SUZANNAH BENTLEY gets an eyeful at Under the Radar’s ENVOYÉ://:FRAGMENTÉ.
As I’m ushered into Metro Arts’ Sue Benner Theatre I’m told to continue past the seating banks, through the curtain, and down onto the stage where I should stand inside the taped square. I head down onto the stage with the 34 other audience members of tonight’s sold-out show. We file through the curtain and position ourselves around the edge of the three-metre square. Matt O’Neill, creator and star of tonight’s one-man-show, stands in the centre. It’s hard to ignore two things. The first is that we have no seats. The second is that Matt O’Neill is completely naked.
Envoyé://:Fragmenté is a multi-faceted show performed in surround sound. It includes stand-up comedy, hip-hop, performance poetry, and social commentary. O’Neill speaks to the audience like old friends, and turns to address each side of the square throughout the performance. The small physical dimensions of the stage and the fact that the room is fully lit make it impossible for audience members to fade into the crowd or retain any sense of anonymity. O’Neill has certainly managed to make us feel rather uncomfortable. I’m struck by how odd it is that I feel awkward and embarrassed when he’s the one without clothes on. Such is the effectiveness of O’Neill’s creation.
Songs written, composed, and performed by O’Neill are interspersed with his musings. Through rap, singing, and speech he tackles body image, Australian society, erectile dysfunction, bogan culture, suicide, masculinity and numerous other equally complex topics. O’Neill’s honesty and frankness is just as disarming as his nudity. He has the audience laughing one second and awkwardly shuffling our feet the next. He switches suddenly and frequently between general observations and intensely personal confessions. At times I feel almost sadistically voyeuristic. O’Neill turns tragedy into comedy with his wry humour and even has the crowd laughing about suicide at one point. It’s not the most-PC of shows, but it’s definitely entertaining.
The idea behind Envoyé://:Fragmenté is that the need for perfection is a futile hindrance and we shouldn’t let it stop us from doing things even if we do them imperfectly. O’Neill points out that he’s not a musician, rapper, or comedian and yet here we all are on a Friday night watching him perform. He wants to prove that it is possible to create something significant without remarkable skill.
The surround sound is impressive for someone with no real musical background and so is O’Neill’s rapid and animated rap style. O’Neill’s stage presence is strong and engaging. The only people who walk out of this contentious show before the end are two middle-aged women who can’t stop giggling like schoolgirls.
Envoyé://:Fragmenté succeeds in being confronting and thought-provoking. O’Neill proves that to be completely exposed and imperfect is not the end of the world. We see that despite any flaws or shortcomings something may have, courage and endeavour can make it valid and even admirable.
ENVOYÉ://:FRAGMENTÉ ran as part of Brisbane Festival’s Under the Radar Program. 13 to 15 Sep, 2012. www.brisbanefestival.com.au
SUZANNAH BENTLEY is a Brisbane-based writer, editor, and all-round word nerd. She has a Master’s degree in Writing, Editing, & Publishing, and a penchant for horror films and sparkly things.