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Supper Has Been Served in Cipta Theatre Company's THE LAST SUPPER

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Pedantic Judy. Image by Irene Lu.

(Opening night. The foyer buzzes with chit chat and laughter, excited to witness the end of the world.)

 

Kartiya Ilardo:

Theatre is a snippet of reality. The Last Supper was no exception, with a quaint dining room setting adorned with family pictures and a pedantically set table. Created by Stephanie Nguyen, Shuo (Kim) Ma and Aminah Tasnuva, the room’s colours were warm and gentle – an abode that comfortably laid you down for your last hours on earth.

 

Charlie Simmons:

(Did not have the privilege of attending opening night)

I attended the show’s last matinee. The show’s co-director, Olivia Di Grazia, told me that the evening performances involved more stylistic lighting. I, however, believe the matinee’s bright lights and minimal effects complemented the play’s Brechtian tone. 

 

(Brechtian here means limiting the audience’s immersion so they will think critically about the play’s themes).

 

The soft, even lighting emphasised that the dining room was a set; three small walls and a table on a mostly bare stage. The set looked like a shoebox diorama of a suburban dining room. Highlighting a set’s artificiality was one of many techniques Brecht used to keep audiences emotionally distanced from the drama. This, combined with the theatre’s elevated seating, positioned the audience as observers rather than participants in the dinner we were about to witness.

 

Act One

 

(Judy is the first character met, obsessively tweaking and correcting table ornaments as the audience fills the room).

 

Angus Clark:

Judy’s actor, Sofia Lumo, thought Michael Sheen in drag would play her part quite well.

 

(While Judy sets the table, Neighbour, wearing a gas mask, walks up the aisle and takes a seat in the back row).

 

Charlie Simmons:

Before the story had properly begun, The Last Supper demonstrated another Brechtian tradition: breaking the fourth wall. Neighbour was a character listed on the playbill, but he was introduced sitting among the spectators. His haunting presence itched our necks, and we tried to stay focused on the dinner instead of turning to look at him. By immediately breaking the boundaries between fiction and reality, the play foreshadowed the unsettling presence he would bring to the family drama story later on.

 

(Dutifully setting the table, Judy seems the picture of domestic bliss. But then Husband arrives home).

 

Kartiya Ilardo:

Husband’s introductory scene perfectly established his role as an overbearing presence in Judy’s life. His booming voice demanded our attention and his tall stature made him look down on his wife, Judy. 

 

Charlie Simmons:

That booming voice was rife with the false affability of a patriarchal 1950s breadwinner. His attempts at humour towards the impending nuclear holocaust insulted and undermined Judy’s anxieties.

 

Angus Clark:

Husband’s actor Lochie Drew left before I could ask what celeb he’d trust with his part. This duty now falls to me, and I pick… Henry Cavill, because he could do with diversifying his hottie nerd persona. Just like Julie Andrews did it in S.O.B. IYKYK.

 

(Judy is diminished further by the arrival of Mother and Father, those typical Australian parents).

 

Angus Clark:

It makes perfect sense that Mother’s actress, Michaela Lattanzio, picked Toni Collette as her celeb replacement – wouldn’t be surprised if Toni inspired her depiction.

 

Kartiya Ilardo:

Mother quickly became my favourite. Her character seemed real-

 

Angus Clark:

I thought she was more caricatured.

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Mother: caricature or real? Image by Irene Lu.

Kartiya Ilardo:

Her dialogue and mannerisms were real. People yell and scream to be heard. But when they yell and scream all the time, emotion plateaus and dialogue becomes noise with no real depth. Judy and Husband spoke with this kind of drama (Father mostly stayed quiet or reacted to others, at this point in the play).  That made it difficult for me, personally, to connect with them.

Charlie Simmons:

The audience wasn’t meant to connect with the characters during Act One. A Brechtian play strives to keep the audience emotionally distanced from the drama. Act One effectively used dialogue to establish the characters as broad archetypes. Mother was the classic wine mum, who talked over the top of her underachieving daughter, Judy, and her henpecked husband. Judy’s husband, meanwhile, was a charismatic, yet self-important, ‘50s gentleman who tried to make dinner about his crusade to stop the vote for nuclear holocaust.

The ‘Man of the House’. Image by Irene Lu.

Kartiya Ilardo:

I was still enthralled with their plights and ideas, but it was Mother I saw as a real person. And this was even shown in a heartfelt conversation with her cheating husband, Father.

 

Angus Clark:

Husband’s actor, Fahran Miraj, believed that Rowan Atkinson could ace his role. Now that I think about it, I did see a part of Mr Bean in the performance – social awkwardness, poor timing and all that jazz.

 

Kartiya Ilardo:

Most of the characters held up the themes, talking in philosophies and hiding behind veils of metaphors and similes. So, when Father asked Mother if she regrets life, I expected a philosophical answer. Maybe a quote. But no, she said yes, looked straight at the audience and took another sip of wine. Real people – we do not talk in philosophies. Or rather, we speak in philosophies to mask what we truly feel. Maybe that is why characters like Mother are annoying to some, because we cannot face the realness of our emotions.

 

Charlie Simmons:

Sounds like the dialogue succeeded in its job. Act One’s purpose was to establish that most of the characters aren’t willing to be emotionally honest about the impending Armageddon. If flowery dialogue makes an audience reflect on their emotional mendacity, the play has correctly exploited its Brechtian tone.

 

Angus Clark:

I think we can move on from Mother now, please and thank you very muchly.

 

(Neighbour crosses the audience pit, climbs the stage and knocks on the door. He begs the family for shelter).

