Break Up [We Need to Talk] | Auckland Fringe 2015

I have watched The Bold and the Beautiful for more than 20 years of my life.

Not quite as religiously as some but over three different continents and often across different channels (some of which showed versions that were ahead or behind) I kept pace with the lovelorn interests of a bunch of people who may have (disturbingly) had something to do with my perturbed expectations of love and the world.

The lives of these women and men who argued, loved, hated, broke up, got back together – and then did the same thing not once but multiple times – seemed to be the diet upon which a large proportion of the population (considering its international broadcasting reach) seemed to feed.

Is Break Up [We Need to Talk] really that much different to watching daytime soaps? Yes and no.

It’s a six hour marathon for the actors who are dressed in banana suits (surely they must be hot) as they tease and muddle through all the various reasons to stay together – or not. There are heart shaped helium balloons staggered around the Basement space and five chairs, four at the rear and one in front, facing the audience. There are two people in this relationship, one who sits in the ‘hot seat’ answering to the eternal stream of consciousness comments from the other four who sit behind, taking turns to agitate, antagonize and equivocate.

The reality is, that dilemma is one of life’s binaries: to break up or not to break up. And if you’re having the conversation (whether it be in person, text or skype) well then … you’re pretty much already more than halfway there. So why would an intelligent bunch of people choose to play out the awkward, hilarious and, yes, often crushingly painful moments of coming to terms with what it means to no longer define oneself in terms of another?

Ralph Upton, Gareth Hobbs, Joel Baxendale, Claire O’Loughlin and Fiona McNamara are a talented bunch, undoubtedly, and they seem to see this form of emotional exorcism as a feat to be endured. At the very least.

On the other hand audience members are not required to spend the entire six hours glued to their seat. We can wander in and out, or alternatively watch it live on YouTube. In a rather static space, this is an improvised game with specific cues to move the story forward (drama teachers take note) and also quite a strenuous test in stamina because, despite the free rein given to the actors, there’s really no chance for any physical contact or intimacy, ensuring they rely entirely on the power of words and silences. And a truckload of expletives every now and then.

I watch the initial hour or so, on Valentine’s Day, and return later in the afternoon to see the long drawn out inevitable conclusion come to its crashing end. The wreckage is evident: actors are rubbing their eyes; slouched shoulders, tears and laughter have begun to mingle and sheer exhaustion is evident on many faces. But in the same way that after travelling for a while I find myself watching The Bold and the Beautiful once again, it only takes me a few seconds to catch up to with the story. And the reality is that despite – or perhaps because of – its meanderings, it has simply inched slightly closer to its predictable conclusion.

So Break Up [We Need to Talk] doesn’t score very high for me on originality of content (and seriously who really wants to be reminded of those episodes with their ex?!) but what is interesting is the form. Its deliberately transgressive emphasis on prolonging a result and maintaining a dynamic for the actors themselves, as much as for their audience, is an interesting commentary on what we perceive to be theatre and indeed, how much time we’re willing to invest.

While certainly no Einstein on the Beach or even Sleep No More, we may be watching the slow evolution of a different, interactive and alternate version to the theatrical fare we are currently being served. We will just have to wait and see.

#bingeculture #theatre #breakup #sixhours #fringe