Review: Disgust at Trades Hall

1 September 2018

Declaring in the program notes that Disgust “may bore you. It may offend you. It may move you. Or it may just wash over you”, even playwright Kat Moritz acknowledges her work as defiant to any singular interpretation. Met with a bare stage, minimal lighting, and the silent, lounging figures of the play’s only two performers (Michelle Robertson and Monty Burgess), little is revealed or even faintly suggested to the audience by the production’s setting. As the play begins and the dialogue starts to unfold, however, it is evident that this production offers no simple, clear answers into the lives and relationship of this nameless couple.

The conversation unrolls between Robertson and Burgess in ambiguous fragments, never once explicating the specifics of their relationship. It’s never verified that Robertson and Burgess are married, yet the two interact so comfortably with one another that it’s difficult to assume otherwise. The conversation begins- and consistently diverts from and returns to throughout the play’s 60 minutes—the topic of a dinner party recently attended by the couple. Significantly, there is no indication as to just how recently the two attended this event, giving the production a sense of suspended temporality. Combined with commentary that hurriedly skips between various details of the gathering- from the footwear of the other guests to their impressions of the company—the dialogue feels somewhat skittish and unresolved. As the couple begin comparing their opinions of those at the party, the performance sporadically verges off into seemingly unrelated, unexpected turns.

During the very beginning of the play, Robertson’s character briefly parodies a TV-Chef, cheerily whipping up her “triple choc brownies” during one of the play’s many tangential snippets. There’s also, quite notably, a brief dance interlude from Burgess’ character. The couple are talking rather dispassionately about their sex life, when suddenly, his character breaks out into an extended, silent dance routine. The humoured bewilderment expressed by Robertson during this moment mirrors that of the audience; by this point within the production, it is clear that the only thing to be expected is the unexpected. The play, however, does also momentarily segue into darker, more poignant moments. At one point, the couple are clinically discussing whether they’d sleep with other people if the other were away in a mental facility. Their detached tone contrasts uneasily against the majority of their previous interactions, that typically felt so comfortable and conveyed their familiarity with one another. The most disturbing moment of the production, however, was the section in which Robertson recounted the story of another woman’s experience in a mental care facility. As this recount is interspersed with Robertson’s deeply unsettling, maniacal laughter, ultimately, it becomes impossible not to question whether the story is indeed about herself.

With all of these disparate parts interwoven together by the loose thread of the dinner party, the play is constantly teetering the line of fantasy and reality. It is difficult to gauge any sense of time or place—let alone any clear understanding of the characters—through the random, absurdist traverse of the dialogue. Despite the challenging script, however, it must be noted that both Robertson and Burgess are magnetic. The dialogue becomes secondary to the natural warmth and charisma exuded by the two performers; they remain hypnotic on stage despite the convoluted trail of their conversation, bringing a sense of familiarity to their characters despite the ridiculousness of their lines. As the play ends with the two lying together in the foetal position, the audience is left without any sense of certainty as to the myriad of matters discussed by the couple. Overall, Disgust is not a production that claims to provide clearly defined answers or a neatly wrapped-up conclusion—an approach that whilst possibly alienating to certain viewers, at least makes for an interesting discussion of just what exactly was going on in Moritz’s production once you’re actually out of the theatre.


Disgust is playing at La Mama until 2 September.

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