Review: My Bed My Universe
Over the years, Massive Company have established a distinctive style: high-energy ensemble casts, young voices sharing personal stories, and impressive displays of physical theatre. Their latest project, My Bed My Universe, builds on this by bringing to the stage live music (composed by Chris O’Connor and performed by NZTrio) and projected animation (designed by the Cut Collective) in a collaboration with playwright Gary Henderson. It sounds promising, but it falls disappointingly flat.
It falls because it doesn’t feel collaborative. Rather than creating layers of meaning, each element clashes without chemistry. We open on the group artfully arranged onstage, capturing that short moment before waking, that precipice before deep oblivion slides reluctantly into recognition. There’s so much you could explore in this moment – it’s one of the most vulnerable moments in a person’s day – that to focus on depleted descriptions (how you’ve arranged the bed so the sun can hit your eyes) feels affronting.
This approach drags through the entire show. Stories that have the potential to be revelatory feel like they’ve been run through the emotional equivalent of BabelFish, stripping it of any nuances, any vulnerability, any impact it may have had. Hollow admissions are presented as deep universal truths (“One thing I really hate,” we’re told, “is people telling lies”) and they’re painfully repeated over and over as though hearing it multiple times will bring it new resonance. Tired Auckland stereotypes (‘shore girl, sure thing’) are evoked without irony or commentary in musical numbers that might have otherwise been fun, and familiar places in New Zealand are chanted as though saying these place names will make it feel like a New Zealand play. This doesn’t work, not even when you put it to music.
As a play, it doesn’t seem to know who it’s for. The Brave was touching in its vulnerability and felt like it would have had an especially incredible impact on teenagers, but we’re offered little of that here. There is one story that has legs, though: a guy recounts receiving an anonymous teenage text message that insults his mum, and rather than brushing it off, he hunts down the sender, finds out where he lives, and goes over there to exact his revenge. It's a powerful story that hints at a fundamental fear that's tied to how we relate to uncertainty, but the chance to think it through is drowned out by dramatic drumming and a swift move onto the next scene.
There’s a faint and fuzzy line you can draw between talk that’s meaningful and talk that’s small. One strives for connection; the other decorates. My Bed My Universe walks this line and falls short, and what we’re left with is the theatrical equivalent of a Tumblr feed: empty statements set against beautiful but unrelated backgrounds and emotionally-charged music, all ultimately clumsy attempts to make them seem more meaningful than they are.
My Bed My Universe plays at the Concert Chamber from 2 April - 5 April and
at Mangere Arts Centre Ngā Tohu o Uenuku from 9 April - 12 April