Too Cruisey [by Guest Reviewer Amanda Leo]
From the offset, what you might expect out of Suri. Vs. Shiloh seems clear. Our two fictionalized protagnoists of real life Suri Cruise, daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, and Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, daughter of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, are alive on social media, if you have visited the play’s facebook page. Celebrity and popular culture references wrapped up in a comedy about the fictional lives of two child celebrities? Check.
The central narrative thread follows the lives of Suri Cruise (Phoebe Borwick) and Shiloh Jolie-Pitt (Susannah Smith-Roy). The play is set in 2024 where celebrity figures like Beyonce head the world’s largest and most powerful nations. Celebrity involvement with global issues such as poverty are therefore brought to the forefront and questioned as asinine publicity stunts that do little to actually help those they are campaigning for. Suri and Shiloh, best friends who have grown up in the spotlight, question their celebrity status and the impact of constant fame and surveillance on their lives that culminates in the act of robbing a bank as a pseudo-publicity stunt-cum-protest. The second half of the play deals with the aftermath and consequences of their celebrity crime.
Performed in Q Vault as a two-hander, Borwick and Smith-Roy switch between the various characters focused around Suri Cruise and Shiloh Jolie-Pitt with deftness and agility. This is done with the aid of a cleverly designed set, where fashion mannequins are adorned with token character props. The audience is invited to take a look at the close and dynamic producer-consumer relationship of celebrity culture. This is also further achieved through their characterizations of the prevalent fan-duo who are constantly stalking the two celebrities while creating their own fan base, the two newscasters who constantly report and sensationalize news surrounding celebrities and the questionable advice given by the parents of the celebrities themselves. The parallel actor-character choices of each character duo highlights the concept of privacy and fame in today’s world where social media is prevalent in almost every aspect of our first-world lives.
A big question then is whether the play is successful in being “a fresh look at our penchant for celebrity idolization”, as claimed on their Facebook page’s publicity notes. While many issues surrounding celebrity idolization are somewhat satirized and rapidly introduced, the writing seems to lack a further depth of discussion of these issues past a superficial suggestion that celebrity idolization verges on the ridiculous. Although we get a glimpse into Suri and Shiloh’s lives as two girls struggling to handle their fame, the potential for genuine audience identification to these two protagonists remains unrealized. While I was entertained by seemingly clever quips in the first 20 minutes, I soon got slightly bored by similar one-liners that framed the entire 60 minute piece. While having American Suri and Shiloh performed in Kiwi accents might have been a choice to localize the piece to New Zealand popular culture, this tended to confuse the representation of such specific American celebrities, especially when contrasted to the puppet characters of their parents, who were performed in American accents. I also would like to question their representation of their German and Japanese characters who appeared later in their play, which verged dangerously on a very tokenistic and exoticized-representation of non-American ethnicities.
Suri vs. Shiloh while being entertaining at times, needs to deepen its discussion surrounding popular celebrity culture discourse if they claim to be offering a “fresh perspective on celebrity idolization”.
Suri vs. Shiloh is presented by We are Sailors and plays as part of the Auckland Fringe at Q Vault until 14 Feb. Details see Q.
Amanda Leo is a third culture kid who is about to start her Drama Honours year at Auckland Uni. A co-founder of Female Company, she is an avid tenth-wave feminist and actively hates raisins.