Preaching to the choir, happily

6 October 2019

Review: public service announcement, I Feel Fine ⋅
Blue Room Theatre, October 2 ⋅
Review by David Zampatti ⋅

Writer and director Zachary Sheridan’s ecclesiastical fantasy on the great warring religions of our time – climate change and its denial – is a novel approach to a quandary I suspect is going to dominate alternative theatre more and more over coming years.

Let me say right off the bat (and before we delve into its motivation and method) that I Feel Fine is a deftly conceived, zany and lucid entertainment, made more so by some winning performances from a talented bunch of recent WAAPA grads, mainly out of Frances Barbe’s innovative Theatre Making course.

Its subtitle is Church of the Anthropocene (the proposed “epoch of humans”, especially, the time since human activity has affected the earth’s climate and systems), but it might also be tagged Preaching to the Choir.

Both tags match Sheridan’s interests, the arguments he explores in the play and his method. As the subtitles suggest, the play takes the form of a service, complete with choir and creed, sermon and Sunday School.

There’s some gentle congregation (that’s us) participation, some very nifty songs from Jacob Diamond (performed by his brother Isaac and, in Jacob’s absence this night, adroitly by Jackson Peele) and some droll, insouciant priestesses (the outstanding Amelia Burke, Kylie Bywaters and Simone Detourbet).

It’s stylishly designed and costumed (by Jesse Lee Johns and Kaitlin Brindley), lit and animated (Jasmine Lifford and Zai-Kanga Parabia) , creating an effect that is oddly but genuinely nostalgic. There’s something Guerilla Theatre, something Woodstocky about it, also something creepily Mansonic as well.

Whichever it is, it’s fine entertainment, and well worth your attention.

There is a can of worms, though, and Sheridan, who’s clearly done a lot of hard thinking here, is quite explicit about it.

He’s interested in the concept of “preaching to the choir”, and so am I.

In his programme notes Sheridan correctly says that the phrase is pejorative, criticising work that regurgitates arguments and opinions to those who already agree with them rather than attempting to persuade those who don’t.

He says, however, that he rejects that criticism, that there is merit in gathering together like-minded people, strengthening their resolve and (he says sweetly) “easing their souls”.

That may be so, but is the purpose of theatre to minister to the gentile (or, indeed, convert the heathen)? Is its purpose to preach at all?

I hope not. The purpose of theatre – beyond the art and entertainment of it – is to present life, explore the human condition and tell our stories. The argument, the sermon if you like, should rise naturally in the mind of the watcher from observation, not inculcation.

If not, the danger is that our appreciation of, and inevitably our attendance at, theatre will depend on whether we agree with it. It will be like Fox News or Sky after Dark, a platform, full of sound and fury.

And you know how that line ends.

I Feel Fine runs until October 19.

Pictured top (left to right): Jackson Peele, Isaac Diamond and Kylie Bywaters in I Feel Fine.  Photo: Zachary Sheridan.

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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