Peeling back the onion

In a socialist workers paradise, no one, not even children, can be complacent. Fortunately, the Department of Propaganda and Agitation presents the children’s TV show “We are Happy” to help them understand, through songs and puppetry, the divine origins of the Dear Leader and how their devotion to him can ensure their country’s prosperity and survival.

We are Happy In the Bosom of the Dear Leader
We are Happy In the Bosom of the Dear Leader

We Are Happy In the Bosom of Our Dear Leader begins with our mostly silent, unnamed host (Sabrina D’Angelo) starting another episode of her TV show with an unnaturally wide toothy grin, which is disturbing rather than reassuring, and a comical dance worthy of a cartoon character. After the broadcast ends and the jaunty music stops we see the daily rituals of life under a totalitarian regime, like her careful polishing of brown onions to offer as tribute to the Dear Leader’s photo and listening to official radio announcements. A life of duty can be satisfying if you believe in the cause, but what if you’re starting to have to have doubts?

This piece is more subtle than the expansive physical performance style, giant speech balloons and reviews labelling this a comedy suggest. After the cameras stop rolling each day, we gain insight into the presenter’s state of mind. Interactions of an onion man with puppets from the day’s Dear Leader fable, accompanied by Julius Millar’s sombre compositions, suggest the inconvenient percolation of doubts that mustn’t be articulated into wordless reality. As other events occur, keeping misgivings over the leadership safely away from the TV cameras becomes more difficult. The ending, initially unsatisfying because of its apparently easy resolution, on reflection contains an uncomfortable truth.

Although I have some quibbles, like the use of “ex-defector” not making sense and maybe the audience can work out for themselves that the TV show is propaganda, and the onion metaphor becomes somewhat unclear towards the end, I am happy that this show is an ideologically sound contributor to the Melbourne Fringe’s annual revolution.

Onion-like through its layers, hopefully its location in the Hub will ensure it has opportunities to be noticed by the Fringe faithful and encourage some comrades to think about the accountability of our political system.

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