REVIEW: The Plastic Orgasm (Auckland Fringe)

Review by Nathan Joe

[Radical Failure]

The term ‘radical failure’ is used during the centrepiece of The Plastic Orgasm, a paganistic ritual that blows up the show, releasing a primal scream of questions and confusions onto the stage. The act of failure implies an attempt has been made. You can’t fail without trying. You can’t succeed without risking failure.

So, to call The Plastic Orgasm a radical failure is to revel in all its mighty contradictions and inconsistencies. It is, after all, a formidable challenge to deconstruct established and oppressive power structures. We’ve seen co-creators Julia Croft and Virginia Frankovich do this before, always in new and inventive ways. Whether through pop culture (If There’s No Dancing at the Revolution…) or the problems of language (Power Ballad, Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again), they’ve always posed probing questions and challenged audiences.

In this revisited work, previously performed by the Croft and Frankovich themselves, they’ve recruited the talents of a large ensemble of women: Aiwa Pooamorn, Ana Corbett, Astric Ebner, Amanda Tito, Bryony Skillington, Elyssia Ra’nee Wilson-Heti, Emma Newborn, Hannah Kelly, Jordyn Ellish, Katie Burson, Kayleigh Haworth, Lizzie Morris, Nilima Chowdhury, Rachael Longshaw-Park, Sara Cowdell, Tatum Warren-Ngata and Victoria Abbott. It would be remiss to exclude any one of these fearless performers, each lending their bodies and souls to the relentless ritual that is The Plastic Orgasm.

From the show’s first moment, we are confronted by this orgiastic landscape of female bodies, swimming in a sea of clothes. They smash against one another, colliding beautifully and brutally, as if trying to recreate a feminist Hieronymus Bosch. Like punk rock, it’s a battle cry against status quo; like punk rock, it’s also numbing and deafening at times.

The cast enact out fantasies. Not their own fantasies, but the fantasies of the dominant male gaze. Pornographic, excessive and gratuitous fantasies. They enact these fantasies with relish to show how shallow and ridiculous they are. Mayonnaise bukkake, female wresting, the always recognisable Baywatch run. They are loosely choreographed acts of revolt on our android dreams. A wake-up call.

Breaking up these messy acts are scripted dialogues between two performers, play-acting as ‘man’ and ‘woman’. These brief fleeting moments attack the often-contradictory wants and needs between the opposite sexes. It’s a parody of power structures that provokes some of the biggest laughs, though these vignettes end before truly critical or daring questions can be asked.

This to and fro between chaos and text gives the show a predictability that seems at ends with the messy nature of the show. At least until the aforementioned paganistic ritual. From that point onwards, the show and its performers spill their guts. A descent into chaos and confusion, full of unanswered questions and unsolvable puzzles.

The problems posed in The Plastic Orgasm are less incisive than Croft and Frankovich’s previous works; there’s a broadness and lack of specificity here that is more visual than visceral. And, despite its chaotic presentation (strobe lights and loud music), there’s a structure and even repetitiveness that restrains the first half. It ultimately works best when it wrestles with itself, asking us to engage with it critically rather than just sit back and wash over us. Beneath the wreckage of female bodies left behind, there’s earned affirmation not disappointment or discontent. Radical failure becomes worthier of celebration than easy success.

The Plastic Orgasm played at Lot 23 as part of Auckland Fringe. 

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