Theatre Similar To transports audiences into a dystopian reality

Similar To transports audiences into a dystopian reality

A woman lies at the back of the stage, unmoving. A man paces around, lost and confused, clenching and relaxing his fists. Both are dressed entirely in white. The rest of the set is bare. The audience files into the venue and the lights go down. Similar to is renowned poet and writer Genna Gardini’s latest offering directed by fellow Horse’s Head Productions founder Gary Hartley. The play tells the story of two unnamed characters locked in a room with no access to the outside world. Their only escape from unmediated boredom is through a video game – The Sims.

Zanne Solomon performs in Similar To at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, 09 July 2015. Similar To follows two unnamed characters that have been locked in a cramped room for unspecified reasons. (Photo: CuePix/Tamani Chithambo)

Zanne Solomon performs in Similar To at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, 09 July 2015. Similar To follows two unnamed characters that have been locked in a cramped room for unspecified reasons. (Photo: CuePix/Tamani Chithambo)

In the game, they can control exactly how their avatar looks and behaves; a marked disparity from their real-world experiences. Sharp, smart and funny, similar to is both entertaining and thought-provoking. It offers an incisive critique on gender construction and the treatment of homosexuality in society. Zanne Solomon and Gary Hartley give touching performances in their respective roles, and Solomon continually wins laughs from the audience with jokes aimed at “the wall”, which serves as an ongoing metatextual gag. The actors are convincing and endearing in their roles; it is easy to forget one is watching a show because the dialogue and mode of address feel so natural.

The show draws attention to the unreality of virtual reality and simulated interactions, evinced through the exaggerated laughing, clapping and shouting of gibberish words such as “Blarsky!” It tackles questions of authenticity and selfhood in a mature and sophisticated fashion, and is surprisingly uplifting despite the seriousness of the issues it addresses. The routinised and ridiculous patterns of gesture and dance cease at last, freeing the characters from the need to appease the whims of some absent god, a god that might just be the audience.

Kerstin Hall
Cue student reporter

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