The world preys on the dissatisfaction of the masses. What if, instead, we preyed upon dissatisfaction itself—or came to make peace with it? Directed with delicious vision by Katie Harris, Is This All That You Had In Mind? details the plan of unfulfilled and troubled characters to deter a ‘dissatisfaction demon’ that continues to haunt their lives.
Absurdism was what was advertised, and absurdism is what we got. Performed at Basement Theatre’s studio, offkey singing of popular songs snaked into our ears as we seated ourselves. The first action we see is slinking fingers clasping the edge of a fridge door, as if something was coming out of a dimension not too far from ours. Clad in a white tank top and black pants with a sizable bulge protruding from below, Levi the demon emerges. He is at once alluring as he is disturbing. The opening monologue reveals his cocky nature and hints at his coming grasp over his victims. He addresses us as a chorus or sometimes as friends, orienting us to be preoccupied with bystanders’ guilt.
The characters range from a doomsday fanatic all the way to a lonely spinster. The apocalyptic anxiety of Nick Flaherty’s realistic Joey, who shelters himself in a makeshift bunker to feed upon American news, nicely contrasts the pleasant but similarly isolated Ms.Tilfredshed (endearingly portrayed by Hamish Davies). British chavs Matthew Feetman and Chad add slices of comedy and lightheartedness, to the point where their potential demise is a source of tension at gunpoint.
Choosing to cast half the actors to embody another gender expression gave a fresh layer to the fronts that the characters felt they needed to put up. However, the use of fourth wall breaks perhaps didn’t quite hit as hard as I thought they should when the lights raised to leave us bare. It felt right that these breaks were implemented—especially as we come to see our own shortcomings reflected in the characters—but it didn’t feel like there was a fresh reason for them. Perhaps, if audience participation in key tension moments were employed (though admittedly risky), the emotional stakes would feel higher and self-reflection would become personal.
“With an effortlessly lively script, the character details and strong directing of Is This All That You Had In Mind embeds pieces of humanity into its characters who are stuck in their perverted world.”
A highlight was the competition segment called ‘The Show of Love’ where Levi asks a couple increasingly disturbing questions for a chance to win money. The use of a spinning wheel, where the few attached question packets were all chosen regardless of where the spinner landed, was amusing but also well-expected. Levi’s power over others is felt through this rigged staging. We feel a growing unease as each person starts to unravel in the name of money and entertainment. Positioning two other actors in the audience brought the action to us, promoting us from theatre patrons to a studio audience in witnessing the waning relationship of Alyse and Harriette onstage. I must note the spirited commitment of Brianna Linkhorn and Kate Wilkinson-Smith as the BFF Brits.
In between scenes, a person in a gimp suit locates us in the setting as they parade around some signs. They are usually left unacknowledged or are even rudely bumped into at times, oozing an in-between kind of presence. Eventually, however, the moment we realise midway through the production that there are actually two gimps, and that they finally see each other, left us audibly touched. As a clear symbol of loneliness and being misunderstood in their attire and physicality, the union of the two gimps was gratifying and a small beacon of much-needed happiness in the play.
The sound and lighting were flawlessly executed and streamlined with the actors’ performances. The low-angle lighting hidden from below audience seats made our skin crawl when Levi drawled on about himself in the opening. It also created a perfectly balanced and realistic wash of TV light on Joey’s face when he feeds off the voices of American presenters.
With an effortlessly lively script, the character details and strong directing of Is This All That You Had In Mind embeds pieces of humanity into its characters who are stuck in their perverted world. Its clever comedy steers us away from the looming darkness of some of its themes, while lifting the veil on our own semblance of empathy. Alex Farley as ‘dissatisfaction demon’ Levi was a standout performance. Her unnerving and consistent attention to a warped physicality and low-set voice created an insidious yet forceful presence. While the show was all about the extenuated dangers of wallowing in dissatisfaction, I was not left as such. A sequel I would love to see would involve the characters confronting their uncomfortable emotions, free of demonic energy, or in spite of such. I also wish to have learnt the origins of Levi: If his humanness was leaned into, could we know what brought him to be so narcissistic and manipulative? Or if he is solely demonic, are there more like him who satiate themselves on negative human emotions? Would they compete with each other?
Oh gosh. Maybe I’ll just close the fridge door for now. Goodnight. I have enough on my mind.
Featured image courtesy of Katie Harris, Mum’s Sugar Club and Basement Theatre.