 

Charlie Simmons:

When Neighbour knocked on the door, his unnerving, fatalistic presence heralded that the first act was closing, and with it, any pretensions of facing the apocalypse with dignity.

 

Angus Clark:

Neighbour’s actor Lockie Carmichael chose David Bowie as his spiralling downtrodden character. A man after my own heart, and though Bowie is big shoes to fill, Carmicheal can also do eschatological quite well.

 

(Eschatological here is a fancy way to describe a doomsayer, which is what the neighbour felt like to the emotionally fraying family).

 

Charlie Simmons:

Carmichael was the most exaggerated player in this performance, speaking his lines in loud yet quavering shrieks and stumbling about the stage like a hungry animal. This performance style made Neighbour feel unnatural in the quaint suburban home. The unnerving contrast paid off the technique of having him sit among the audience for most of Act One. An audience member, who had until then judged the characters from afar, was directly challenging their approaches to confronting their apocalyptic deaths.

The Mad Man. Image by Irene Lu.

(Mother responds to the Neighbour’s questioning with another insult slung at her family. Father slaps her. The thwack of skin to skin silences and stuns the audience. They all draw in closer. This is when the play reaches the core of itself).

 

Angus Clark:

That core, in the words of writer and co-director Elizabeth Browne, is, as Olivia says: “What would we do if we were put in a pressure cooker?”

 

(Intermission. The room drowns the audience in darkness).

 

Kartiya Ilardo:

All I heard was people murmuring about the slap. It was the perfect hook to get us craving the next act.

 

Act Two

 

Charlie Simmons:

In Act Two, characters became fleshed out people, instead of broad archetypes, after Act One’s slap shattered their social mores. Father slapping his wife marked his transition from reluctant peacekeeper to a man who is not quiet about his regrets and fears. Husband grew desperate to validate his authority after learning “his” family voted in favour of Australia’s destruction. Mother revealed the parental insecurity previously glimpsed behind her smokescreen of wine and cutting remarks.

 

Kartiya Ilardo:

Another thing I loved about this play was the ambience created by the hauntingly beautiful original song Oh My (What a Beautiful Day) written and performed by Olivia Di Grazia, with music by her and James Carolan.

 

Angus Clark:

Spotify EP release when?

 

Kartiya Ilardo:

Played throughout the performance, the gentle melody was laced with foreshadowing of what the world would soon become, setting the play’s visual aesthetic tone.

 

Charlie Simmons:

The song’s tone complemented the play’s deliberately anachronistic production design, which placed MacBooks among vintage furnishings and ‘50s swing dresses. The most obvious comparison is the ‘50s retro-futurism in the post-apocalyptic video game series Fallout. In that franchise, ‘50s attitudes and pastiches were dwarfed by imagery of civilisations ravaged by a nuclear war, showing the fragility of conservative values in a world gone mad. The Last Supper was similarly about how traditional values are a futile attempt at maintaining social order. Judy, her parents and her husband could not retain the facade of a functional suburban family as the apocalypse drew nearer.  

 

(Final scene. Judy’s small stature and obedient disposition had fooled the audience and her family. Now, blood spills from Mother’s mouth, her body falters, then she is facedown on the dining table. The rest of the family follows suit. Judy has triumphed).

 

Kartiya Ilardo:

The ending was intimate. There were no antics to escape into or look away to – just Judy and you. It was Judy’s long-awaited moment of relief after seemingly years of being undermined by her family. How sad that she was only truly allowed to live in peace five minutes before the world ended.

 

Charlie Simmons:

This twist was built up properly throughout Act One, with Judy’s tense looks at the audience through the house’s windows, and skillfully delivered by Elizabeth Browne and Olivia Di Grazia’s direction.

 

Kartiya Ilardo:

I believe this play perfectly captured the Brechtian manner of theatre, the writer, Elizabeth Browne, creating a feast the audience felt “welcome” to witness.

 

Charlie Simmons:

Browne’s use of Brechtian fourth wall breaks were crucial to establishing this powerful resolution, where the audience is left to wonder whether Judy’s actions are justified, and how they would react in her situation. 

 

Kartiya Ilardo:

Knowing that this play was written in this manner made it feel more alive, and I’m honoured to have seen this living and breathing piece of art come alive.

 

Angus Clark:

While we’re all dwelling on the end of life as we know it, I asked the directors just what the “end of the world” looks like to them.

 

Surprise surprise, it wasn’t bombs dropping… yet.

 

Elizabeth Browne:

We’re already there. Every time I turn on the TV, great, no hope. What if we just give up? Life is crazy.

 

Angus Clark:

Ain’t it just.

 

Angus Clark:

Olivia Di Grazia then elaborated on her answer after opening up about health difficulties as a child.

 

Olivia Di Grazia:

I feel like I have lived through it. I have transformed in appearance wildly over my youth, but the soul has stayed the same. My perception has changed though. I’m still alive, and happy to be here.

 

Charlie Simmons:

The Last Supper was a sometimes alienating but brutally honest show that demonstrated the best of relatively new theatre talents. The Brechtian tone and fourth wall breaks in Act One facilitated a sharp critique of traditional social mores. Act Two, however, was a true dramatic achievement because it made us emotionally connect to characters who were once simple mouthpieces for the themes. The anachronistic production design made the messages timely and timeless, showing the emotional extremes people can reach when confronting their mortality, no matter the period.

 

I see this play doing well in a small community venue or travelling acting troupe. Those are spaces where the distance between the seats and the stage can be even smaller. This show thrives on having the audience be critical observers of the family drama, and bringing them closer to the theatre space, unacknowledged by the actors, would enhance that by making the audience literal “flies on the wall” during this disastrous dinner.

The End. Image by Irene Lu.

 
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