World Problems: A World of Problems

World Problems is a work written, created and performed by Emma Mary Hall. She is fresh from winning the Best Emerging Writer at Melbourne Fringe Festival in 2017 for Ode To Man, and her new piece promises to bring a similar poignancy and humour. A one woman show, the production explores themes of childhood, heartbreak and the future. 

The work is composed of small fragments, one or two line sentences that build up to create the performance. Occasionally there is a longer passage to provide humour or to highlight a more dramatic moment, and due to the style of writing short sentences, when a larger paragraph is included it adds a point of difference. Each line begins with “you remember”, engaging the audience with the dialogue and memories that follow. These thoughts begin in childhood; you remember teddy bears and you remember Christmas card making, moving chronologically through adolescence; you remember exam results, to adulthood; you remember sex and travel, all the way into an imagined future with a sci-fi twist. Occasionally there is a repetition of a word or symbol, hinting at potential subtext, but despite my best efforts I am unable to decipher any kind of greater meaning from the format of the text. 

Similarly, the sentences constantly jump from a place of realism to unbelievable science fiction as the work progresses. This serves to discredit any believability of the work, particularly in the section on the future. The idea of Australia having it’s first Indigenous lesbian prime minister, only for the next passage to talk about people plugging themselves in at tram stops to recharge, has a jarring effect. These thought provoking ideas about politics and society become less plausible as Hall explores a world akin to that of Back to the Future.  

The most interesting part of the work is the set. Designed by Fleur Dean, it provides the perfect actors playground. Scattered around a bare stage are a number of metal frames which Hall interacts with as she speaks. It is oddly fascinating to watch an actor performing mundane tasks, and the consistency of it provides some stability for the text that leaps from one thought to the next. Hall’s interaction with the set serve for moments of comedy and difference, as well as eventually creating a large centrepiece which is then projected upon. These evocative projections by Rachel Lee are mysteriously not used until the very end of the show, even though they are the most relevant and exciting part of the design. Even more strangely, there are large pot plants scattered throughout the audience, and as I sit down I notice my neighbour is a rather large and spiky bromeliad. Plants also feature in the promotional material for the show, but after watching it I still have no idea why. There is no mention of them in the text, and there seems no correlation between their existence and the themes of the work. 

There are also two odd moments of audience involvement that are poorly flagged and contextually unexplained. The result is either no-one participates, or someone briefly comes onstage to help move a metal frame and immediately returns to their seat, none the wiser as to why that just happened. Much like the plants, these moments are unexplained and seem unrelated to the rest of the show’s content. 

World Problems is an interesting work. But it feels as though a bevy of ideas were corralled during a brainstorm, and none were cut out. There is too much going on with no thoughts really connecting to any others, and very little emotion in their delivery to create the ebb and flow of a performance. It feels unfinished, as if has been no decision about intended meaning or what the creative team want the audience to walk away feeling. It is a confusing piece of theatre. Afterwards my friend turns to me and bleats “well, that was.. something.”

Emma Mary Hall’s production of World Problems ran at Fortyfivedownstairs from 13 — 24 March 2019.

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