Tucked away on the floor above the Tuxedo Cat, we’re slurping drinks, submerged in colour and all waiting for a signal for the start of Thankyou, Thankyou Love. Lights are dim, it smells like cigarettes and somebody’s laughing about how the toilet paper in the men’s room is colour-by-numbers.
Written by Tobias Manderson-Galvin—a self-professed actor/playright/poet/dadist—the show we’re all waiting to see is apparently ruminates “dying on stage” in five short plays. The night is part of HYPRTXT, an inaugural festival of performance writing produced by MKA: Theatre of New Writing, of which Tobias is Creative Director and co-founder. But beyond this, Tobias is already a playwright known for his controversy. His play, The Economist revolved around Anders Behring Breivik, a mass murderer who killed 77 people in 2011, generating headlines around the country.
As I walk into the small theatre room; thick smoke engulfs us as we all clamber to our seats before a stage illuminated and bare. A dapper man in a complete white suit is guiding us down the pews. Etched manically in crayon on an adjacent wall are the names of the Tobias’ five short plays: The Holiday Video, The Caterpillars + The Wasp: Champions, The Invasion, The Lola Montez Polka and Thank You Love.
Once we’re all settled, the white suit takes to the stage and begins a roll call, requesting a few people off the guest-list to signal their presence before bellowing a discordant monologue about Tobias. “I hope he sees the meats he has,” he says, “and doesn’t drown it in gravy.” After a few comments about his failures with women—which Tobias objects to off-stage—the white suit bellows “Let’s make some art!” and the show begins.
Rocking black headphones, manic mascara-eyes, a black suit and a Gandalf-beard: Tobias enters. Before a silver drape The Holiday Video begins: a fractured stream of consciousness spoken by Tobias on “making contact”, our “failures” and reminding us “we have all the space we need”. What could I decipher from this rambling, but passionate harangue? Not much; but it didn’t really matter. With poetic licence, this “young blood with a cru-cut and a fish hat” lashes us with ideas seemingly clear in his head, but which passes obscurely through ours. At no point did anyone speak or look away from Tobias’ frenzied gaze.
The Caterpillars + The Wasp: Champions followed. Tobias and a man named Sam entered, with both sporting 1950’s white boxer shorts, singlets and gloves. Behind the two are posters of themselves facing one another; one falls down, people giggle, and it remains on the floor throughout. What then came was one of the most fantastically disorganised attempts at a rampant, verbatim dialogue I’d ever seen. With a mutual poetic discordance, the two verbally boxed and beat one another; their fractured, abstract humour making you genuinely laugh out loud, but if you tried to figure out why, you’d be hard-pressed. Frequently Tobias and Sam forget their lines, screaming off stage at the white suit “Give me the line! THE LINE!”
The next three play shouldn’t be spoilt, for these dramatists deserve the money you’ll spend on their tickets. And rest assured, you’ll be privy to a spider dance by burlesque dancer Becky Lou, some carnal BDSM, Tobias attempting to play melodica in a dress, and Harold the Educational Giraffe.
From what the show thrusts at its audience, it’s up to audience to decipher how the equivocal theme of death on stage comes into play. Perhaps it lies in Tobias’ bio of the play, which talks about the late comedian Tommy Cooper, who infamously died of a heart attack on stage while people thought it was an act. Tommy “built a career in comedy out of fucking up his act” Tobias writes, and perhaps it’s this idea that Thankyou, Thankyou Love is based on.
Thankyou, Thankyou Love runs from June 24-28 at the HYPRTEXT Festival Hub, upstairs at the Tuxedo Cat, 17 Wills St Melbourne 3000.