What do a dorky high school band, two bagpipers, 50 gingham tablecloths, Bart Simpson, a watermelon, a Prince Albert piercing, and an ungodly amount of spaghetti alla chitarrahave in common?
Enter: Aphids, with their new audience-interactive spectacular, A Singular Phenomenon, appearing for a very limited season (only three performances) at Malthouse Theatre.
As we bustle into the Malthouse’s Merlyn Theatre, we are greeted at our seats by suspicious welcome cards, each containing a personalised character title and corresponding stage cue. On stage, in front of heavy velvet curtains, two small tables, shrouded in red gingham and adorned with a festive arrangement of white paper napkins and breadsticks, frame an upright sign that reads “Keep Calm and Please Wait to Be Seated”.
At their fore, a stage manager calls final checks from a clipboard and musters both audience and crew like a bustling maître d’ anticipating the impending commencement of a busy evening’s dinner service.
The show begins. “Enter Joe’s Mother…” calls the maître d’, and slowly characters from the audience are called upon to enter the space and take their place at the dinner party, which rapidly expands to comprise a litany of diverse personalities, objects and events that all, in one way or another, have some bearing on the life of the enigmatic and eccentric ‘Joe’.
Sparks of revelation flicker through the audience as the cumulative human jigsaw puzzle slowly comes together to reveal what is actually an abstract portrait of the man responsible for one of Australia’s most divisive cultural icons, referred to throughout only as “The Song”.
A Singular Phenomenon is an unusual event, typical of the form-challenging style of much of Aphids’s work, situated somewhere between a This is Your Life-style character study and a post-modern dining experience. Over bowls of freshly prepared pasta and glasses of red wine the fragmented evolution of this man’s story provides a fascinating cross-section of several decades’ worth of social development, and an insightful exploration of the varied effects of evolving cultural identity, appropriation, and the impact of fame and infamy on the individual.
It also provides a rather whimsical allegory for the capacity of seemingly disparate items to come together to contribute to a larger whole and, just like “Joe’s song” to transcend their origins in the ordinary and everyday by becoming part of a much larger cultural spectacle.