Review: Kirk Dangerous Kills the Prime Minister26 April 2019
“Larger-than-life secret agent Kirk Dangerous has been cast adrift from his native reality and stranded in 21st century Victoria. There’s only one way to get home – kill the prime minister.”
In his one-man show, James Macaronas plunges his audience straight into a world that is both the familiar one we know, but also one of intrigue and exciting science fiction. Macaronas’ love and knowledge of science fiction is clear, with the show including elements reminiscent of Dr Who and other classic science fiction tropes. The evocative and imaginative use of language also reminded me of Hannu Rajaniem’s Quantum Thief trilogy, as did the dashing antihero at its centre, a part that Macaronas appears to enjoy and plays well.
In case the title wasn’t clear enough for you, this show is certainly political, as Macaronas uses his rollicking sci-fi performance to explore many of the issues concerning Australians, especially students, in the lead up to this election including climate change and corruption, taking aim at Canberra and also the University of Melbourne and its refusal to divest from fossil fuels.
The show promises to be “a psychedelic science-fantasy road trip.” I found that it was more of a rollercoaster, as Macaronas took me from laughter to anger to near tears so quickly that I could hardly keep up with myself. With simple costume, voice and gesture, Macaronas creates a cast of colourful characters. My favourite was the empathetic history lecturer whose plight injects some important pathos into the performance. My least favourite was the woman from Dangerous’ past whom I found a little one dimensional and distracting, perhaps due to costuming. I’m not personally a huge fan of costume-based transformation due to its tendency to disrupt the suspension of disbelief and the inevitable awkward fumbling required to quickly switch from one to another. Macaronas is certainly talented enough to create diverse characters with his body alone. However, he did a great job in making these transformations smoothly, particularly towards the end where they occurred quickly and frequently in the performance’s fast-paced and exciting conclusion. Perhaps these moments of discord during transformation worked to the show’s advantage, along with heightened use of language, moments of multimedia and audience address to create a Brechtian alienation effect so that we cannot fully escape into the magic of the world Macaronas created before our eyes, keeping the issues at the heart of the performance in our minds and provoking a response.
Macaronas uses his whole body, contorting it in several visceral scenes that were confronting in their naturalism and even hard to watch. The use of multimedia was refreshingly smooth, although the music could have been quieter at the beginning and end to give Macaronas’ delivery the full impact it deserved.
There are certainly a lot of ideas addressed at once in the performance. Along with the political, there is a meditation on the nature of science fiction and its often-maligned status. I found this perhaps a little too much in combination with the whirl of other ideas considered in this action-packed hour. But perhaps this also contributes to the Brechtian nature of the piece, as the discussion of sci-fi along with the performance’s self-aware titular character emphasized the constructed nature of the performance as a piece of science fiction, pointing to the issues that Macaronas is exploring.
In my experience, the view of humanity we get from sci-fi tends to go one of two ways: a vision of hope or a vision of darkness for the present and future. Danger’s vision of Australia is quite bleak and reflects the way many young Australians are feeling at this point in history. Kirk Dangerous may be aiming to kill the prime minister, but he makes it very clear to the audience that this is not the end to their problems. He calls them to action, but it is not entirely clear what form this action should take. Macaronas builds empathy for many of his characters, you want them to succeed, and you want to believe. This makes the cynicism I sensed at this performance’s centre all the harder to stomach. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing; I certainly left the show with plenty to think about.
I really enjoy the intertextual conversations that Macaronas’ works evoke. The sci-fi allusions in Kirk Dangerous reminded me of the Samuel Becket vibes in his piece ‘Camera Obscura’ with Claire Miller for the UMSU Creative Tastings showcase in 2016. Such allusions convey a sense of Macaronas’ great passion for the media and genres he is working with and situate him among some of the ‘greats’, where he can certainly hold his own.