Review: Elbow Room Questions Identity and Leaves Its Audience Empowered

What is the expectation of experiencing live theatre? Well, I believe the majority can agree to three expectations: 1.) to be entertained; 2.) to leave our own lives for a moment and peak into a world of strangers who are dealing with similar sets of issues; and 3.) to be challenged to address social and political issues that are too scary to handle alone. Elbow Room’s production of WE GET IT satisfies all of these expectations and more at Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2015 NEON Festival. WE GET IT is a dark comedy satirising the political and social norms affecting gender identity, particularly within the confines of the entertainment industry. And it is theme presented from the moment one walks into the theatre lobby until the curtain falls ending the play. WE GET IT transports its audience into the world of creating a reality television competition show. It is the taping to the final episode of a new talent competition dedicated in discovering the next great female actress. The last diverse five actresses remaining are challenged to perform a classic monologue from a piece of theatrical literature: Nora from A DOLL’S HOUSE (Ibsen), Antigone from ANTIGONE (Sophocles), Blanche Du Bois from STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (Williams), Lady Macbeth from THE SCOTTISH PLAY (Shakespeare) and Medea from MEDEA (Euripedes). Rules of the competition and the voting process are simply explained by the competition’s gracious host, Emily, who, expressionlessly, reveals the latest voting system as Bums On Seats System, or #BOSS.

As the actors move about the stage preparing to present their individual monologues, they also move to an area behind a white curtain where confessional videos are produced to generate “good television.” These moments reveal personal experiences the actresses encountered during their professional careers that reveal gender limitations to roles pursued. It is revealed through these confessionals that limitations have been set onto these women because of their skin tone and body image; however, these confessionals are solely created to generate popular votes and boost overall scoring by being the most relatable to the audience. Instead, these confessionals created moments of uncomfortable displeasure leaving the audience to wonder “Is that story true?”

Complete with witty and profound banter that define character relationships, such as THE MAN directing one of the competing actresses, “Don’t be mad at me. I’m your ally,” the writing struck chords with the audience as it moved them to reflect on their own experiences of broken promises from manipulating allies. The overall presentation of WE GET IT revealed the funny, broken and naturally uncomfortable expectations of self-identity society often inflicts on us – either by stereotyping our gender, our race through the colour of our skin or by body image. In the end, Elbow Room and its stunning ensemble (featuring Tamiah Bantum, Amy Ingram, Kasia Kaczmarek, Maurial Spearim, Sonya Saures and Emily Timlins with special guest appearance by Marcel Dorney) illustrate the harsh affects of sexism and racism that leave the audience, at moments, uncomfortable, yet ultimately empowered to learn from identifying with these harsh realities.  And with all mistakes, we are reminded that there is hope.  Hope to inspire change for the future. Hope to educate future generations so that they may disregard these enforced human stereotypes and instead embrace each other as we are.

This is independent theatre certainly not to be missed.

Performances continue this week at the Neon Festival presented by Melbourne Theatre Company until 19th July running Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30PM and Sunday at 4PM. For tickets and more information, please visit www.mtc.com.au.