Review: The Triumph of Man (Theatre)

A bombastic and bamboozling offer from Rumpus Theatre

Cast of The Triumph of Man. Photos by Laura Franklin.

Venue: Rumpus Theatre, Bowden
Directed by Mary Angely
Written by James Watson
Length: 2 hours + intermission

2/5 stars

The Triumph of Man is a funny play — sort of like a rollercoaster that was going extremely slow and incredibly fast at the same time.

Based on real-life events (the kidnapping of two South Korean filmmamkers who were forced to make propaganda films for Kim Jong-il), the fictional dictator of an authoritarian regime abducts two foreign actors and forces them to produce a farcical, nationalistic play, penned by himself no less. The actors, risking their lives, use the opportunity to smuggle a lone dissident out of the country. All presented in the most tongue-in-cheek spirits, of course.

But with great laughs came great bouts of confusion. The satire landed like drunken kung-fu, but was overshadowed by copious gags and in-jokes. The tone triple-backflipped between dead serious, farcical, and Rick and Morty-style absurdism.

Don’t immediately start laughing when something funny happens, because the show has the potential to exit the stratosphere of humour without notice, and make you look like an idiot for laughing while planet-side.

Bec (Poppy Mee) and Axelle (Ellen Graham).

The transverse stage placed the audience on the perimeter of the action, with the actors barely a step away from your toes. Avoid the front row if you respect the boundary between performance and spectatorship, but take it if looking both ways before crossing the road is your favourite part of the day.

The cast put on the best ham in the southern hemisphere, and they held the show together like a team of astronauts piloting a dinghy.

Unfortunately, the show handled the heavy themes of megalomania and censorship like a casual Wikipedia reader; the eulogizing activist character came straight out of a Pepsi ad starring Kendall Jenner; and the show’s best character, General Ferdinand — perfectly performed by Yoz Mensch — suffered from occasional bouts of “sounds like the writer rather than himself.”

If you want to see a staged version of Seth Rogen’s The Interview, I guess this is it. I mean, it was a good movie after all. But there is a gem in here somewhere, buried underneath bizarre fourth-wall breaks, tedious eulogising, and hammy gags.

The Triumph of Man is showing until September 26. Book your tickets here.

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