Underneath Waterloo station, in a heavily graffitied tunnel, lies The Vaults. The otherworldly kooky location alone is worth a visit, and a perfect host to the modern, philosophical comedy “All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever” by the PlayGround Collective.
The production is a mixture of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “The Truman Show”, “The Stanley Parable”, “Hamlet” and “Dogville”. Although most of those references are non-theatrical, they are comparisons it draws itself by frequently mentioning popular films. It is a play about fiction, free will, technology, grief, video games, popular culture and human existence…and whether the soundtrack to a life should be original or more cultural touchstone based.
The grand orchestrator of the show is the robotic voice of an autocratic lightbulb at the centre of a stark white three-wall set. The bulb’s instrumental helpers: Joel, Victoria, and Hamish, operating in the messy backstage area behind and around the sterile cube. Inside the set: Simon, oblivious to his surroundings, living his ordinary every day life split up between his best friend, on-off girlfriend and mother. Simon’s father recently died, and he tries to find meaning and distraction in jogging, video games and late night television. When he orders a mystery box, his world is about to break down. While Joel, Victoria and Hamish carefully orchestrate Simon’s life and emotions for their own cryptic end game, Simon becomes more and more a lab rat in their experiments.
“All Your Wants and Needs…” is an existential comedy that asks its audience to first think inside the box, before it can look outside. The staging is beautiful to its last detail: Simon’s bright orange jacket – often lit with black light – stands out harshly against the empty white stage. Even the talking light bulb feels like a proper, emotional character. Sound and light are integral to the production that mixes media, nightmare visions and real life, warping sounds and songs surreally and eerily. The ensemble around writer Eli Kent in the lead as Simon (Joel Baxendale, Victoria Abbott and Hamish Parkinson) are true voice artists, frequently changing accents and intonations. Narrative moments are stunningly choreographed; especially noteworthy a scene between Simon and his girlfriend.
The play is poetic, funny, powerful, re-invents and re-establishes theatrical boundaries, is modern and abstract but never pretentious, yet all the time deeply philosophical. It takes on Pavlov, psychoanalysis, terminal illnesses and metaphysics without being overly convoluted. Its soundtrack is beautiful and heartfelt. “All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever” destroys its own 4th wall before violently turning towards its audience, and forcing its viewers to question and analyse for hours after. You think, therefore you are – but are you really? This play throws up endless questions, but gives one quite clear answer: even though 2016 is still young, this is the best play you will get the chance to experience this year.
Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
Photo: Sarah Burrell
Playing until 6 March 2016 at the Vaults Festival