airspace of the actual stage that surrounded it.
Top this off with some delightful seventies fern frond wallpaper and a luminous Van Gough artwork that provides a warped and throbbing window to the world top-side and you have a pretty cosy nest – for the breeding of lunatics. The kitsch wallpaper is fabulously replicated on whacky von-trapp-styled pinafores by costume designer Esther Marie Hayes to adorn later (and stranger) generations of shelter dwellers. For the duration of the play (spanning three hundred and fifty years) the five cast members are contained within this snug stage, popping out only to perform eighties love ballads as operatic chorale arrangements by Benny Davis (beginning with Roxette’s ‘It Must Have Been Love’). At first, a few moments are spent musing over the lovely, talented singers before it dawns on you what they are actually singing and the rest of the number is staccato with audience chuckles. It’s so pleasing to see such talented people take the proverbial out of life as we know it.
Benedict Hardie is a terrifically talented writer so much so that you don’t realise this first amusing interaction is key to the whole climax of the story, right there under your nose at the head of the show – and so it wantingly displays itself through-out the story until the cat is let out of the bag – or rather the choir is let out of the shelter.
It’s the end of the world and humanity as we know it unless the few fortunate members of a prepared shelter experiment can survive the apocalypse and repopulate the world. The thing is, the fortunate members of society selected (or afforded) this experiment are privileged white people with very narrow vision – not the types of people you’d want as the only contributors to the future gene pool. It’s really exciting how Hardie has explored how mild jokes and off handed discriminations become ingrained truths and folk law over generations of inherited human history. We watch as generation after generation of characters (played by just five actors) eventually re-tell everything including the story of creation through the misinterpreted recording of events and the misguided idolism of Grayson (who the audience sees as the loser of the original interns). Quickly, the new civilisation loses touch with the reality of the civilisation they were originally trying to save. There is just so much depth to this story though Hardie’s tale is a zany projection of an unfortunate future that the comments on society ring so true today in mind-sets and behaviours and the dangers of isolationism. But don’t let this scare you off as it is also an hilarious, sci-fi romp that can just be enjoyed for its wonderfully fun tom-foolery.
A small and talented cast took us on this odyssey: Yesse Spence as Biddy, Andrew Broadbent as Biddy’s husband Reginald, Brendan Hawke as their son Grayson, his wife Malory was played by the divine-voiced Simone Page Jones and mad-scientist Tor was played by Jolyon James.
After a three-show jaunt at the Brisbane Powerhouse, Delectable Shelter headed to the Seymour Centre in Sydney where it played from August 13-17.