By Callum Devlin
Artwork: Break Up (We Need To Talk)
Artist: Binge Culture Collective
In a dark, sombre theatre we encounter five exhausted performers, all dressed in banana suits. They take turns acting as the protagonist, who sits front and centre, their back turned to the other four who make up the other character in this dialogue. We grow to know these two characters very intimately, as the conversation bounces backwards and forwards as they negotiate, argue, plead, defend, for six hours. You are watching a break-up, a real one, and it is in equal parts as emotionally exhausting and fascinating as it sounds.
Binge Culture Collective first performed Break-Up at the 2014 Fringe Festival, at the back of Matchbox Studios on Cuba Street. I wasn’t there. I also wasn’t there when they performed it again at the Basement Theatre in Auckland earlier this year. Or when they most recently performed it at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club in New York earlier this month. And yet, for some reason I am always explaining this work to people when I need to explain what theatre can do.
And this is theatre, I think. I mean, it is a live performance delivered to an audience. But it’s not for an audience. The audience is not being spoken to, they are eavesdropping on a conversation. It is improvised, but there are no audience suggestions. The performers rely on each other to create content, building an amalgamation of five perspectives on love and heartbreak. In that sense, it is more of a negotiation; you have each performer trying to articulate their point of view (as the protagonist) and yet also provoking, defending and calling each detail into question.
This is a narrative work, at least in the sense that there is a start time, and six hours later there is the inevitable end point. Each time the work is presented, it is simultaneously streamed on the internet, so anyone can tune in from anywhere to watch the mess unfold. This is how I was able to experience the work, on my laptop in my bedroom. In this way it is almost aggressively un-intimate, creating a biting tension between the private nature of the content, and its very public transmission.
Break-Up is located very much to each time that it is presented, locked temporally to the moment of creation and never repeated. The duration of the work, and the open access of the work affords the performers the luxury of not having to entertain. Instead, the focus is honest communication, and the careful navigation of potentially incendiary material.