Hard Rubbish – review
4 out of 5 stars.
Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne
Men of Steel's playful yet poignant production about old furniture is a metaphor for modern life and a lot of fun
Tue 24 Sep 2013
Hard Rubbish: a mixture of mayhem and poignancy Photograph: Jeff Busby/Malthouse Theatre
Back in 2002, Spike Jonze made a famous ad for IKEA. We see a woman throwing out her old desk lamp, which she dumps on the pavement outside her apartment. Night falls and it begins to rain. The lamp looks forlorn and abandoned. Through the window, in the warm, we see the woman admiring her new lamp. It's all very poignant. Then a strange Swedish man appears on the street, soaking wet, and says: "Many of you feel bad for this lamp. That is because you're crazy! It has no feelings! And the new one is much better!"
Men of Steel's anarchic and inventive children's show Hard Rubbish is almost a direct answer to the strange Swedish man. This abandoned furniture does have feelings. All sorts of feelings. The lights come up on a pile of discarded household rubbish: old armchairs, cupboards, a pink rocking horse, a filthy washing machine. It's clear from the beginning that these objects have a mysterious life of their own: toilet brushes are pirates hunting treasure, lampshades become strange jellyfish descending carnivorously on the heads of the audience. But when they encounter a sleek, white chest of drawers from an unnamed Swedish furniture company, the battle between the old and the new is royally joined. Under Ian Pidd's direction, Men of Steel's show is a short step from children's play, the most direct kind of puppetry. Hamish Fletcher, Jared Lewis, Phillip McInnes, Tamara Rewse, Sam Routledge and Malia Walsh move and voice the objects just as children do, their bodies becoming part of their characterisations. There are no invisible black-light animators here. Their rough-and-ready style suits their story, which is about the forgotten, the misshapen, the damaged and the rejected. Perfection in this world is brutal: the white cupboard methodically goes about destroying the polyglot characters who loaf good-naturedly about the stage. It's merciless, one by one vanquishing the scruffs. The derelict washing machine is strung up in the rafters, and the rocking horse's BFF – a baby wooden cupboard – is transformed into a small replica of Swedish cleanliness. The subtext of a cold, corporatised world that cruelly sidelines the poor, the old, the strange and the humble is very clear, and there were moments when I wondered if some young children might find it a bit difficult to watch. The human gift for anthropomorphising objects can be powerful as well as ambiguous, and not just for children. The company doesn't step back from darkness, although the show is always leavened by humour. Fortunately, when the ancient armchair expires after heroically defying the new white overlords, the remaining junk decides it's time to get even. All hell breaks loose in a glorious explosion of stage anarchy (at this point, the always-responsive audience has a real chance to get involved in the action). And justice, more or less, is done. Most of all, Hard Rubbish is fun: a mixture of mayhem and poignancy, satire and pure, playful invention. A definite school holiday recommendation, with rewards for adults as well as kids.
MAYHEM LEADS A MERRY DANCE By Cameron Woodhead
Men of Steel
Until October 6 2013
The puppeteers in Men of Steel have created a vigorous, irreverent and playful style of puppetry, where their crazy interaction with objects - from sticks of celery to hammers - makes ordinary objects come to life.
There's a delightfully manic, destructive quality to Men of Steel's work, a kind of infectious chaos. Hard Rubbish is no exception, and kids will get a giggle out of seeing a room more or less explode with mess.
In this show, a bunch of clapped out furniture dreams odd dreams, transforming a lounge room into an undersea wonderland, with lampshades as jellyfish and spools of video cassette as seaweed. That montage is interrupted by the shark-like arrival of a box with a Swedish flag on it.
Yes, something very like Ikea is here. And the whiter-than-white modular furniture doesn't have much time for the saggy old stuff lying about. What follows is lounge-room war.
The immediately recognisable characterisation of the furniture, and the sheer inventiveness of the scenarios, disarm and draw the audience into the conceit.
The show builds to irresistible hilarity as the conflict grows, with an Allen key dance and a poignant death scene for a half-brown couch.
Puppeteers Hamish Fletcher, Phillip McInnes, Tamara Rewse and Malia Walsh give themselves over to play with cartoonish glee and a flair for pantomime. Hard Rubbish is great family entertainment for the school holidays, as much fun for adults as children.