Review by Ella Bradwell
There’s a thin veil between a medieval court full of jesters and the parliament floor and “The Year of Our Lord” tore it away with a satisfying taunt.
Conceived by the Plain English Theater Company and directed by James Robertson, the production poked fun at the ineptitude of Coalition “reign” with imaginative black humour. This humor was relatable for anyone of a leftist persuasion who embraced dark hilarity to confront the irreconcilable mandate of the Morrison government.
So, as you might expect, the audience was roaring with laughter. Even now, I struggle to find a specific adjective that sums up those terrible four years. And maybe that’s what was so appealing about this production. The absolute absurdity of it all.
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As relieving as it was refreshing, the ridiculousness was present from the get-go, as the Minister, played by Bridget Morrison, and Barnabus, played by Bryan Cooper, unrolled the election commentaries while draped in Shakespearean finery. The production reframed current Australian politics, through the conflicts of a God-fearing princess played by Bridgette Kucher, and the misguided attempts of ministers to rule a medieval land. And as the characters became more and more unbalanced, we all had to consider the unsustainability of this governance.
This idea of absurdity was embodied in unpredictable and edgy stagings that added a playfully satirical overtone to the disparity between parliamentarians and working classes. The play successfully challenged the intersections between patriarchy and capitalism, through timely and all-too-familiar misogynistic retorts from Barnabus while sipping his chalice.
References to authoritarian church-state relations were amusing, but lacked nuance in the princess’s struggles with her faith. And while there was perhaps a missed opportunity to discuss the colonial nature of such governance, the feudal-era framing amusingly presented Coalition power as archaically insane.
Robertson’s direction achieved well-balanced satire that danced between physical and spoken symbolism. The surrealism of the scene was underscored by intriguing props and physical movements that served as a stark reminder of the playful power of theater in responding to political conflict. While the plot got confusing at times, audiences were nonetheless stunned and thrilled to see Barnaby’s disgusting figure go from lounging drunk on the floor to grunting in a crouch with a bucket over his head.
Designed by Jason Ng Junjie, the lighting loaded up the most intense moments of the physical action, creating deep reds and greens that highlighted the characters’ bizarre bodily contortions. Meanwhile, booming music produced by Steve Toppa nearly had the room shaking with the volatile turmoil of ministerial stabbings. With a relatively large cast for such a small space, the stage was sometimes crowded with a few characters adding scale rather than story.
Although the craziest moments made me wish the performance leaned fully into nonsensical physical satire, the imagery of ministers smearing poisoned plum juice on their faces was soul-satisfying. While being a sad reminder that, yes, white men like Barnaby can somehow be taken seriously.
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