Disconnect, The Loft (Ugly Duck)

KT Jemment and Michelle Shortland, writer and director of Disconnect, must have been the few people delighted when yet another election was announced. When I interviewed the two of them the focus was very much on the concept of democracy and audiences’ beliefs. Upon seeing this brief run even the most liberal audience will be swayed to make a difficult decision if they aren’t swayed by a character.

It is an unknown year, country etc. but the audience, as citizens of ProxC, is in a dystopia which deems you a criminal for murder, corruption, hacking, gambling and getting pregnant. The ship destined to jettison 10 criminals has stalled and as citizens, we get to vote on their fate. So far, so Big Brother but what makes Disconnect interesting is not so much the interactive element but the stories that unfold.

It is hard to make large casts work in fringe theatre as space is usually too cramped but in The Loft on Tanner Street, this pop theatre feels spacious and pleasant with some lovely lighting from William Adams. Ironically too spacious and too pleasant for a production set on a cramped spaceship, which means there are few sound issues for very crucial announcements.

We first meet Max (Nansi Nsue), an exotic accented woman who goes straight for the ship’s insides. She is behind the stalling along with Hacker-Kid (Samuel Topper) and other characters follow; Imogen (Sofia Greenacre) who is a gambling sex worker with connections, Peter (Sam Elwin), a cult member, Piers (Ben Koalack) a drug dealer who wants to stay because of his young daughter, Jacob (Joey Akubere), a man reluctant to tell us his crime, Rachel (Samantha Earle) a woman who has got pregnant despite a program to keep women infertile until they have permission, Darren (Joel Smith) a law enforcer gone rogue, Daisy (Jessica Kathryn) a manic thief and Agnes (Rosie Rigby) a believer in religion.

KT Jemmett strongly characterises well but the issue is the performances. Joey Akubere is stunning as Jacob and was unrecognisable from his recent role in Hope Theatre’s Wild Party as is Sofia Greenacre, a medical professional who oozes charm and intelligence and Nansi Nsue as Max, who is tough and determined in her efforts to stall the ship with the occasional glimpses of warmth and kindness. Sadly there are too many forgettable and undeveloped performances particularly Koalack’s Piers a one note look at drug withdrawal and wanting his daughter. It is no wonder the audience voted against his character’s wishes on the night because we were given nothing to warm to. I felt for Sam Elwin, who once again is lost in a big ensemble following his performance in One Last Thing (For Now) and Joel Smith’s whose characters weren’t really given much to and had the most uninteresting backstories.

The issue is that so much isn’t explained; why are these ten people on the ship when there hasn’t been a jettison for 28 years? Why in this quite harsh dystopian country are we made to compulsory vote when the point of the production (clumsily explained in an unscripted conclusion after the vote) is that a lot of people don’t’ bother? Why is the conclusion unscripted? We go from confident performances to terrified mutterings and giggles from actors, who clearly struggle with improvisation.

It has a lot of potential as a script and as an idea, I would love to see individual plays about some characters’ back stories and more immersive work with the vote, but it needs a stronger cast with improvisation skills or to be a fully scripted/devised piece that allows tighter performances, script and conclusion.

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