Alexander Devriendt and the cast
Ontroerend Goed & The Border Project in cooperation with Drum Theatre Plymouth, Vooruit & Richard Jordan Productions Ltd
Fight Night, created by Belgian company Ontroerend Goed in collaboration with The Border Project of Adelaide, isn’t a narrative drama but a participatory piece perfectly suited to the political moment.
It makes its audience take a sharp look at our electoral system and they way it operates by bringing the hustings right into the theatre and adds just a touch of pugilistic presentation with a ring-like white platform and a dropdown microphone, like the one used at wrestling matches, for its host and contestants to address their voters.
But this is politics without specific policies (does that sound strangely familiar). There are no manifestos; just five personalities presenting themselves for election.
Each member of the audience is issued with a simple numerical pad to press and vote in a multi-stage selection process. Guided by host Angelo Tijssens, in stylish three-piece suiting, they establish their audience demographic by selecting appropriate bands for gender, relationship status, age, and income. Then, confronted by the hooded candidates, they vote on first reactions when they reveal their faces.
Winner and loser get a change to address the audience, then the candidates all take off their gowns, revealing what they are wearing, before the host informs them of the audience demographic. Now they all get the chance to make a statement, which clearly takes into account to whom in this electorate they wish to pitch.
Then there is another vote that will see one of them eliminated. The result is different but no one has an outright majority. Winner and loser address the electors; the loser is concerned that those who supported him will lack representation and then someone proposes a coalition. The candidates start doing deals. The one who leaves is not quite as expected.
A series of questions to the audience has them select their own attitudes to various prejudices, religious belief, offensive language and other ethical rather than political choices. Candidates can now be ranked according to how well they match the audience.
As things continue, the audience is party to the candidates’ strategic thinking; it can see the arbitrariness of some decisions. The host now changes the game and makes himself a candidate. Is disillusion setting in? One of the candidates leads a rebellion: let’s stop voting. Who will join him? Suddenly the audience can make a real decision.
Of course, this questions they way that politics works and makes the audience question themselves but Tijssens and the candidates (Charlotte De Bruyne, Gilles De Schryver, Maria Dafneros, Michai Geyzen, Roman Vaculik and Suzanne Grotenhuis) also turn this into a really engaging piece of theatre.
Don’t think of this review as a spoiler—I haven’t given it all away and if I had it wouldn’t matter. The core script was published last year (by Oberon) and I had already read it. I still found its performance totally involving.
It completely held its audience, many of them teenagers, and it will hold you too, even if you don't take much interest in politics.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton