The allure of social simulations is obvious. Is capitalism stacked against you in real life? You need only sink enough time into designing objects, or earning in-game currency, to fashion an opulent lifestyle.
In the second tranche of Malthouse Theatre’s livestreamed monologues, playwright Jean Tong has dipped into the world of a young gamer, who reacts to losing her job by retreating into an obsession with Nintendo’s Animal Crossing.
The young woman, played by Margot Tanjutco, drools over virtual possessions – designer clothes, unique kitchenware, four-bedroom houses – but is also comforted by the game’s proxies for social interaction. Cute characters in the game wish her happy birthday, or express surprise when she goes to switch off the game. Even the game’s sunsets feel like a fair substitute for the real deal.
Tanjutco finds disturbing undercurrents beneath the supposedly harmless fun, sketching an anxious and vulnerable millennial tipping into addiction – someone who thinks, in an unguarded moment, that the world outside “has nothing to do with me”.
The Lockdown Monologues five-minute performances hold a mirror to common experiences in isolation during the pandemic.
Where Tong’s piece Better, Temporarily builds a maze of alienation into the mediated viewing of livestreamed performance, Jane Harrison’s Cat Lady Sans Cat establishes an intimate connection.
Maude Davey plays a middle-aged woman already in isolation – her husband died in the months before the pandemic hit. Reflections on this double whammy of sudden grief and global crisis give the actor maximum scope for tragicomic shading, and Davey takes full advantage.
Starting with the ridiculous and all-too-familiar experience of the housebound “letting themselves go”, she weaves together aching loneliness, gossipy humour, intense yearning and quiet stoicism with exquisite, and genuinely moving, touch.
Tom Holloway’s The Drummer fails to hit home in the same way, mostly due to John Marc Desengano’s performance.
Delivered by a music teacher (formerly a drummer in a punk band) whose colleague – an inspiration to his students – is dying in hospital during the crisis, the piece seems to demand a sardonic, world-weary persona to heighten the climax: an eruption of anguish at life’s unfairness.
Regrettably, Desengano overemotes. He is too earnest from the outset, never assuming a jaded veneer, and that compromises both emotive build-up and the credibility of the characterisation.