The year is 2022. A violent civil war has torn Australia in two, with Queensland being sold to China, and the rest of the country now operating as a fascist, totalitarian state known as Nation One. Despite the new state’s strict and conservative laws which include criminalising homosexuality, barring women from attending university, forcing young men to serve in the military and sending political undesirables and Queenslander refugees to camps, a group of students try to ignore the politics and make the most of their high school formal. It is this formal that forms the setting of the Newman Theatre Association’s The Pineapple War, a politically-charged work directed by Alexandra Whitmore that melds teen comedy with dystopian speculative fiction.
The script, written by Lachlan Philpott, starts on a relatively light note, opening with some comical arguments between the vapid, boy-crazy formal organising committee (expertly performed by Catherine Chincarini, Avni Pal Bharti and Nina Lo) over their limousine rental and their dates. However, as the story unfolds the darker realities of life in Nation One become gradually revealed. One student is bullied for being a “displaced” (an immigrant from Queensland), the venue’s cleaner (a standout performance from Rubina Smith) reveals that she’s been forced into the job, with no hope of upward mobility, and another student is intimidated for his homosexuality. Ultimately, the students’ night of freedom ends in tragedy, making a pointed comment about how politics can trickle down and sour even the most innocent and light-hearted of occasions.
As a political commentary, the play is quite successful. The show illustrates the dangers of totalitarianism, and its treatment of Queenslanders is a potent allegory that draws comparison to the treatment of refugees, immigrants and minorities in contemporary Australia. Furthermore, the acting is generally solid, and the dynamic costuming and make-up (by Beth Pollastri and Lauren Croft) and set design (Sussanna Kable) successfully recreates a party atmosphere whilst hinting at the control and tension of life in Nation One.
Despite these positives, however, the show has room for improvement. The music, which played constantly throughout the performance, was occasionally too loud, obscuring characters’ lines. Additionally, the use of a TV to show the military’s movements was slightly confusing, and distracted from the central action without adding much substance. In terms of the script, the concept of Nation One was also somewhat underdeveloped; the allegory would likely be more powerful if it was more believable and well explained. As it stands, with almost no explanation (beyond something to do with pineapples) given for how Australia came to sell Queensland and become a fascist state all within the space of the next 3 years, the show’s premise doesn’t feel that plausible, thereby making its conclusions feel slightly less relevant to contemporary Australia.
All of this considered, The Pineapple War remains a solidly acted, thoroughly entertaining comedy that also largely succeeds as a political commentary, relevant to the current political climate, despite its somewhat far-fetched premise.
Newman Theatre Association’s production of The Pineapple War ran from 1 – 3 August at The Guild Theatre.