[Countdown to the Apocalypse]
Sitting in the audience for the return season of The Last Man on Earth is Trapped in a Supermarket is a real joy. Ben Anderson has created an engaging and aesthetically stunning piece of theatre.
Once again Auckland is introduced to Tom, played by Ryan Dulieu, an unfortunate protagonist who finds himself locked in the local Countdown after an apparent apocalypse. Unsure of how long he has been there, his personal monologue soon turns into conversations with the items in the supermarket that spring to life. Chye-Ling Huang and Cole Jenkins manoeuvre and voice several puppets from foul mouth fruit and vegetables to the projections of Tom’s loved ones through popular kiwi brands.
The set is engaging and cleverly multifaceted. White elastic bands are strung up in V frame to mimic the shelving in a supermarket, but are utilised far beyond this simple image. The choice to allow the audience to see Huang and Cole run around behind the shelves, grabbing puppets and creating sound effects pays off and allows us to appreciate their talents and efforts throughout the show. The puppets and prop pieces show an incredible eye for detail. The strongest element of the design was the smallest puppet version of Tom, manned by all three actors, as it has uncanny human attributes and actions that create a sense of endearment that even the human Tom can’t quite achieve. Watching the tiny puppet being manhandled and manipulated echoes the helplessness of Tom’s situation.
The play is superbly acted in a joint effort by Huang, Jenkins and Dulieu, who all commit to bringing this text to life. Huang and Jenkins have the difficult task of orchestrating the world around the character of Tom, often flitting from one side of the stage to the next, picking up props and puppets, and showing off their vocal talents in quick succession. Dulieu has touching moments throughout, particularly in a scene where he opens up reluctantly to his younger brother via a box of non-perishables about his real feelings towards him.
Whilst the play is beautiful to watch there is a missed opportunity to weave a touching emotional journey for the main character. Tom is incredibly passive, and not in the “it’ll be his own undoing” sort of way (which is introduced but never developed). He lacks clarity in his emotionality and has no moment of realisation to push his character through to the end of the play. This lack of character development leaves any choices made by Tom feeling trivial and in turn leaves the end feeling a lot less weighted than it could be.
However, this is not to say the play doesn’t stand up by itself. The whimsy and storybook style storytelling takes the audience on a funny and charming adventure.
The Last Man on Earth is Trapped in a Supermarket is presented by The People that Play with Theatre and played as part of Auckland Fringe 21-25th. Details see Q.
And Jess Holly Bate’s review of the 2015 debut season.