REVIEW: Infectious (Auckland Fringe)

Review by Tim George


[Worth Catching]

A man (played by Daryl Wrightson) has unprotected sex with a work colleague. Unbeknownst to him, he has contracted four STDS: Gonorrhea (Zak Enayat), Syphilis (Rebekah Head), Chlamydia (Ash Ogden) and HIV (Tyler Warwick).

These STDs are portrayed as a quartet of horny teens on a camping trip. Before they can get comfortable in their new environment, a masked killer known as Penicillin (Wrightson) begins to kill them off, one by one. It will come down to the nerdy HIV to stop the menace…

Written by Jason Smith and Thomas Sainsbury, with music by Smith, Infectious is exactly the kind of insane mashup you would expect at Fringe. If you mixed Friday the 13th – The Final Chapter with the body episode of The Magic School Bus and a seasoning of Larry Clark’s Kids, Infectious would be the result.

With few props and a live band occupying half the space, Infectious juggles its dueling narratives without every losing track of where we are, or what the tone is.

Performances by the small cast are all good, with special praise to Wrightson (his smarmy, self-satisfied a-hole is consistently hilarious) and Enayat, who plays Gonorrhea as a braggadocious jock from an eighties teen movie.

The wraparound story, in which the Man tries to hide his status from his unsuspecting (and pregnant) wife (Ogden), is horrifically funny. It is a tribute to the performers and the musical numbers (the doctor’s visit is inspired) that this storyline does not derail the show.

It’s a difficult gambit, but somehow Smith and Sainsbury manage to pull the whole thing off, while even finding a way to build a degree of empathy for the beleaguered STDs. It’s impossible to ever truly feel sympathy for them, but the cast do the best they can. HIV’s evolution from sheltered teen to Carrie-esque super villain is obvious from the beginning but played so straight that it comes off.

The underlying subtext (if one can call it that) of what these diseases are doing to this man and his family adds a terrifying bite to the humour. It creates a lingering unease that is hard to shake off. I would understand if certain audience members were turned off by it.

Funny but terrifying, Infectious is an original and brave piece of pop art that is definitely worth catching…

Infectious played 21-25 February as part of Auckland Fringe. Details see The Basement

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